This morning. Saturday and I don’t have to work this weekend and I woke up thinking: what should I do with my freedom today?

I need to finish planning my upcoming trip.

I need to balance some credit card statements and find that one medical bill I couldn’t find last time I paid medical bills.

I need to get in a run, weather allowing (we had a huge snowstorm yesterday and might get more today).

I need to clean the bathrooms and finally get a grip on my disorganized running clothes and find my other amethyst earring.

But what I do I want to do?

I wandered into my craft room and I remembered that one of my before-my-birthday goals is to finish my birthdays-in-my-40s layouts. I have all the journaling written and just have three years I haven’t put together, mostly because I need to find and print a photo for each of them. This led me to scrolling through scrapbook layouts I’ve made about myself, and then there it was, again, the pain of a lost relationship.

I’ve written about this a little bit on my Instagram but not blogged about it. To sum up: A person I was very close to rejected me. I am hesitant to write about it for many reasons, mostly because it fills me with shame (as well as despair and sorrow and embarrassment and many other difficult feelings I don’t have words for). This was done with a spirit of me being too stupid to understand why, and even though I have read and reread the emails and replayed the conversations in my head, I only have a few scraps of understanding about why this happened. This experience has been so painful. Worse even than the death of my parents in a way, because she isn’t dead. She just didn’t want a life with me in it.

This experience shadowed much of 2022, and this year I am trying to not let it pull me down anymore. I am trying to feel what I feel about it, rather than resisting feeling my feelings out of their sheer awfulness. Flowing through instead of getting snagged—I have a whole image of the landscape of what these feelings look like, and equate finding myself in the emotion of it to being swept down a river, and I am trying to float now instead of being trapped by the current against a sharp boulder. Sometimes I find calm waters, but sometimes something surprises me and I am right back in it, in an uncontrollable flood of emotion (if I could just clearly know what was wrong with me that I earned rejection, if I just knew exactly what it was).

Flipping through layouts this morning was such a surprise.

Because she is in so many of my layouts. Some about our relationship and things we did together. Some about my kids but she’s there in the pictures too.

Seeing all of those images, remembering those experiences we used to have together—seeing myself, really, in how often I wanted to document my relationship with that person and how much I loved her.

I can’t look at those layouts and find happiness there anymore, even though the moments at the time they happened were happy. Not knowing how the relationship ended. I look at her in the pictures and wonder was I already annoying her then? When did it really start? What kind of meaning do I prescribe backwards through time---how can I remember laughing with her now I know that all along there was something wrong with me and how I am?

Looking at layouts this morning reminded me all over again how important she was to me. How much our relationship mattered to me. And forced me to question all over again: was it one sided? If I mattered to her like she mattered to me, how could she reject our relationship? Which makes me think I didn’t matter to her in the same way, and so in a way I have lost everything, the meaning of the past memories as well as future experiences.

But I also felt glad that I made those layouts.

I haven’t documented all of our experiences. In fact, when I closed my album and went into Facebook, thinking it would cheer me up, a memory of her from 2015, when we saw Margaret Atwood together, was the first thing I saw. (I didn’t ever make a layout about that.)

And now I doubt I will ever be able to go back in time to scrapbook any of it.

What would I be able to write about those past experiences? I can’t see them through any other lens than “eventually this person rejects me.” I can’t write “I loved this day” or “I loved this experience” because the reason I loved it was that she was with me. So I can’t, any longer, trust what those past experiences meant to me.

I can’t get it back—how I used to feel within our relationship.

Which just reinforces something for me.

There is often talk in the scrapbooking industry of being “caught up.” A sort of underlying worry that you haven’t told all the stories.

I let go of that expectation a long time ago. I will never be “caught up.” I will never scrap all the stories, and I am OK with it.

But I also, now that this has happened, understand more why people care about it so much.

Because things change. Relationships change in ways you just never expect.

So I’ve added a new goal to my scrapbook-this-soon list. A layout documenting the relationships I have with the people I love right now.

