I’ve been having a hard time sitting down to write lately. Not because I lack time, but because I lack empathy for my own process therefore how could I hope to have empathy for anyone else’s. There are a lot of things I could say about depression and creativity and in fact I already have said some here, but I don’t have the strength to go there right now. I am writing to here now to give the smallest of updates and the smallest of motivation to myself to keep going, to keep writing. Because in my experience writing helps put a frame around my experience to be able to look at it from that place in the mind that does not experience pain of living, the essence of being if you will. I promised you two books of poetry exactly a year ago, and truth be told I’m scared to release them. These poems were written in a very dark period of my life, and at the time they gave me a reason to keep on going, to keep on writing, but reading them now is painful. Painful that I hurt so much, and painful that I would wish to share that sort of hurt on the world that is suffering so much already. It’s a hard thing for me to reconcile with myself in my current black disposition. I have made a promise to finish them by the end of this year regardless because people have directly asked me to, people I respect, and people that have paid me money in order that I might keep going, keep writing. If it weren’t for these people that have invested their good faith in me I would probably give up on the project entirely. Which is depressing in itself. There is this idea that the only kind of pure art is art for art’s sake that the artist creates in this vacuum regardless of who will appreciate it, but I also believe that the creative experience is not complete without someone to receive the expression of the soul. It’s like trying to have a conversation while no one is listening. Between these two beliefs I feel a little lost about how to feel about the release of this body of work. It is coming though regardless if only so I can practice having empathy for the parts of myself and my work I do not like.
These are a few of the things I have been considering. The list is heavy as is my mind. October has been a difficult mental health month for many of us struggling to exist online, heal, and move forward. The days are getting shorter and the veil is getting thinner. A good time to turn inwards and take stock of the inner ghouls lurking in the shadows of my mind.
- Take a trip through sonic landscapes with Shirley & The Pyramids via Raz Mataz
- Alan Watts on shadow work
- Love After Life via Brain Pickings
- How to Reach Out to Someone Who is Struggling via On Being
- Wading Through Water: A Guide for Emotional Healing via Hoodwitch
Sometimes I feel like shit & nothing seems to help. Doing nothing feeds the morbid cycle. In these times the only way up is through it. These are my earliest coping mechanisms that have served me through every major bout of depression. As long as I can keep doing the work putting one foot in front of the other I know I will be ok. For now the cogs still turn so it’s my duty to oil them rain or shine until they grind to an eternal hault.
Bethani’s 10 step plan for working her way out of depression:
1. A strict daily schedule must be maintained. Not so strict as to be inflexible to the winds of change, but sturdy enough to latch onto in the thick of a storm.
2. Daily exercise of the mind, body, and spirit are a must. Yoga asana & rest for the body, reading & learning new things for the mind, meditation & art for the spirit.
3. Meals should be simple & consumed regularly. Whatever requires the least thought & energy to prepare. Small regular meals are best that require little to no prep or clean up. Peanutbutter is my go to.
4. Go to bed early. Really it is ok. If you only manage to sleep until 4:00 or 5:00 then you will have a beautiful quiet window to practice your yoga or catch up on your reading. But really nothing productive happens after 8:00 pm anyways don’t worry.
5. Treat yourself to something fun once a week even if you don’t feel like it. For me that usually means getting real dolled up and going for a fancy meal alone. Sometimes it’s going to a show with friends. Other times it’s spending a whole day in bed with a lover. It’s easy to cancel plans indefinitely until you feel better, but try to find one thing a week that feels manageable and commit to doing it even if you still feel awful.
6. Tell your friends how you are doing. It’s ok if you don’t tell everyone, but make sure you have told at least one or two people how you are really doing. It’s ok if you don’t want to talk about it but let them know so that you are not alone.
7. Stop spending money as much as possible. It’s very tempting to think of all kinds of things that might make you feel better, but more often than not you end up over spending when you’re depressed and regretting it later. Use your lack of energy as a time to be frugal and watch your savings grow for when you are feeling better and able to enjoy it.
8. Avoid drinking to excess/at all. A drink with a friend might be the pick me up you need (see 5), but a drink after work every night quickly leads to self loathing (see 7). Alcohol is already a depresssnat and if you are following step 6 most your friends should be understanding if you want to find other ways to connect.
