off the trail
I recognize that for the last two months, I’ve been, I am depressed.
I don’t say that in flippant fashion. None of this being transparent about my journey is easy share-circle time. I know intimately the menacing force that is depression and exactly what reality-twisting thing I refer to when I say that. Chronic pain, with its beat-you-down-ever-presence and unanswered questions that can remain after many attempts at solution and relief, often leads to depression. A secondary effect, a by-product, they call it. I fiercely battled depression in the winter of my journey but Springtime ushered in sweet repose and hope and joy and peace and love and connection.
Having faced this foe before, I am unflinching as I sit across this omnipresence with whom I have contemptuous history. The shame that consumed me is less, thanks to therapy. The fear-fish that depression might swallow me whole, I will face. I must show up for my children and Joe. The intense despair from the loneliness that accompanies “too hard, too much to explain,” is abating, for some of my brave and beautiful friends openly wrestle with depression and make time and space to sit in the silence, in the struggle with others. They are the Leo McGarry’s to my Josh Lyman and they’ve been down this hole. God bless them. Sites like The Mighty are utter lifelines as well.
If the March Hare can have unbirthdays, we can have unfriends.
Depression is an unfriend.
I know why this unfriend has come. The onset of this new pain isn’t welcome. A few months in and I am genuinely struggling to accept my new reality while I again search for answers and relief. Like Woody rejecting Buzz Lightyear, “That wasn’t flying, that was falling with style!,” I am not cool with making more room, more concession for this unfriend.
I am fresh off a rainbow ride, having fully healed from a SI-Joint fusion that allowed me to regain so much relief and function, my life back, with slight restriction. No cartwheels, but at 38, should I even be trying? No motorcycles. Ok, that one smarts, but giving up bikes was a minor compromise to a being able to make dinner and run errands. Mundane and boring is the bar, friends. There are millions of can-dos on the spectrum between cartwheels and motorcycles. I could do them. I could fly. Also, no, but it felt like it.
One year ago, almost to the week, spring break ‘18, I built a fire pit. Friends, this was big deal stuff. I hauled the brick, dug the hole, transported the dirt, tamped the soil, poured the sand and rock, built up the walls and lit the fire. Only one day was needed to recover, after all that, and I might as well have just summited Mount Everest. That was post-fusion life. Can you hear the angels? I never ceased to live in pinch-me-mode or took for granted the second and third chances I was living Every.Single.Day.
Now, I couldn’t have done that all the time, as in build a fire pit (as my pre-pain life would have permitted), I had to strike a balance between physical and rest and I was super trying. And there were ici-pici, trivial, barely registered restrictions — thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was now clearly off the table— but that still is a high bar of allowable ability. As another spring break signals more passage of time, the landscape looks different and I have become as still as heavy morning fog hanging in a windless dawn. I have stopped most activity. No movement can almost make me forget the pain is waiting. No movement keeps the recent spike in flares at bay. No movement makes me crazy. The stillness that does exist in my life is intentional, on my terms, with my permission. This forced posture of ‘take a seat’ finds me, at times, kicking and sometimes screaming, red-faced for some grownup to hear my heartache and pain and fix this.
Oh damn, I’m the grownup.
Fighting a lost cause, depression saddles up and says, “hey there, it’s been awhile.”
I sip my tea, sigh, and look the other way, in no mood to talk.
The jubilant year after my fusion now feels like a daydream yet to be. A gag where some bloke gets the rug pulled out while the tv audience laughs and I’m looking about for someone else who isn’t getting the joke. A sweet fruit turned sour and now everything I try tastes like bad berries. That one year, spanning half of my year of YES (‘17) and half of my year of OPEN (‘18) was epic, glorious, and so very inspired.
Friends, I’m not just extra bummed I dropped my lollipop. Understandable and great is the grief and mourning of this reduction so soon after that hard wrought decade fighting for the independence I was experiencing and abilities gained I could test. I fought years and tears, body and soul for those gains, for the gratifying happy in just living out the mundane of daily life. My cold and broken Hallelujah.
My pain was not gone, but the noise had been turned down. If you live with constant pain, noise-level can make or break your soul. Anyone live near Ellington, or practically anywhere in Clear Lake, when they scramble their T-38’s, always two in succession? Try carrying on a conversion through that or reading or listening to a podcast or show or song or hearing yourself think or pick anything through that — then have that be all the time. That is life functioning through and with high pain. That was every day life those final three, depression riddled, pre-fusion years. And why after the volume was turned down, every day since has been my heaven on earth, my shouts of joy from every mountaintop, my nothing gets better than this does it Kool?! Damn Straight, Full Stop.
Depression isn’t sadness that just stuck around. Sadness can/will/does lift. Depression is the cloudy and colored lens impacting the shade and warmth of ‘as far as the eye can see.’ Depression accompanies chronic pain frequently because of the mental ram required to constantly right our ship. If there is not a fan (relief) in your hard drive, it overheats and your computer acts wonky or stops working. With our energy zapped and capacity maxed, our ship lists. We see the world at an angle because our reality is relative and therefore also at an angle. Skewed. Off-kilter. Something is wrong.
A late freeze and now spring is getting muddled by winter. There is still goodness, yes, but the fog is disorienting. New shoots of growth, normally cause for celebration, have brought strange pain and born a blight of flat affect and fantasy of endings. Night pain is a whole other brand of monster. Some mornings I wake already sunk to the bottom of a cold pond. It feels impossible kicking my way to some surface I can’t seem to break through.
There are good times. There are great moments. Two nights ago I watched music videos with Elliot. He played me Blacklight District, I played him Queen. We sang at the top of our lungs. We played air guitar. It was the best. Depression doesn’t mean there aren’t good moments, but it’s not something you will yourself out of either. If our willpower was that powerful and effective, diets wouldn’t exist. The cloud and off-color evaporates and can taint what’s still so good.
There is not a quick fix for this season. I am not trying to fix this moment. I can only recognize that all I have is this moment. And as a human being on a journey, I won’t, can’t always use my moments well or how other folks think I should. There will be struggle, progress, setback, perseverance, tenacious determination, bad jokes, too many hearts, and sometimes explosions of gushy thankfulness. There was a time I wouldn’t have been here to do any of that and I embrace the odd mess. But when I’m feeling good and seeing a bit clearer, I’m able to call out my unfriend for what it is — distortion and imbalance — and keep taking steps, one foot in front of the other one, oh oh ohhhhhhhhhh.
Today, I am settling into still. I am going off the trail. I’ll play my music too loud. I’m not going to fight myself, that’ll only sink me deeper, 80’s friends, remember Artax and the Swamp of Sadness? I’m going to meet myself exactly where I am with tender self-compassion, the sort my gentle and sweet friend, Lee Ann, is helping us cultivate in her beautiful book, Rooted in Love. And I’m going to turn my head and have a conversation, perhaps many, with dear ole unfriend depression. I’m facing it and I’ll keep on trying to reel in this nasty, stinky, too big for this pond fish (got to toss that in, I studied best use of natural resources) with plans to cut it up and cook it for dinner.
I don’t know, I’d like to see wherever else the metaphor can take me.