Maybe doing that would help me to be a little bit more trusting. To not, whenever some bit of conflict pops up, start to worry that I’ve irrevocably damaged another important relationship.

To celebrate that right now, we love each other.

And maybe, as I practice flowing more, as I perhaps find more calm waters, I can celebrate that without the caveat

(in case I ruin it in the future.)

Like Darkness is Hunting Me: Further Thoughts on Depression

The first thing I do in the morning, after dragging myself out of bed (I can’t remember the last time I woke up not tired!) and taking my morning meds is to wander out to the kitchen and look out the back door at Timp. I’m certain many people in our valley think this way, too, but I think of Timp as MY mountain. I’ve stood on its summit, I’ve traversed its highest ridge; more than that, it is a constant positive presence in my world, always there in the background with its moods and weather and changing beauty.

This morning when I said hello to Timp, the south side was outlined with morning light, while clouds were just starting to roll over the north half. I stood looking at it for a bit longer than I really had time for—needed to get kids up and make breakfast and get them out the door—but it felt so…apt. A vivid representation of how I have been feeling lately, light being overcome by darkness.

Timp from my window

I wrote a bit this last winter about my struggles with depression. It started early last fall, as the stress of yet another surgery for Kendell finally caught up with me (seriously…in 12 months he had three serious heart issues and by the last one it was just…brutal; a bitter, boiling stew of fear and sadness and worry and wishing it was different and feeling bad for his pain but not being able to fix his pain and…everything else.) It got worse even while he recuperated, but then it got really, really bad. Sometimes depression is manageable until there is one thing that triggers it and then it isn’t manageable. And there was a great big triggering event—or experience, I guess, that started in December and went on and on and on.

My depression has been better since about the middle of April, partly because the trigger has gotten better. Partly because I was managing my exercise more. Partly because of meds.

As fall approaches, though, I have been feeling like this morning’s view of Timp. Still partly in the light, but the darkness is encroaching again.

Last winter, when I finally dragged myself to the doctor because I just couldn’t manage anymore, he thought my symptoms—the tiredness and lack of energy and the fact that I was gaining two pounds a week—might be because of an adrenal tumor. You’ll understand how desperate I was when I say: I hoped it was a tumor. A tumor I can understand. It can be managed with surgery.

It could be fixed.

Then after all the tests he found there was nothing wrong with me, physically. Heart, lungs, blood, hormones, even my adrenal glands: all normal. Except I was making huge amounts of cortisol. His suggestion (along with a Prozac prescription) was that I do things to manage my stress better. He suggested that I take up exercising (I already exercise) and a creative outlet (do writing, scrapbooking, and quilting not count?). He suggested meditation. Tai Chi. Yoga. Seriously. I think I looked at him with a mix of bafflement and frustration on my face because he literally put his arm around my shoulder. He said “Many people wrestle with this. Your body and your emotions are more connected than you think. I can’t find the way for you to manage your stress. You have to find it.”

So I took the Prozac, and really: it has helped. It’s helped in strange ways that deserve their own blog post, but partly it’s helped by letting me care a whole lot less. Without overthinking and overfeeling everything, I have been able to start separating. What I need to change about myself from what is not in my control; what really helps me (exercise, creativity and—a new discovery—sunlight and heat) from what doesn’t (caffeine and sugar, namely); who to share my energy with and who to preserve it from.

But I don’t think I have figured out enough. Or maybe the depression is stronger than the Prozac. Or maybe I am letting feeling and thought overwhelm me again. Because this season which I usually love, autumn which I live for, doesn’t feel orange and creative and beautiful. Instead it feels…looming. A harbinger: if fall comes, then winter is not far behind. And last winter was dark. So dark. I almost feel like winter is stalking me, waiting patiently to pounce. I’m not sure I can survive another Narnian winter.

