August 6, 2020

Melancholy, you old friend

by Gretchen

It’s not often I talk about this, but I have struggled with depression all my life. It almost killed me once, so I am ever alert to the specter of those gray and hopeless feelings, the anxiety that comes from feeling too much, too deeply.

And I know I am not alone. Not now, at least. I woke the other morning in a dark, dark place and I could hear the voices of doubt and self-loathing humming their awful tune all around me. “Buck up,” I said out loud. “The world is upside down right now. Buck up!”

It didn’t work. At least, not right away. I wanted to crawl back into bed and pull those cocooning sheets over my head, block out the anger and the hatred and the death and the stupid people. But I got myself up and I walked around my friend’s garden (where I was spending the night) and took photos of her amazing flowers.

Nature can usually pull me back from the gloom and temporarily it did, but then I went on a walk by the lake (to take in more beauty) and some idiot ran past me without a mask on and I asked, kindly, if he could please wear a mask. He yelled at me. Said I was passive-aggressive. Said only social distancing works. Masks are useless.

Yet he ran past me, a trail of sweaty molecules in his wake.

I just kept walking. Nature shattered by human nature.

And the gloom lit up again.

So I went to work — massaging dogs — and the melancholy moved away for a bit, stood on the sidelines and waved with that wicked smile melancholy is known for.

At the end of the day, I headed to the ferry to come home and in my chest there was this pull so strong, I could feel tears well up in my eyes. I wanted to be home. Home is safe. Home is a shield against the sadness. Home is love and love is the only thing that beats back the self-consuming thoughts, the belittling voices, the hum of hopelessness.

This morning, when I woke up, with the cool breeze coming through the bedroom window, the dogs snoring softly, Ann by my side I said it out loud — “I was so depressed yesterday” and she said, “So was I.”

If there’s anything my depression hates, it’s the idea that it is shared. My depression wants to consume me. It wants to ooze its hunger out of my pores. It wants to separate me from everything that represents beauty and love. It turns my world gray and creates an isolation so deep and distant, no light can penetrate.

I shouldn’t have rejoiced that Ann felt the same. She is always such a steady and solid person — going with the flow in a way I have always envied but been unable to emulate. I should have panicked that my solid rock of a partner felt sad and depressed too. But instead I smiled and said, “Oh that makes me feel so much better!” She laughed, but she understood. We were not alone and alone is the food depression feeds on. It is the fuel for the engine of melancholy.

We got up. She packed up her truck to head to Seattle for work. I headed out on a walk with the dogs and tried to find more beauty to balance my sanity on. It was there, of course, the beauty. Still, the day has been slow and relatively unproductive. The dishes got washed. That’s something for sure. Laundry half done. And we had another walk, but the trip to the grocery store was frustrating and aggravating as more people wore their masks on their chins or under their noses and an older woman kept pushing her cart against my legs as we attempted to “social distance” in the check-out line.

I wanted to scream. I didn’t, of course, but the urge was strong. Instead, I drove home listening to the music of Alanis Morissette, her new album (Such Pretty Little Forks in the Road). I turned it up so loudly, I made the dogs in the back seat sit up and stare at me in the rearview mirror. I’ve never been a Morissette fan, but this album hits a chord (no pun, really) as I think she captures a lot of what we’re all feeling right now. In this place of pandemic and polemics. This song in particular: Smiling

I know once I post this, I’m gonna get phone calls and texts asking me if I’m ok. Yes, I’m ok. I’m as ok as any of us is right now. Well, any of us who care about others, cares about the world and the earth and the direction we are heading. So no need to call or to write or to worry. I’m fine.

This is just what we, who suffer from depression, do. We chew a hole in the side of our cheeks worrying that the melancholy will win. That one day of sadness will become two. And two will become seven. And seven will become the rabbit hole we can’t find our way out of.

And my solace comes in knowing that others wake up in the same funk, walking the fine edge of feeling too much. Of feeling so much that suddenly you’re feeling nothing at all. Suddenly, you are alone and no one is next to you feeling the same things you are feeling.

I am not there. I am not there at all, but that place is always at the back of my mind. Those voices are constant. They whisper really well. Not choosing to listen to them is how I move forward and find joy in the world.

It’s just sometimes, they gang up and sing in a boisterous chorus and they are hard to ignore.

So I leash up the dogs and go for another walk and do my best to find beauty — wind in the trees, the sun on a red leaf, a raven’s confident call — and soon the melancholy is manageable, kept at bay for another day.

And for all of you who know exactly what I’m writing about, you are not alone. I hear you, too. WE can do this. One foot in front of the other. Stay strong. Allow yourself time to rest. Don’t isolate yourself for too long. Wash the dishes. Walk the dogs. Listen to music. Sing loudly.

Don’t let them win. Just don’t.

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