A short little bit from a poem I recently read that I cannot get out of my mind:
It is as if
a steel clamp
Had seized upon
one square inch
of a flattened
Canvas map then
The painted landscape
thrown into shadow,
A life is not
It is not meant
to fold, to be
A narrow ring.
(from “Portrait of a Hanged Woman” by Monica Youn, Blackacre)
I have been reading a lot of poetry lately. I want to search out the ones that break me open, like this one; poems that are not about anything like what I am experiencing but that also resonate because they are, somehow, exactly what I am going through.
(Also songs, but that is a different post.)
I read this sitting in the pink chair that I scavenged from my mother’s house. This chair was in my bedroom when I was a teenager, and it was the space of refuge, the comforting place I went when I was caught in the dark. It’s covered in pink velvet, and when I scavenged it I did so with the intent of having it reupholstered, because by now it is bedraggled, more grey than pink, raw wood exposed on one edge, trim dangling—but I cannot bring myself to do it. The texture of that fabric against my fingers, even now nearly thirty years later…that texture is what it feels like to be cracking along my unaccustomed creases.
So I sat on the chair and I read poems and I remembered myself at 14 and 15 and 16, stuck in darkness, and compared that darkness to this one, and I realized how similar they are.
Almost the same place.
Except, I know now, at least, the triggering points. Sometimes, depression just arrives, blackness seeping in slowly until you are filled. Sometimes it is like a switch, the wave of a magic wand, the difference between one blink and another: not there, there, and the suddenness this time is because the last bit of my resistance has been broken.
I was up above it.
Now I’m down in it.
(A life is not this supple.)
For three weeks, I have left my house only for necessities: work, the grocery store, the driveway but only to shovel snow. I’ve stopped going to the gym. I didn’t snowshoe in our fresh snow. I haven’t visited any neighbors or friends or family. I even took a few mental health days from work.
I didn’t do anything besides stay home and eat unhealthy foods. Entire bags of chocolate, far too many hot drinks. Spaghetti and butter, English muffins and butter and jam, hash browns cooked in butter with cheese melted on top.
The darkness got denser and because of that it got harder to do anything and because of that the darkness got denser.
The chocolate and carbs that brought me brief little sparks of light made me sad, settling on my thighs and chin and belly, and I could only find more light with more chocolate, more carbs.
I played music but I didn’t sing.
I made things but I didn’t connect to them.
I wrote, but nothing real.
I cleaned the house, I cleaned every 8&*@!!($^_@ corner of my ^&%%$*(@ house, I decluttered until everything was empty and then I didn’t feel accomplished but just…empty.
Then I had that moment, sitting on my old pink chair reading poems, and somehow that was enough. Just barely enough that, half an hour later when my husband walked into the (clean) house and said “let’s go to the gym,” I could say “OK.” I could pull on some exercise clothes and find my music and watch and shoes, and even though I slogged, I slogged through that workout (ten minutes of elliptical, ten minutes of the side trainer, ten minutes on the rowing machine), even though it was boring and uninspiring and ugly…I moved. I moved my body and some of the darkness moved too, like black, thick chunks of ice on a lake in winter at midnight during a new moon cracking, at last, just a bit.
A shift. Barely perceptible except I could perceive it, I could remember what it felt like to breath, I could put a stop to the endless cycle of darkness.
I would say “hopefully” but I don’t even have any hope yet.
I’m not even sure I should be writing this. What a crazy person she is, I hear all you readers saying. (“All you readers!” There are far more readers in my head than in real life I know.) Exposing herself like this. It’s weird, right? It’s a plea for attention, it’s sort of lame, it’s actually fairly pathetic, who talks about this anyway?
Who talks about it.
No one, or not many. And that makes it worse. Because it is not just that I am locked underneath all that dark ice. It is not that whatever my painted canvas map had been, it has been yanked through the smallest opening, it has been cracked and torn and everything colorful made meaningless.
It is that I am utterly alone.
And maybe if I talk about it, someone else won’t be alone. Maybe if I say: depression is a vicious cycle and the only person who can stop its downward spiral is the depressed person—maybe someone else will also have a moment in their (metaphorical) pink chair. Maybe their (her) cycle can break, too.
It is hard to speak out of the dark. It weighs so much my voice feels impossibly heavy.
But this is part of it too. Part of breaking the cycle is, for me, writing my way up out of it. Writing what is real, and hard, and ugly, and painful. Maybe I will never share publicly what pushed me into the dark water, what broke the last of my spirit and started the cycle.
Maybe it doesn’t matter how it started.
Maybe it just matters to know that I can end it.
With letting myself feel what I am feeling.
I confess: I’m still down here in the dark. I still feel like everything has been ruined in irreparable ways.
Who knows what my life or my psyche will look like on the other side.
But even just knowing that—even just saying “the other side.” That reminds me it wasn’t always dark and maybe the light will come back.
And maybe I am not alone.