This morning was, according to weather forecasts over the weekend, expected to be overcast with a likelihood of rain, but the day dawned sunny with a light, moist breeze. Tired after spending much of Saturday and Sunday working in my studio, and having slept poorly, I found myself in what I call my toilet head, swirling helplessly in pessimistic, vaporous thoughts, and unable to appreciate my life. Everyone has hardships, and the majority of the people in this world have much more difficult lives than I think I do, but for those of us who are afflicted with chronic depression and mood swings, the persistent experience of negative emotion, even a desire to cease living, is too often overwhelming and can be paralyzing. I try not to talk about it much, even with close friends, because it gets old and quickly becomes tiresome. I'm reluctant to impose on others, so I mostly suffer in isolation, a bad strategy.
I've had to deal with this since childhood. I remember one day when I was maybe ten years old, being outdoors on a beautiful day, trying to think of things that I looked forward to or enjoyed, and I just couldn't. Red Hot Fireball candy, root beer, visiting relatives in Wapakoneta, Ohio, watching Lost In Space on TV, getting ice cream, going swimming, my mom's good cooking - nothing worked. It was an awful moment that I have a vivid sense of even forty five years later. And in these subsequent decades, it's a feeling that I've become all too familiar with.
Beginning in my freshman year of college, when I lost my merit scholarships and nearly flunked out after sleeping twenty hours a day through winter quarter, I started seeing psychotherapists at the urging of teachers and mentors. Later, I tried various diets, even macrobiotics. Exercise. Reading. Socializing. Self improvement seminars. Meditation and spiritual practice. Eventually psychiatrists and medications. But mostly I just hung on and rode it out, getting some benefit from these different strategies. Relief came, and sometimes lasted for fairly long periods. And the depression has always returned. It seems so damned melodramatic but be that as it may, its effect on me and my family is all too real.
I've come to accept that this is just the way it is. The foul waters rise, and I just have to roll up my sleeves and do my best, groping sometimes blindly in the murk, to find the plugged drain and open it. I have gotten better at it. So this morning, I once again walked down to the river, hoping it would pull me out of the sewer.
When I crossed the railroad berm and stepped into the trees, I noticed how the carpet of dead leaves is becoming overtaken by a wash of fresh growth. Bare branches are just leafing out. Across the river, the wooded ridge is going from dull sepia to a light foam of billions of green leaves. The water glistened brilliantly through the tangled undergrowth. I followed the winding trail for a few hundred yards to where I'd sat last week drawing some of the first spring shoots in my sketchbook, and they are knee high. It occurred to me that all they need is a little water, a little warm weather and sunlight, and to be relatively undisturbed in order to thrive. And I felt better. Not ecstatic, but at least no longer despondent. To whatever power makes these things, this extraordinary life that I sometimes take for granted to the point of not being able to even see it, I am grateful. I hope that I am never so far gone that I completely lose hope. This is for all of you who similarly lose your way and forget, as I do, that life is sweet.