9. Pamper yourself in nice smelling things. Don’t underestimate the healing powers of a hot shower. The smell of rot & death has a tendency to subtly creep in when depression hits. A few drops of essential oil, or a freshly washed t-shirt sometimes is the small reminder you need that there is good in the world.
10. Whenever you can be helpful to someone else. Pay them a compliment, give them your spare change, bring someone coffee, help them tidy up. These small gestures will help you feel connected to someone else, and remind you of the positive things that you can bring to the world.
11. You will probably still feel like shit even after doing all these things. Remember everything is temporary and at least you gave it the good old college try. You can create a nice life even when you are too sad to enjoy it and that’s kind of magical in itself.
Sit with that uncomfortable empty feeling as long as possible. Look deep into your heart & repeat ‘I see your pain & I respect your journey’. Stay in bed with a purring cat falling in love with the sound of your own breath. Be quiet & still as you accept the death of another great passion, be grateful for such a flame. Walk in the sunshine & dine alone. Eat luxuriously slow while reading deeply of those who inspire you. Drink tea with cream for comfort. Listen to friends tell you the positive things you have given them, but don’t feel compelled to hold on to them anymore dearly than the negative things. Let your mind breathe through the thoughts of tomorrow. Sit in the window & watch the snow fall. Don’t ask any questions yet. Order too much Indian food to eat in bed & pretend to be glamorous for an hour or so. Be patient & give new ideas the space they need to grow. There is no rush to be whole again. Emptiness invites inspiration.
“God spoke to me, and he said ‘I am the one who will decide which kingdoms will rise & whose will fall, and I say that I love & cherish these people as my children and they will flourish'”.
As I stirred creamers into my tea I did not look up at the man speaking, but I felt the hairs bristling on the back of my neck all the same. Inherited rage against the church of my father. It was late in the afternoon and the diner was mostly empty except for me, and these three church folk conversing over pie and coffee. There was something about the self-congratulatory confidence which this man’s faith spoke with that grated my nerves. Even as I felt the tension & irritation rise in the bile of my stomach a calmer voice reminded me to let it go. He meant no harm by his story, he was no threat to me in my booth, and who was I to judge his experience of the unknown.
“Father Clearey looked at me astonished as I spoke these words, for he knew that I would never have said such a thing! I was fed up with being there. There had been so much resistance, so many set backs, and they had just run out of money to pay us. So they called an assembly with the children to see if any of them had access to money. I was ready to throw in the towel, I was sure that these people were past hope and would be wiped out under the heel of God. So I said to myself, well I know what I think of these people, but God what do you think of these people?”
As I listened I felt the knots in my stomach relax into unexpected calm. Certainly this man was not perfect, he barely concealed his inherent racism & disdain for “those people”, but when that voice answered him he was prepared to listen against his own judgement. A small bead of hope settled in my heart. Here was someone whom I would normally consider beyond hope, a Christian missionary with an agenda. With Trump the President-Elect spitting his hate speech from the television in the corner of the diner these church folk stood for everything I thought was wrong with the world. Yet, here he was acting out of divine love to support people he had deemed beyond hope in circumstances that would try the most loyal ally let alone a bigot.
In that moment I thought about the reasons I had hated his faith, how similar they were to his own reasons for hating the faith of the north, how little any of our reasons meant in the face of so much pain. Humanities pain. My pain. The pain that I had been in when I walked into the diner to sit at my favourite corner booth where the waitress comes to sit on her breaks and cheers me up with stories of her weekend. She gives the best hugs. How I needed one of those hugs today because I was feeling so lost. There is no way to adequately describe the emptiness of depression. A real absence of care. Of faith. I questioned why I had turned away from all overt forms of faith as an attempt to prove that I was an intelligent, capable, grounded person in my father’s eyes. I noticed how much my heart craved that faith now. A faith that is open to receiving signs from beyond my own understanding of the situation. A faith that acts out of the best interests of those involved against my own petty judgements. A faith that loved deeply & fully with no expectation.
I was reminded of the one-step plan we had discussed in my yoga training. Give life. How impossible it had seemed when she had said that to me. Shed everything. She said that we were already on it. Over to God. I couldn’t understand how. One step. Over bagels & tea I understood the blessed simplicity of that sentiment.