I didn’t take a picture of Timp this early morning. I needed to wake up the kids and my phone was in my bedroom anyway. When I returned to looking out the window, after everyone had left, I saw that the light was gone and the clouds were getting serious. There’s a storm coming, and I hope it is a wild one. I want to stand out in the wind and rain and see if the weather can blow away my darkness. Or maybe just standing in the storm will remind me that storms don’t last forever. Maybe the weather in fall—dark then bright, hot then chilly—can be a metaphor I can cling to. Maybe it can remind me to seek out the light, or to wait patiently for warmth to return.

Or maybe I need to learn how to bend with the wind.

To end, a snippet of a Stanley Kunitz poem that has been repeating itself in my head:

Blue poured into summer blue,\A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,\The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew\That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north\Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows\Order their populations forth,\And a cruel wind blows.

Book Review: We are OK by Nina LaCour

We are okWe are Okay by Nina LaCour is the second YA novel I've read this year which I will, I believe, eventually forget about completely, except for a few vivid impressions. (The first one was Sara Zarr's Gem and Dixie.) My favorite scene is the one where the main character, Marin, and her best friend/love interest Mabel are in a taxi together, discussing the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude with the driver. (Novels with characters who love books are some of my favorites, but they often make me pause and wonder. I've been a reader and a bibliophile my whole life, and I strove to be an English teacher who inspired my students to read big, to read hard, to push themselves. I believe that teenagers can read difficult books not just for an English assignment but because they love them. But I also know it's fairly rare that they actually do read them.)

The taxi driver says that he cannot love Garcia Marquez's work, only admire it. Not because of the sex or the difficulty, but because "there are too many failings. Not enough hope. Everything is despair. Everything is suffering. What I mean is don't be a person who seeks out grief."

This becomes an important conversation for Marin after her grandfather, who's raised her since her mom died when Marin was three, dies. This happens during the summer before she leaves for college, and his death pushes her over the edge. She doesn't talk to anyone, especially not Mabel or her parents, who have supported Marin as sort-of surrogate parents, but uses some of the money her grandfather had saved and flies to New York. Essentially vanishing from her life in California.

The blurbs about this novel hint that something tragic and dramatic happened between Marin and her grandfather that caused her to leave so abruptly and then stop communicating with her friends. What happened​? was the thing that made me want to read this book and the question that compelled me to keep reading. But I confess that while what happened was haunting, I was thinking it would be something more dramatic. I wasn't really let down exactly...but I just wanted it to be bigger. 

This a book that unfolds fairly quickly and I read it in only a couple of days. I enjoyed the story, the characters, the setting—flashing back and forth between California and Marin's dorm room in New York state. I liked the discussions about books, reading, art, and creativity. How could I not like a book that includes a character reading a book of essays about loneliness?

I liked Mabel's mom and her relationship with Marin quite a bit.

And that scene with the cab driver—that will stay with me. Having gone through my Narnia winter this year and struggling with depression (and some experiences similar to what Mabel and Marin go through), I am learning that my proclivity to seek out grief—to read the darkest, twistiest books because they resonate with my darkness—might not be the healthiest way of coping. That I hold on to the sad and difficult more than I need to. Resonance between darknesses sometimes makes the darkness darker. This novel reminded me to also seek out light, and that the dissonance between darkness and light is where the energy comes from to move away from the darkness.

That said, I think it will be the only thing I remember from this novel. In fact, I totally forgot about reading the book altogether, until I spotted it on my overdue list at the library and had to hunt it down to return it. (It was under my bed, next to a pair of running socks and my pink headband.) Some books are like that: they bring you a little piece of knowledge, and the story itself is secondary. The knowledge is what stays, and that is okay.

on Dreams, and Secret Rooms, and Longing for the Past

Before Haley and Jake graduated from high school and went off to college, I had a reoccurring dream. I’d be doing laundry and look up and realize there was a door hidden behind the spot where I hang clothes to dry. I’d part the damp clothes (a little bit Narnian, yes?), open the door, and discover a previously-unknown bedroom. A rush of relief would come over me: this new bedroom would mean no one would have to share a room, and that there’d be an easing in the space everyone used in our house, so fewer sibling tensions.

