The fog that lifts, and then descends
I had just recently broken my heart over somebody, and I thought that’s what it was. When my mother suggested, ever so gently, that maybe I should go to a counselor, maybe just to talk somebody, maybe you’re just suffering from a little bit of depression, I thought she was well-intentioned, but wrong.
It’s okay, I told myself. It’s okay, it will be okay, it will all be fine. You just have to work harder. You just have to smile more. This too shall pass, etc.
I did end up going to a counselor at the school. One of the first things she asked me was how much work I was doing. I told her about the seven classes. And then I told her about the job.
“Have you ever thought,” she said, “that the crying might be your body’s way of telling you how tired you are?”
I still remember the look on her face when she saw it sink in.
“Well,” I said. “Well, no.”
I had a few sessions with her. I slept a lot. I cut back on my course load as soon as I had the chance to do so. And it passed, eventually.
The second time I got depressed, I was twenty-nine.
This time, I wasn’t in school. Or working at all. I had, in fact, graduated with the degree that I had wanted for so long. But I couldn’t find a job. I had moved home–from Scotland back to Canada, from independence back to Mum and Dad–and I was living with my parents while my life sat in boxes on their floor. Trying to find a job and failing. Trying to rebuild a life and failing. I jobhunted, worried about the Internet bill, made dinner. I took the dog for long walks down winter-bright country roads. I went on Twitter. I grieved a little apartment in Edinburgh, right by the sea, and the friends that I had there, and the life that was no more. I slept a lot.
Sometimes I went to the medicine cabinet in the centre of my parents’ kitchen, and I thought about what would happen if I took a bottle of my father’s migraine pills, all at once. I had a novel then, and it was getting rejected from publishers everywhere we turned, and I was twenty-nine and I’d had a life once, in Scotland, and I didn’t have one anymore, and I was just so tired. I had mountains of debt from the degree that I’d wanted so badly and I couldn’t find a job, and it was so hard to see or imagine that life would ever be different, that things could change. I would never find a job. I would never publish that book. I would never I would never I would never.
I kept taking the dog for walks. I got up. Eventually I found a job, and I moved out again, and I started paying the debt down, dollar by lonely dollar.
It passed, eventually.
The third time I got depressed, I was thirty-one, and then thirty-two. This time there were no moments of standing alone in a kitchen and thinking about pills, at least not at first. This time there was no worry about money, no fear of not having a life of my own. This time there was only a question, unfurled long and slow over the span of an almost-year, a year of bright days and smiles and family and trips and loved ones and good work and good opportunities, time spent with friends and laughter, so much laughter, so many days where I felt like I could shine.
Why are you so sad?
Why are you so sad?
All of the time. Every day. So many moments alone in my apartment, feeling like I’d forgotten how to breathe.
Don’t you have a book now? Don’t you have a place of your own? Don’t you have friends? Doesn’t your family love you, more than they could say? Don’t you make decent money now, more than you’ve ever made in your whole life? Don’t you have a life ten times the life that you had and you sometimes still miss, back in Scotland? Don’t you have so many opportunities to say what you want to say to the world? Aren’t you so lucky? Aren’t you so blessed?
Why are you so sad?
What’s wrong with you?
Why are you so sad?
Over, and over, and over.
Every time I sit down to my computer, to this blog, this is the first thing I want to say, and the last thing in the world I want to say, and I feel so guilty and sad and terrible about it in the face of so many other awful things going on in the world that in the end I always end up thinking well, there’s just no point.
Who cares if you are sad. Who cares.
And then there are the days when everything seems okay. Better than okay, even. Days when I like what I am writing and I like my little life here, even though it is so different from where I thought I’d be. And I think: okay, okay, you’re not depressed, it was just a funk, sometimes things dip down, that’s all, you’re okay.
Then the next day comes, and there’s a fog again, and I go to work and come home and crawl into bed at 4:30pm because I’m tired and I don’t see the point in staying awake.
And I tell myself the same things that all the patients say. The ones who come into Emergency with their frightened family members, the ones who insist that they’re fine, don’t they function, don’t they get up and go to work and go shopping like every other person out there?
I get up. I go to work. I go out. I even write, and sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. I’m not depressed, I’m just upset.
Upset about what? What do you have to be sad about? What’s wrong with you?
Sometimes I wonder if growing up with God did a number on me in more ways than one. The idea that we are all meant for great things. Eternal life, the idea that good work and a pure soul will save you from the fire. What happens, then, when your faith leeches away and you find yourself in a more or less wonderful place, perfectly middle-of-the-road, not filled with the angels and songs that you dreamed of when you were younger but also not terrible at all? Where is the ecstasy of God–of anything–in the minutiae of everyday life? Why be upset at all when things are perfectly okay?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m reading everything I can find about this and trying to understand, and I say all of The Things to myself when I’m alone. You’re just upset. You want to be more. But you have no control over any of this. Small joys. Be good to yourself. Exercise. Walk. Love the ones around you who love you back so unconditionally. Be proud of your work even if no one ever sees it but you. You are not a bad person. You are not. You are not.
And sometimes the words work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I have good days and sometimes I don’t. Right now my kitchen smells like biscotti and I have an idea for a story and another idea for an essay and maybe I’ll go for a run later in the day. Maybe I’ll eat salad for lunch and watch another episode of Castle. Maybe play music. So many possibilities.
I wish it was easier to focus on the possibilities. To recognize that the ordinary is its own kind of gift.
To say this too, shall pass, and understand that it will, and mean it every time.