That said, I am feeling a lot better today. Fragile, but hopeful. I have had a number of crippling depressions in my life. I've lost a few years to that, and I really thought I wouldn't have to sit under the weight of that feeling ever again. (Why would a person who had coped with massive depression many times run the risk of developing a hard-core drink problem, right? I know. I do know.) Now, a few days is not the same thing as months and months straight slogging through it. But I'm not all clear just because the morning was better than the past few have been. And I'm a little bit, no, I will tell the truth: I am very much afraid it will all come back again.
So what's going on? All week, I felt ill. I couldn't get enough sleep, and my head felt like it was exploding, and I could hardly move myself around. I thought I was getting a flu, but this is just as much mental as physical. Worse than the fatigue, I felt sad and low, unable to enjoy the things I enjoy, and for a while it dipped into that old standby of depression, the feeling that life was simply not worth living. I've hardly been able to get a full breath, and much of the time, when I notice, I find myself twisted into pretzel-like contortions, even when I'm just sitting having a glass of water. Tight and tense and heavy and sad, that's been me all week
And I feel dumb. Because I warded this off last summer when I quit drinking, and by late last summer, and September and October, I was feeling really great. I wasn't drinking, and I'd got over the tough part of quitting so much so that I'd forgotten that it had been tough. Earlier in the summer, when I was hardly able to do more than stare at the wall some days, I didn't talk much about it, and so once it passed, I forgot about it. And when I felt great, I was happy to record that so I would remember how good it felt to have quit drinking. But I don't think I did myself any favours by glossing over how bloody awful I felt at the time. I was working on a deadline then, too, and though I did finish the project and I got a good mark anyway, I was operating under some killer banks of brain fog, much like I have been this week. But because I'm me, which involves a large dose of being a difficult person, by October I was starting to react to a lot of what I was hearing in the world of getting sober. I need to stay sober. I think I can admit that. But I rail against a lot of the received wisdom about the single best way to do that. So here I'm going to have a bit of a tantrum about some of the things that rankled me then, and still do now: (This part is a bit of a rant, so feel free to skip to the end of the post, where things will lighten up a bit, I promise.)
- No one knows what's best for anyone else. I just can't lock myself away from the world, eat a whack of cake and sleep for four months, and if I were to try, I would gain fifteen pounds and allow the kind of depression that plagues me to have at me, no holds barred. I know, because I have tried that before when I found the world too much for me. It gets ugly, fast. It isn't helpful to assume that everyone should do that, even if it does work for some people who really do need the break.
- There is no evil monster-demon that lives inside our otherwise perfect selves, rearing up to swallow us when we are weak. There's just some really bad habits that have physical and neurological traces, as all our good and bad habits do, and those habits will take a whole lot of work to break. Drinking too much is, for me, one of those habits. It's a part of the messy person I am, not an alien invasion.
- I don't have to excavate into some precious inner self to look at my motives for everything I do. Mostly, we don't have motives, we just explain things after the fact according to some cultural system we adopt. I'm not trying to come out the other end of something shining and pure of heart. I don't believe anyone is like that, and anyone who pretends they are, no matter how often they claim to be non-judgemental, needs to get over some serious spiritual egotism.
- I do need to find a way to be in the world, to participate full-on in life, with all its messiness and problems, not cocoon myself in a sober bubble until I am somehow, in the miraculous future, better. If anything is going to save me, I'm going to find it in the world, not deep inside myself. I need contact with the woman at the grocery who is kind to me when I look weepy, or the guy at the butcher shop who makes me laugh, but yes, who does always go on about his hangover. I need to read things I have trouble understanding, things that challenge what I've always thought, like the new book I'm part-way through that questions everything we've usually thought about being a self. I need music and poetry, what Adam Zagajewski calls "the beauty created by others." I need to read more Adam Zagajewski. I need projects and deadlines and people who disagree with me, and barking dogs that scare me a little bit, and bratty kids screeching on the bus, and the people who use my doorway as a safe refuge for smokers because it's illegal to smoke on the patio of the coffee shop next door. That's what I need. The whole world, and me in it, sometimes crying and sometimes laughing, maybe even sometimes doing a little dance, learning how to live.
OK, I could go on, but I think that might be enough. I think one of the reasons I felt so awful all week is that I don't allow myself to feel awful around people, so I wait to do it alone. But none of us is going to make it alone. Two good things happened this week, and I'm going to try to build on them. Last night, I told my partner how bad I felt, and how scared I was that the big depression was coming back. And I cried, big ugly loud crying, the kind where my nose goes red and swells up a bit and huge wrenching sobs rip out of me. I really didn't want to put all that on my partner, but I am going to need all the help I can get here, and he is a big part of that help. So I let him in, and he was good with that.
The second thing, and I remembered it while I was talking with my partner, was this moment 'm going to tell you about. All week I have been spending an hour or two outdoors walking. Walking helps me a lot when I'm really low, when not much else can. Two days ago, I meandered through the nearby park, and I walked up and down hills and mingled with kids and dogs and tourists with cameras, and I stood by the tiny waterfall for ten minutes, just listening to it. On the way home, I was walking down the mossy green hill, muck squelching around the bottoms of my boots. The sun was low in the sky, so the moss was that special luminous green, the way it gets in the late afternoon January light. And just for a moment, the world cracked open for me, and the beauty of the sun on the moss filled me up, and for that moment I was a part of the mossy green shining hill and it was a part of me. Not little, twisted pretzel me, but big wide world me. I stood in the sun and felt the life in me and around me, and I smiled, which I have not done a lot lately. It faded after a while, and I walked home and made dinner, but I had that moment, and I still have it. That's what I remembered last night, and I think that's what's going to save me. Moments like that, and being in them 100 per cent.
Thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you.
And just in case that was all a bit heavy, here's the full text of the Adam Zagajewski poem I was quoting from:
In the Beauty Created by Others
Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in others’ poems.
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with their
foreheads pure, cleansed by dreams.
That is why I wonder what
word should be used, “he” or “you.” Every “he”
is a betrayal of a certain “you” but
in return someone else’s poem
offers the fidelity of a sober dialogue.
(Translated by Renata Gorczynski. Reprinted from Without End, p. 127.)