I always laughed a bit when I woke up from the dream, because it was such an obvious message from my psyche about the things I was worrying about—my kids being happy and having the space they need to explore their identities, as well as my frustration that I couldn’t find the answers I needed through the normal routes. Only magic or secret bedrooms would help, and as I didn’t have those, I continued being frustrated, wishing I could fix things but never finding the unknown door to answers.

I had that dream a few times after Haley moved out, but I haven’t had it at all since Jake moved out. We have plenty of space now, and while it is painful and diminishing in a very specific way, having your kids leave—I miss them quite a bit—it is also sort of…rewarding, I guess. To see them move forward and begin to figure out their lives on their own. To watch them form their own spaces, as it were.

Last night I had a sort-of similar dream that helped me recognize something I am feeling right now in my life.

In this dream, I was again standing by the just-remembered door in the laundry room. When I opened it, I discovered that the hidden room held a bunch of boxed-up treasures. All of the clothes I wore as a young mother, favorite sweaters that had been lost or worn out, my pink flowery capris I wore until they fell apart. My kids’ baby clothes, the tiny newborn gowns, their favorite toddler outfits and first-day-of-school T-shirts; Jakey’s “basket shoes,” a tiny pair of Michael Jordan’s that he loved more than anything, Nathan’s favorite belt, all of Haley’s spinny dresses, Kaleb’s beloved white blankey. Boxes of all the crafts I’ve ever intended to make but haven’t gotten around to, Christmas gifts and Mother’s Day gifts and birthday gifts now crafted and stacked next to appropriately-sized and themed gift bags. Quilts that I have imagined in my real life but never finished, entirely finished and obviously bound by me (I always have one wonky corner). Photo albums, with pictures neatly arranged in plastic sleeves—beautiful photos of all of my kids, alone and together, photos of them with their parents and friends and siblings and cousins, each one perfectly composed and crisply focused, with depth of field that made me weep. These were all photos I had never seen and didn’t remember taking, but they brought me to memories I cherish (in my waking world, I mean, not my dream one).  I also found a box with scrapbooks I had forgotten I had made, and these were all about how I felt through all of my various stages of motherhood, from my first pregnancy to our most recent vacation. There were kids in the layouts, but the pages themselves were about me, my joys and frustrations and treasured moments, a record not of their lives but of mine as their mother.

My own little Cave of Wonders, except not jewels and gold, but wealth of a different sort. A gathering of objects that, when touched or looked at, could remind me more clearly how it felt to be that person I used to be, when I wore or made the object, or when it was loved by the people I love.

I did laugh, a little, when I woke up. Those photos were so beautiful. But it was a teary sort of laughter, informed by self-realization. I remember once, when I was in the thick of mothering little kids, my mother told me that the happiest time in her life was when we were all little. Her comment both reminded me to savor those days, instead of complaining my way through them, and made me a little bit sad: is that really the only happiness we get? The sweetness of little children? Isn’t there sweetness as they grow and become adults?

I am discovering that yes, there is sweetness. But it is a complicated, layered sweetness, like an extra-dark chocolate filled with a rich salted caramel. It is delicious, but it is not simple anymore. I love my children so much, all of them. I love seeing them find their way in the world. But this phase of my life isn’t easy. Of our lives; life isn’t simple—for me, but especially for them. There have been injuries and bruises and lingering scars and we have all been changed. We will all continue to change.

So I curled in bed this morning, remembering my dream. Thinking about how clearly my psyche was saying take me back. And how hard I wish my waking self could remember exactly how that felt, to have the simple, uncomplicated love of young children surround me every day. I am not wishing away my right now, yearning for what used to be. There is only forward. But clearly, my dream told me, clearly I miss it. And I am afraid of losing those memories, afraid I haven’t written enough down, snapped enough photographs, saved enough used-up objects.

Clearly I would like to revisit it somehow, even though I know that room doesn’t exist. It’s just empty wall behind the drying laundry.

