Depression and a curve in the river of time
I’ve been lightly blue in recent weeks, darker blue in the latter half of June. And I’ve not been writing. The words were just not there. Sometimes we need to lie fallow, so I didn’t push.
Today a number of occurrences and thought lines converged and the words are here.
On July 8th, in the evening, as part of a group that I am in, I did a shamanic journey that explored some of the dysfunctional aspects of our relationship to time. I spent the first chunk of the journey being shown how we have a whole lot of intensity around “wasting time”. We do something, or go somewhere, we feel feelings about it and we declare, “That was a waste of time!”
I saw how we apply this to whole chunks of our lives: “I should never have tried to do a PhD, that was such a waste of time.” Thus we jettison a part of our experience from our active recall and the story of who we are.
I saw, too, how this carries over into our judgment of others. How we see people as wasting their lives: “Tsk, she’s using heroin and living on the street. She used to be such a bright girl. What a waste.” It’s something for sure, the fact that she’s struggling so hard to live a whole and healthy life. But it’s too easy to dismiss someone if we label their life a waste.
I saw my friend Kevin, who I won’t ever get to grow old alongside. It hit me hard here, contemplating how we dismiss people as wasting their lives, since there were likely many people who had looked at this dear, complicated, struggling friend of mine and declared his life a waste and his death a shame for coming too soon.
There is no “too soon” for death.
There are no wasted chunks of your life.
We store our experiences in time like a river. We can dip into it in memory and climb out again. We can ride it around the bend and drink it in. We can think that the water from a certain experience has left us completely, but then we find it again, that particular water, in all the rest of the water that we know more intimately at that particular time.
I relayed all of these words and images to the women in the room after we had journeyed, and my words about time and life and memory as a river drew tears from one dear friend. I wondered how much of our lives we could claim back from those moments that we had jettisoned as “wasted”.
Earlier that day, I had taken my kids to see two Imax movies in a row: Great Bear Rainforest and Superdogs. Both were excellent, as Imax movies go. Great Bear Rainforest made me ache with a longing like homesickness and I was drowning in the beauty of it. I found myself picking at the edges of my fingers, willing our human avarice and short-sightedness and clinging to current habits of consumption and lack of respect to change rapidly enough to keep this living system intact and very richly alive.
When we left the theatre and were standing in the line in the women’s washroom, I heard a voice from long ago say hello. I knew who it was before I turned my head all the way around.
It was my favourite English teacher from my undergrad at UVic, Hilary Knight. She only taught first and second year courses. I took 2 or 3 with her. One of them was a summer intensive: seven weeks, several hours at a time, 4 or 5 days a week. She didn’t, in that moment in the washroom, remember my name, but I knew that she knew exactly who I was.
We spoke for a brief moment once we were out of the washroom and into the Imax gift shop: she was with a friend and my kids were antsy to get on with the next thing. I told Hilary that I had spoken of her only a few days prior to my cousin after not thinking of her for years and years. I gave her my card so that she could contact me.
And so my river of time bends and this curve draws close to that curve from my early-20s.
At the time of the convocation ceremony for my BA, major in French, minor in English, my life was in chaos. I think the successful completion of my degree gave me some false sense of having my shit together, which I sure did not. Todd didn’t come to my convocation ceremony, even though we were dating. I don’t remember why. I don’t remember if my dad was there, either, but I think that’s because I only have one clear memory of that day.
After the ceremony I was standing outside of the Clearihue building on the Ring Road side, facing the Student Union Building and being congratulated and hugged by Hilary Knight, while my mom looked on. Possibly my mom took a photo of us. My mom and I walked away and she said to me, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile and look happy in months.”
I remember being stunned by that, somehow. Both that this might actually be true and that my mom had noticed. This was my first inkling that I might have some kind of struggle with depression. I didn’t follow up on that thought or get assessed in any way. But I carried with me the knowledge that it was possible for me not to smile for months.
I’m going to lunch with Hilary next week. I’m delighted.
Last night I had a dream that I was sitting in the office of a kind doctor who I could feel I had a good, respectful relationship with. (I long for a doctor like this.) She listened to me explain what was going on with me and then held out in her bare hand one and a half huge tablets that would have been extremely hard to swallow. She wanted me to try them right then and there, in the office, so that we could both see how they felt inside my system. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not. I didn’t take them from her. Somewhere between the dream and waking, it struck me that these pills were medication for depression.
The dream spoke to me more of finding a new degree of ok-ness with western medical practice and its genuine ability to support me in certain situations than of seeking out pharmaceutical medication for depression.
This dream came after having taken Tris, our youngest, to see a pediatrician to start putting in place the supports that we are likely going to need to draw on for this beautiful, complicated, intensely sensitive, explosive, transgender kid. I walked away from that appointment feeling seen, heard and immensely grateful, after years of alienation from western medicine.
It was several years ago now that it finally sank in that what I experience is, in fact, depression. I don’t think pharmaceuticals are my path for negotiating my relationship with what my cousin-in-law called The Black Dog.
I’ve also been sifting through layers of awareness around just how sensitive I am. Partly this is sinking in because of Tris and watching her negotiate the world and being who she is. Partly it’s becoming aware of how much I feel trapped by the ways that I made up to cope with being this sensitive in this body, this family and this world. And, very pointedly, it was seeing that my husband ranked me as a 10 on a 1-10 scale of sensitivity in a parenting course that we were taking together, where he only ranked Tris an 8.
My depression is linked to feeling all the things and believing that I have to deny at least half of them. It’s linked to trying to live open-heartedly in a world that contains migrant concentration camps, Trump and his ilk, a new kind of nazi, tar sands, an orca mom who carried her dead calf for days on end. It’s linked to not always knowing how to feel and grieve and let go. It’s waking at 4:00am days in a row and lying in bed thinking of those babies in the prisons, and of my second child, for whom suicide is my worst fear, and then still getting up and carrying on.
I’m learning too what my medicine IS for this Black Dog.
It’s writing, and then sharing some of it.
It’s having uncomfortable, adrenaline-riddled, necessary conversations like the one I had with a man I had just met who referred to the harbourmaster of Victoria as a “girl” when he was complaining about her. And telling him that she is not a girl, but a woman, even if he’s frustrated. Then weathering his bluster and still standing firm that even if she wouldn’t let him do what he wanted, she still deserved respect from him, and that he might consider how his words land for those around him. It was a balm to me to receive his eventual, “Thank you. I didn’t realize that I was doing this. I wonder where else I have diminished women by habit?”
It’s signing up for a weekend-long Indigenous allyship course.
It’s being a part of an online, heart-centred business course and realizing delightedly that it has more to do with creating the pathway for connecting with my heart than any specific “fix” for my business.
It’s knowing that there is medical support for my child no matter what path she chooses to tread.
It’s seeing my herbalist when the Black Dog’s breath begins to fug upon my heels.
It’s knowing that I have a counsellor and healers with whom I can lay down some of this burden.
It’s reading Braiding Sweetgrass in the bleachers at Crystal pool this morning while my older child was in swimming lessons.
It’s finally having a bedroom that I can call my own and sitting in it with the door closed.
It’s making plans to offer workshops and talks in the Fall and beyond.
It’s loving my life and trying to stay in love with it as much as possible, even when it’s tinged with shades of blue.