People assume that if you are traveling or living abroad that life is one big adventure, a huge escape, and that there is no time or inclination to feel low. Not so.
Instagram pics often conceal more than they reveal.
Last weekend I said goodbye to my sister after a long anticipated visit and now of course I’m feeling let down and at loose ends and loneliness is starting to creep in between the cracks. And then a low-grade infection has been hanging on and the weather’s been crappy and I miss the North Carolina spring. Hell, I miss my kids.
It’s just been a blah interlude. blah. blah. blah.
I’ve written about depression before and, as you know, the subject taints just about of all my writing, as it does my own life. It is that phantom presence that wants to show itself when things are clicking along and going well.
Just when I think I am as free as anyone else to live my life unencumbered by its clutches, it ghosts back in from the shadows.
That heavy dullness, that erasure of feeling. That blunting of mood that is so hard to explain, nearly impossible to articulate to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.
And unfortunately the pathways in my brain are hard-wired and it’s a circuit board that I have to accept. But I also have to get on with my life too.
And writing helps.
Seeing my words typed out has a weird way of validating my pain. I become someone outside of myself, and I can look at this other person and commiserate, as if she is a good friend, someone with whom to share my struggle – a focus of compassion (not pity).
Writing is like medicine – it feels like a way to take care of myself.
When my daughter was a little girl every now and then she would be upset or worried about something – maybe a problem at school or with a friend, or maybe she was just in a funk.
And there was an old mulberry tree in our yard with a huge gnarled trunk and a gaping knothole at its base, and it was just low enough for her to reach her little arm up to feel deep down into its dark crevice.
It felt a little bit scary – was there a squirrel down there waiting to bite our hand?
Anyway, sometimes on those bad days of hers I would tell her to write down what she was feeling on a piece of paper and then fold it up and drop it down inside of the mysterious hole.
I told her that maybe if she passed the problem on to the tree it would listen (I know, how did my kids survive my parenting, right?)
Anyway, I told her that the mulberry tree might at least be able to shoulder some of her struggle, and by tossing the note away she might cast away some of her worry too.
Did it help? Maybe a little. If so, it was because the remedy was probably in the act of writing.
And I still see the value in that strategy. I think that these scrappy words that I write on my blog are like those tree notes, sort of like messages in a bottle thrown out onto the waves of the internet.
Asking for help? Not exactly. More like shouting out – hey, here I am – can you hear me?
I think we live in a world where we are constantly searching for concrete answers to make us feel whole. Facts and information on the internet, we’re in love with gobbling up the bits of truth. We’re absolutely sure that a good life is an informed life. And maybe that is true.
But for me there has never been any amount of medical assurance or data that has completely eliminated my depression. It’s as genetic, chemical and hard-wired as any other disease.
And no matter how much I know, or I think I understand, how many times I’ve been at this depressed place, it always feels rough, unfamiliar and insecure – and therefore ripe for some new kind of miracle solution.
But there really isn’t one.
And often when I write about this I get a lot of well-meaning advice from readers about mental health, but I’ll just say this – I’ve tried it all, guys. I’m as solutions oriented as the next person, plus I read a ton.
But what I know to be true is this – the letting go is the thing – the folding of the worry note into the mulberry tree – the scrapping of the belief that there is something wrong with me.
Because there is not.
And like the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree so deftly illustrates, the best friend is the one who accepts us for all of who we are. They are the ones who will sit with us in the silence when we have nothing left to give.
And that brings me to acceptance.
It is when this demon of depression comes to visit me that it becomes imperative to let it in, not to fight it, but to accept it openly because it’s just one component of who I am.
And because depression resides in the mind/body, the only way out is through. And so I simply sit with it.
And to my friends who suffer from mental illness, know this: you are not alone. I can read between the lines of the adventures you post on Facebook, and sometimes I sense the pain hidden there, even behind the smiles.
I understand how it feels to want to hide. I get your suffering. I share the mask too.
But you are not alone, we share a similar story. And there is nothing whatsoever wrong with us – we are whole even if we feel broken.
And so this post is mine to you: my folded-up paper crane pushed off the bank of the stream, my little furtive story of hopeful despair tucked into the knothole – my bit of broken heartedness.
Because today I like to imagine you as that ancient mulberry tree, that safe hollow, that trusted keeper of my sadness, my worries and my stress.
My tree, my rare friend, my beloved, the one who helps me bear the weight of the world.