I can’t believe my mother was right—that all of my happiest days are behind me. I know there is joy in the future, too. There is joy right now. But, as we face yet another new school year starting, Nathan’s senior year and Kaleb’s first in junior high, I am feeling nostalgia for what-used-to-be. I am wishing I could revisit and maybe revise, maybe somehow get things right, ensure fewer bruises, fewer scars. Or even just scoop one of my children up again, in their chubby baby selves, and hold them close, and know that simple love again.

Even though I know that is a locked door that is lost forever.

What I've Learned About Being Intrepid: 2017 So Far

Back in the early days of last December, I gave some serious thought to picking a word for 2017. I don’t do this religiously, every year, as some people do. But with all that happened in 2016—Kendell’s near-death experience, and a nose surgery, and then another heart surgery, and my short trip to Europe which was fun but also incredibly stressful, and finding out that Kaleb’s heart is getting worse (and the accompanying extra cardiologist appointments and non-stress tests and worrying every single day that today could be the day), and Nathan’s basketball injuries and rock-climbing concussion, and Haley’s Hood Incident, and Jake moving out, and my two ankle sprains, and the stabbing at Nathan’s school, and the damned election, and holy cow am I forgetting any other calamity?—I thought to myself, you know. I’ve gone through a lot of stuff in 2016. Surely the universe is done with me for a while.

Surely I deserve a break.

But the universe and I go way back. And I never quite trust that it’s finished chewing me up. So I wanted to find a word for 2017 that would encapsulate that idea: hope that things would be better but acknowledgement that I just probably couldn’t imagine yet what shape the universe’s teeth would take. I chose the word intrepid: fearless; undaunted; daring; brave. 20170701_225658I like the word for its structure, in meaning not, + trepid from the French trepidus which suggests “alarmed.” So, as I read some dictionary and word histories, intrepid started to suggest to me the concept of being “not alarmed.” Able to calmly deal with whatever. Which seemed like exactly what I needed to be. Not really brave or daring, and not dauntless, definitely not dauntless. But brave in a non-alarmed kind of way.

So I chose my word. And then the universe started shaping its teeth. Let’s see how undaunted you can be, the universe laughed.  Let’s see if you are brave.

One of the things that has made the first half of this year so difficult is that the difficulties aren’t really mine. The choices and stories belong to someone else, someone who I love, and this person’s difficulties are making me mourn and choices are making me grieve. But I can only write about the experience in private ways (which has taught me that blogging itself is a unique form of therapy; not just writing, but publishing what I wrote; it gives me both the catharsis of having written and the relief of having been heard in some way). And there is a duality in the experience: feeling sorrow for this person who I love, but also feeling pain as a result of this person’s actions.

All of which is to say: I have not been intrepid. Neither in the dictionary sense of being fearless and undaunted, and not in the more personal connotation I’ve developed. Not calmly unalarmed. I have wept. I have tossed and turned, sleepless for hours after midnight. I have slept too much, that nearly-frenzied exhaustion that comes when you cannot think of a single possible way that any of this can turn out right and the only way you can cope is to escape. I have anguished in ways and methods I have not for decades.

I have felt all the tools I use for coping fall, one after the other, out of my hands; I have been unable to cope.

I’ve been down in the blackness of my black place.

But I have also started to heal. I have started to learn some truths that are sharp and painful but true, nevertheless. I have started to wonder: what if I didn’t have to use my tools to cope but to build? What if I could make instead of repairing? What if I could put down hoping for the life I imagined and pick up (and embrace) the life I have?

They are large lessons, mostly submerged and unknown, an Artic ocean’s worth of icebergs with surfaces I have only begun to explore.

But I am exploring.

Am I an intrepid explorer? I’m not really sure anymore. This is an internal journey, an intimate one in which I can only succeed if I look at my failures, mistakes, and stumbles with both honesty (acknowledging them not in a spirit of self-flagellation) and compassion (somehow realizing that while I have made many mistakes I have also only been able to make the choices I made using the knowledge I had). In my favorite thesaurus, Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, there is this sentence: “An audacious individual is bold to the point of recklessness, which brings it very close in meaning to intrepid, suggesting fearlessness in the face of the unknown.”

