Photo attribution here
I have long been prone to bouts of melancholy. When you deal with depression people like to give you to do lists and things to try, or maybe you make the lists yourself. Being depressed is miserable, so I understand the inclination, but this pattern inevitably leads me to a place where I personify a defeated lump of guilt. I am left void of inertia and worse off knowing what I should be doing and still somehow am not. More often than not I spend my days swimming through a sea of tentative anxiety while making efforts to appear as though I am just another one of the kids with nothing more to stress about than my phone bill. This has been life so long for me I cannot discern when it first began. However, despite this component of my existence and the challenges it presents, I do pass through times of great happiness. Today I'd like to briefly describe one for you. Once upon a time I was fresh out of high school...
Eighteen is a beautiful age. I was off on my first adventure as a newly christened adult at Southern Oregon University. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or really much of anything about what I liked or needed or wanted or didn't want, but I didn't care. I spent my hours meandering along the streets of the charming town of Ashland, Oregon relishing in the uniqueness of the cranberry hazelnut bread I'd discovered at the local bakery, or the sun soaked beauty of Lithia Park, complete with monologuing thespians and dread locked nomads who only ate organic. I had no money, I had no car, I had no idea what life would bring, but I had a profound appreciation for the freckles God put on the skins of apples just for me. Despite the troubled waters running deep within, there remained in me a relentless wellspring of hope.
There are times in my world of slow moving blues and greens like that year in Ashland that afford me a brand of solace and joy I believe to be uniquely mine. I cannot say I leave the sea of overwhelming emotions completely, but I have intense moments of illumination and peace, melancholy notwithstanding. In my marriage, however, that light nearly died in me. So desperate for the healing affection that I was sure The Mr. possessed in some hidden corner of his ever increasingly distant soul, I offered him piece after piece after piece of me as a sacrifice. Without him asking I would hand him this peace offering, praying that there could be some way that we could be compatible, that he could love the me I was killing off in the effort to save us.
There's a day that stands in my memory as the day of last date we attempted. Dates were always hard for us. Turns out it takes more than chemistry to enjoy an afternoon together... or evening... or dinner at home... or a birthday. He was doing some work on my car before we headed out and I'd slipped away to the local sandwich shop. I was enjoying a lemonade and the sunlight as it shimmered through some orangey red leaves canopying my table. Somewhere in that stolen hour the realization shimmered down upon me that for the first time in quite a long time I felt just the slightest bit like myself. For long stretches of our marriage I could not see the light in the trees. Beautiful blossoming Oregon unfolding herself just for me that spring was masked in kind of a hazy smog of confusion and panic. It wasn't that I didn't want to see it. You have to believe me that it wasn't for lack of trying. More than anything I wanted things--every day things, work things, marriage things, family things--to be normal. Healthy. Just to be okay... but they weren't. That day late in September I caught a glimpse of the happiness I once could conjure up within myself, even in times of distress. It giggled up from some unknown spot in my soul, fluttered about my face, close enough to see but just out of reach, and then disappeared into the leaves. The sun began setting and the Mr. and I headed off into what would be one of the more heartbreaking days of my life. It was ending. I could no longer deny that it was ending.
That little glimmer of happiness went to some mysterious land to hibernate, not to be disturbed through the darkest months of winter. As it did I was swallowed up in the black abyss of my existence for the next several months. There's a reason this blog didn't start in November 2012. In those early months I retreated into the darkest, most terrifyingly lonely places I hope to never see in me again. In a stupor of heartache I spent my days dragging my body from one obligation to another hoping time was passing, but too discouraged, disoriented and afraid to count days or weeks. I was half drowning in my own personal rivers of sorrow, neither able to succumb nor escape.
This is depression. This was my reality.
The writing I do is primarily what I call "vomit up your toenails" writing. I sit down and spew out whatever thoughts have been chasing each other around my brain all day in an attempt to get some peace. As I write this post I've been asking myself what the value in it is. Doesn't the world have enough stories of soul slaughtering blackness? You will only bring people down, telling them about those days, I think to myself. But I am choosing to record this despite those thoughts. I record this for you and for me.
While I never want to relive those days, I also don't want to forget them because the contrast they strike is so stark to the way I feel today. In those dark moments the voice inside us says, "It will always be this way. No one understands you. There is no hope." But the voice inside us is a liar sometimes. I record the pain in its blackness so that no one has to feel alone in it like I did. Some posts I write here scrape the bottom of the barrel of my capacity for levity, but today it feels right to make plain that my marriage and my divorce have sent me unwillingly through a refining process where I felt turned utterly to ash; a shadow of myself floating away and disappearing into the wind. Just as involuntary as that experience was, a new wave is crashing. It's washing away the charred remainders of my miserable failure, satiating the parched and barren wasteland of my uninhabited soul, and reviving all that's best in me, teaching me something surprisingly beautiful and comforting.
In those incomprehensible, disorienting moments where life went for the knockout, I lost hold of what I thought was making me good. For a season I couldn't achieve the way I used to. I spent inordinate amounts of time sleeping, crying, lying around, begrudging, loathing, sobbing, swearing, wallowing and letting go of hope. I lost the ability to prove my worth through works, only to discover when the disillusioning fog dispersed that the goodness remains. Faith without works is dead, we are told, but like a submerged buoy this goodness, with a force outside my active will, burst through the surface of my rivers of sorrow. I didn't pray it that way, I didn't exercise it into existence, I didn't bake someone a pie or ask anyone their forgiveness. Having exhausted every other option I could think of, I got so sick of myself that I made a search of the house for all the shards of my broken heart. I packed them up and I took them to my bishop. I showed him the mess I'd made and I cried and cried, not knowing what I wanted him to do about it. That beautifully imperfect man of God smiled at me and put into words the things God had been trying to tell me during all the gnashing of teeth. Though these aren't the words he used, that day my bishop taught me this truth.
That goodness, the light, the hope and the very best essence of ourselves isn't something we can make appear or force into existence. The goodness burns brighter in and after the fire. It is driven relentlessly upward to float on in the river of life past the season of sorrow to show us that life does go on, even when we can't contribute. There is no mistake we can make, no covenant we can break, no sorrow or sadness or circumstance of life that could ever make us less to our God. Through the smog, the fear, the dwindling faith and the knockouts He sees our best selves and stands anxiously awaiting the moment we are ready to embrace the glimmer of hope once more. Sometimes that wait is a long one, but He doesn't tire of it. He stands close saying, "Take all the time you need. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere and neither is my love." They say if you're not paddling forward, your floating backward, but from this moment in time all I can see is that no matter where I am in this ever changing, exquisitely beautiful river of life my God is there with me, and today that matters more.