There is no reason why that man should have had a change of heart. There is no reason that I should have stepped into this diner at this time to hear him tell it. There is no reason any of this should occur, and yet that is all the reason that I need to restore my faith in humanity. My faith in happy accidents & divine interventions. My faith in my own ability to keep going. My faith. There may be a divine reason too complex for my understanding, or I may have arrived here by a series of happy accidents, or gifts from the god as another teacher refers to them, either way the results are the same. I am sitting alone in the corner booth on a grey steely day stirring cream into my tea when I experience a change of heart. I can not measure or quantify the experience, but my actions change as a result. My thoughts change as a result. Love enters my heart as a result.
As I walk back to work considering the unlikely probability that I would hear these words at this time and have them land in my heart in such a way to momentarily lift the veil of apathy I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for magical mistakes & mysterious meetings. As I walk the one step at a time path through depression I see all the other tiny steps that have got me here. I see that we are each walking the one step path together, and whether we waver or stumble, we are moving through it as one. One step. The rhyme or reason of it is whatever we each choose to weave between the lines, but the result is the same. We walk together.
I feel it in my body. My limbs are heavy. My fingers feel thick & bloated like strange cocktail wieners attached to the end of my wrist stumps. My eyes ache, and my mouth tastes like ash. I have a hard time remembering what was just said to me. I feel like a waste of space. Same thoughts as before. I’m tired of hearing them. I can objectively see that I am doing well, my life is reasonably comfortable, I am reasonably skilled & kind, I am supported & loved, and my challenges are manageable. Yet my mind roars a deafening cry of apathy. It’s harder to silence when I know it is unfounded. Maybe I will always feel like this. Maybe I don’t deserve the things I have if I can’t appreciate them. Maybe the only way to get any peace. I can reason with myself that isn’t the answer. I can say the things to myself I would say to a friend. I can put myself to bed & make myself tea knowing things will keep going on. Maybe things will get worse, maybe I am a waste of space, but certainly no more so then anybody else. I can only make good of what I have here. How selfish is it to allow my mind to fall into such disrepair over nothing. Why does my body ache when I try to sleep? And disassociate when I try to focus? And smile when I feel afraid? I feel so embarrassed warning my friends. I need to tell you this because I know you would want to know if something were to happen, I have no plans, but someone needs to know, and I can see my weight transfer from my mind to yours, but I am no lighter for it, and again I am afraid. What is the point? Why am I here? I am asking a god that I don’t think can hear me for an answer that I am afraid to hear. No wonder it isn’t going well. Why do I make things so hard for myself? Or is it out of my hands generations of trauma leading up to this moment where I try to make an excuse for my own lousy outlook on life. Turning off the news helps. Playing music helps. Sleeping helps. Eating green food helps. Praying to no one in particular helps. Talking with others helps. Petting my cat helps. Drinking tea helps. Writing this down helps.
I don’t know if help will ever really make a difference, but that’s the best I’ve got.
Last night at midnight I had my first beer in a month. It tasted good, but not as good as I remembered. It helped pass the time as we visited after a night of music & dancing, but it didn’t improve my enjoyment of the night noticeably.
I didn’t want to make a big deal about committing to sober September because I didn’t want to come across healthier than thou, but also because I wasn’t sure what kind of statement that would be making about my life. Part of me was also a little afraid I would not be able to do it. I’ve never attempted a complete cleanse before. what if I really was in denial about how much I drink? What if I had become dependent without realizing it? What if my social life evaporated? What if I realized I didn’t like myself without the alcohol?
In short: it was fine.
Nothing really dramatic changed. I was still depressed, still thought about death too much, still had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, still went out to see shows at bars with friends and danced and had fun, still said wildly inappropriate things over text, I even tried to date and flirt a bit. In short it was a pretty average month except I was a little more acutely aware of the pain of existence, and I saved a couple hundred dollars.
It also allowed me to admit that I am actually sick. I am deeply depressed & anxious. Drinking certainly doesn’t help alleviate my depression, but it isn’t the source of it either. I need to seek separate support for my mental health beyond just making healthier choices. It did reassure me that I am in control of my life. I might live on the edge occasionally, but I accomplish the goals I set my mind to with ease.
Over all I think it was a successful month. Not a lifestyle change I can imagine subscribing to in the long run, but a practice I plan to maintain awareness of going into the long winter nights.