I am very much facing the unknown. I’m not doing it without fear, but I am trying to continue to explore, to understand myself better, to know the things that I can do to help the people who I love (and also what I cannot do). But maybe the intrepid explorers of the past—Amelia Earhart, Captain Cook, Louise Arner Boyd, Amerigo Vespucci, Sacagawea, Ernest Shackleton—maybe they were only intrepid because they kept going. The fact that they didn’t turn around, didn’t give up, doesn’t prove that they weren’t afraid but that they were determined.

And maybe that is what I am learning about being intrepid: that it is about not giving up. That holding on to loving someone is sometimes painful and difficult and cold and very lonely—but that I have to hold on to loving them anyway. I am learning that traversing this rough terrain isn’t always about calmness, or about courage, but about continuing to move forward in the landscape. It’s about being prepared to accept that I have no idea what lurks around the next curve—maybe a meadow, maybe a desert—and so all I can do is set my feet on the trail in front of me. Being intrepid means not giving up on the people who are traveling with me, even if we don’t always follow the same path. Not giving up on myself, either (which is much, much harder).

Maybe I did pick the right word.

2017 05 21 amy volcano national park 1 4x6

An Ax to the Ice: on Action and Choice and Black Clothes

On Tuesday when I went to work, my boss (who is also one of my best friends) said “You aren’t wearing black today!” and I dug her in the rib with my elbow because she was right: I had on my kitten sweater, which is the softest thing I own (it’s not really a cardigan made out of kittens, but it feels like it) and happens to be bone white. And I wore light grey. It’s the first time I haven’t worn black in…I don’t remember how long.

Wearing black has long been code for depression for me. It’s also the color I feel the most comfortable in, so it doesn’t always mean “I’m stuck under the ice” but, when it’s literally the only thing I’m wearing…that’s a sign. When I was a teenager and black clothes were literally all I owned, my mom used to say “If you’d just wear some color you’d feel better,” which naturally made me want to go out and buy something new—and black. Because, yes, mother, wearing yellow or pink would totally fix everything, my snarky teenage self might’ve said. Except, I didn’t because I didn’t understand yet (and I don’t think she did either) that black wasn’t the sickness but a symptom of it.

But it’s also a choice. Wearing something non-black on Tuesday didn’t exactly help anything. The elephant is still sitting in the room (it would be so much easier to write about this if I could also write about what is happening, but I can’t), I am still down in it, and I don’t really feel better for having worn something non-black (does bone white and grey count as color anyway?)

Except, choosing to not wear black, even just for a day, does give me a small lift. Not the clothes themselves, but the choice. The control, the fighting back.

“Thank you for acknowledging my actions,” I didn’t say to my boss, because that would be weird, but it is what I thought.



It’s hard to do those things when you’re stuck inside depression, but they are the things that are required to get you out.

So today I’m just writing a list of things I’ve done, choices and actions that will help me to start moving up out of the darkness. A sort of self-acknowledgement, a marker so I know I did some things once so I can continue doing some other things.

