The day dawned grey, as is normal for this time in the summer in the SF bay area. I could feel depression weighing on my head like a gargoyle as I lay in bed, with my cats piled together next to me, and I felt the chill of the morning even with all the blankets. Now was the time to choose whether to let myself go into the dark places in my head, or whether to fight it. I sat (or rather: lay) with that decision for awhile. Depression scrabbled at the inside of my head, begging me to come inside and play.
Life is strange and hard, especially when one has a tendency to ruminate on the hard stuff. There's a fine line between problem-solving and blame sometimes. I've found that I tend to focus on "why" a lot: why did that person or those people do that to me? The victim thinking isn't helpful, of course, but the curiosity is genuine. Except that it doesn't help, and it's time to let that go. I may never know why. I just have to accept that.
This day, I got out of bed (with a little internal "Yay, I did it!"), had some coffee, observed the grayness of the morning fog, thought about everything I wanted to do that day, and resisted the urge to to go back to bed. On the face of it, I was doing pretty well. I was enrolled in classes that would help me increase my skills and allow me more flexibility in the type of work I do; I had plans with my boyfriend later on; I had clients for my new business; I had a vegetable garden bursting with tomatoes, zucchini, squash. blackberries, and eggplant; I was a quarter done with laying a brick patio in my yard; I had close family and friends, and we were making plans for the end of summer. All good.
But, the thing about depression is: the "why" isn't relevant. We most often don't get depressed because of something. We get depressed because our brains have a tendency towards depression, the way some people have a tendency towards arthritis, diabetes, or a certain body type. Yes, there are things we can do to influence our experience, but our brains have that tendency. And, at least in my opinion, they most likely always will to some degree.
The key is to work with our own brains to make the internal environment less conducive to depression, the way a person with a tendency towards diabetes might need to pay attention to what they consume in order to help their body get what it needs despite the fact that the body isn't producing insulin.
As the fog cleared and I messed around online and had coffee, I mused on the fact that I could do one thing to help myself that day. I could let go of the guilt around not doing everything I wanted to do, and I could do one thing that we know can help with depression.
Putting aside the part of me that hated the idea, I went out into the garage and got my green machine: the sturdy bike with the handlebar basket and the rack on the back for panniers. I filled up the tires with air. I went back in and got dressed. I found my bike lock and its key. I put my helmet on. And I got on that bike even with the sinking feeling in my chest that made me afraid that I would never experience happiness again.
The depression bugs kept their scrabbling up as I rode; as I rode my normal route and saw a person - completely out of the blue - with whom I had once had conflict, and who represented a community and a relationship I had walked away from because I didn't like who I had become when I was around them. As I rode through the city and on to the bike path that followed the elevated tracks of the commuter trains, I felt my judgments come up and fade, and was able to forgive myself - mostly - for being so judgmental all the time, even if I usually try to keep it to myself. The fog faded and the air became soft and breezy and warmer. The people I shared the bike path with represented all sorts: older people out for a walk, families on bikes, determined cyclists moving fast and serious, younger people with backpacks ambling along, people coming in and out of the train stations. A man at one station was yelling into a megaphone; I couldn't tell about what.
Eventually, I felt my body and mind relax into the movement of the bicycle and the smooth rise and fall of the pavement and I felt able to breathe again, through the sadness and confusion and despair, and even though that stuff was still present, the satisfying clicking of the gears as I shifted made sense where other things did not.
I coasted down off the bike path and into the parking lot of the local mall, where white pop-ups had gathered and crowds of people milled around, looking at the summer display of fruits and vegetables: nectarines, peaches, grapes, broccoli, tomatoes, oranges, apples, greens, cucumbers, squash, peppers, potatoes, onions, plums, beans, berries, and even flowers....
I knew that exercise and fresh food would make me feel better.
As I gathered produce into my bright yellow bike bags and listened to the chatter of farmers and their customers, and admired the rainbow colors of the fruit, for those moments, I was able to be present and the prospect of a lifetime of sadness faded a little bit. There was a mockingbird calling as I rode home, persistent and loud, saying to the world: "I'm here! I'm here!"
What Is Joy?
Can life really be joyful, even when hard things happen? Maybe not on the surface, but below our pain and fear, below the judgment of ourselves and others, there's a kernel that's an inherent and unstoppable desire to live; to see what happens next. At JATHT, we'll explore life, love, joy, and sorrow and hopefully learn something in the process. Welcome!