  1. I signed up for a ballet barre class. I didn’t just go to the first free class, but I actually got out my credit card and paid so I could keep going. This was hard for me not because I thought the class would be physically too difficult (it’s actually perfect; it’s making me sore) but because I thought it would be filled with fabulous women. You know what I mean…wealthy, skinny, successful women who aren’t super friendly because they don’t need any friends because they already have a bajillion, equally wealthy, skinny, and successful. Fabulous! But, I found literally no fabulous women there. Just friendly ones, who introduced themselves to me and told me where to buy their cool non-skid socks and asked me about myself. The combination of social and physical was a balm to me. I have six weeks left and I intend to go as often as I can.
  2. I saw my sister. Back in November Becky asked if I would want to go see Mamma Mia! at the new Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake with her, and I said yes, having no idea how awful I’d feel in February. If I could’ve not gone, I would’ve backed out (she doesn’t know that I actually thought about not going). But burrowing into my house and avoiding people is part of the problem. So I went. Just before the play started I told her a story that ends with Kendell saying “the damn lions are just so frustrating” and we started laughing and as I laughed I thought I don’t remember when I laughed last. Watching a play, wandering around a city, finding a restaurant and eating there on a whim just to see if it was good (it was): just not being inside my house. Laughing. Enjoying a story. Those are things I need but don’t give myself enough in the first place, but doing them with the woman I trust the most was a gift I didn’t know I needed.
  3. I think that there is a perception that depression is the same as sadness over something happening. That is true, of course: I am devastated by what is happening. But not all difficult or devastating things lead to depression. I think this place I am in is a culmination of too many devastating things: so many surgeries, and the almost-dying in April, and the election and my sprained ankles and then this current experience; it was the last thing, the one that finally made all my coping mechanisms stop helping me cope. So, here is what I am feeling inside my depression: Grief. No one has died, but something has. I think I will feel this grief for a long time, even if the situation improves. There is something empowering about labeling what I am feeling. I am grieving because this experience is difficult (one of the hardest things I’ve experienced), and because it is the end of something, and because it is changing things in irrevocable ways. Grief, though. It is different than depression; it will last longer than the darkness. You cope with it in different ways, and to be grieving without being depressed is the closest thing to a goal I have. But just being able to say it, to understand it: it is a sort of a light.
  4. I am pondering an ah-ha moment. A friend of my is working on a research project about mental health, and I answered her survey questions. One absolutely dropped me, or at least, my response did. “How do mental health issues influence your normal life?” she asked. As I thought about what I do to avoid or cope with depression—running, writing, making sure I go outside, trying to be cognizant of my thought patterns—I realized that who I am is so tightly connected with how I cope that they are the same. Who would I be if I weren’t trying to cope? Where could I put my emotional energy? This was a revelation to me. Perhaps I have been wrong in thinking that coping is the way to deal. What if I could actually heal instead of cope? What could I do then?
  5. I am eating better. OK, not entirely healthy; I haven’t managed to eliminate sugar entirely. But I’m not stressing about 100% of anything. I’m just trying to do better, to listen to my body’s cues and eat only when I am hungry, to stop when I’m full, to put healthy stuff in my mouth as often as I can.
  6. I went outside. It has been warm here in Utah; yesterday was 69 degrees. So I put on my running shoes and my favorite running skirt and I went to the mountains to walk on the river trail. It is still winter, colorless and drab, and the snow in piles by the trail is dingy and exhausted. But still. Moving outside: this is what I need the most.

Thank you for all of your comments on my last post. They mean the world to me. They mean light can still be found in dark places. They weren’t actions I took, but actions brought to me that were, to distort Kafka’s idea, an ax to the ice. My movements are small, there is still so much to break through…but I am moving.

on Breaking the Depression Cycle

A short little bit from a poem I recently read that I cannot get out of my mind:

It is as if
a steel clamp

Had seized upon
one square inch
of a flattened

Canvas map then
jerked sharply

The painted landscape
cracking along

Creases, cities
thrown into shadow,
torqued bridges

Twisting free.
A life is not
this supple,

It is not meant
to fold, to be
drawn through

A narrow ring.

(from “Portrait of a Hanged Woman” by Monica Youn, Blackacre)

I have been reading a lot of poetry lately. I want to search out the ones that break me open, like this one; poems that are not about anything like what I am experiencing but that also resonate because they are, somehow, exactly what I am going through.

(Also songs, but that is a different post.)

I read this sitting in the pink chair that I scavenged from my mother’s house. This chair was in my bedroom when I was a teenager, and it was the space of refuge, the comforting place I went when I was caught in the dark. It’s covered in pink velvet, and when I scavenged it I did so with the intent of having it reupholstered, because by now it is bedraggled, more grey than pink, raw wood exposed on one edge, trim dangling—but I cannot bring myself to do it. The texture of that fabric against my fingers, even now nearly thirty years later…that texture is what it feels like to be cracking along my unaccustomed creases.

So I sat on the chair and I read poems and I remembered myself at 14 and 15 and 16, stuck in darkness, and compared that darkness to this one, and I realized how similar they are.

Almost the same place.

Except, I know now, at least, the triggering points. Sometimes, depression just arrives, blackness seeping in slowly until you are filled. Sometimes it is like a switch, the wave of a magic wand, the difference between one blink and another: not there, there, and the suddenness this time is because the last bit of my resistance has been broken.

I was up above it.

Now I’m down in it.

(A life is not this supple.)

For three weeks, I have left my house only for necessities: work, the grocery store, the driveway but only to shovel snow. I’ve stopped going to the gym. I didn’t snowshoe in our fresh snow. I haven’t visited any neighbors or friends or family. I even took a few mental health days from work.

I didn’t do anything besides stay home and eat unhealthy foods. Entire bags of chocolate, far too many hot drinks. Spaghetti and butter, English muffins and butter and jam, hash browns cooked in butter with cheese melted on top.

The darkness got denser and because of that it got harder to do anything and because of that the darkness got denser.

The chocolate and carbs that brought me brief little sparks of light made me sad, settling on my thighs and chin and belly, and I could only find more light with more chocolate, more carbs.

I played music but I didn’t sing.

I made things but I didn’t connect to them.

I wrote, but nothing real.

I cleaned the house, I cleaned every 8&*@!!($^[email protected] corner of my  ^&%%$*(@ house, I decluttered until everything was empty and then I didn’t feel accomplished but just…empty.

Then I had that moment, sitting on my old pink chair reading poems, and somehow that was enough. Just barely enough that, half an hour later when my husband walked into the (clean) house and said “let’s go to the gym,” I could say “OK.” I could pull on some exercise clothes and find my music and watch and shoes, and even though I slogged, I slogged through that workout (ten minutes of elliptical, ten minutes of the side trainer, ten minutes on the rowing machine), even though it was boring and uninspiring and ugly…I moved. I moved my body and some of the darkness moved too, like black, thick chunks of ice on a lake in winter at midnight during a new moon cracking, at last, just a bit.

A shift. Barely perceptible except I could perceive it, I could remember what it felt like to breath, I could put a stop to the endless cycle of darkness.


I would say “hopefully” but I don’t even have any hope yet.

I’m not even sure I should be writing this. What a crazy person she is, I hear all you readers saying. (“All you readers!” There are far more readers in my head than in real life I know.) Exposing herself like this. It’s weird, right? It’s a plea for attention, it’s sort of lame, it’s actually fairly pathetic, who talks about this anyway?

Who talks about it.

No one, or not many. And that makes it worse. Because it is not just that I am locked underneath all that dark ice. It is not that whatever my painted canvas map had been, it has been yanked through the smallest opening, it has been cracked and torn and everything colorful made meaningless.

It is that I am utterly alone.

And maybe if I talk about it, someone else won’t be alone. Maybe if I say: depression is a vicious cycle and the only person who can stop its downward spiral is the depressed person—maybe someone else will also have a moment in their (metaphorical) pink chair. Maybe their (her) cycle can break, too.

It is hard to speak out of the dark. It weighs so much my voice feels impossibly heavy.

But this is part of it too. Part of breaking the cycle is, for me, writing my way up out of it. Writing what is real, and hard, and ugly, and painful. Maybe I will never share publicly what pushed me into the dark water, what broke the last of my spirit and started the cycle.

Maybe it doesn’t matter how it started.

Maybe it just matters to know that I can end it.

With moving.

With writing.

With letting myself feel what I am feeling.

I confess: I’m still down here in the dark. I still feel like everything has been ruined in irreparable ways.

Who knows what my life or my psyche will look like on the other side.

But even just knowing that—even just saying “the other side.” That reminds me it wasn’t always dark and maybe the light will come back.

And maybe I am not alone.