Letter From the Desert: Surfing the Troughs
this one talks about depression.
I have been through this enough times that I know it will pass. At least twice a year since I was 12, maybe? The pattern repeats. The anhedonia sets in, slowly at first, feeling at first as though I merely need another dose of caffeine to really get going with my day, except the caffeine doesn’t help. Then comes the weight on my shoulders, my thighs, the back of my head. I tell myself a nap will help. Then it’s a week later and everything in my life has soured. These patterns are entrenched. They are mental ravines from which the trickle of my soul longs to flow free.
Obligatory “if you can relate way too well right now” note: Dialing 988 will get you help in the US. Outside the US? Here’s a global list of hotlines.
About a hundred times in and I still haven’t figured out the combination of triggers that cause the overwhelming weight to ebb. I know that going outside helps. I know that moving helps. Something about opening up the capillaries and oxygenating the skin, the inflamed psychic tissues? A reminder of the low importance of all the picayune bullshit that makes up a human life? probably. I talked to a pshrink once who observed that when I’m in a place (like the desert) where it seems from the sublime expanse of it all that I personally don’t matter, the obvious corollary is that the stuff bothering my inconsequential self is itself inconsequential.
It works often enough, and yet here I am not getting outside.
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I did get out yesterday. Half a dozen miles hiked in a steep-walled canyon with good friends old and new, and we watched two ravens gleefully harassing a young golden eagle. I’ve always wondered what would happen if a raptor the size of an eagle decided to stand its aerial ground, decided to pivot in mid-air and face its harassers with beak and talon. Ravens are notoriously chickenshit, to mix an ornithological metaphor. They also talk amongst themselves. Three or four juvenile goldens fighting back and I think the word might get out. Behaviors might change.
But look who’s talking! I have my own retinue of raven jerks. These caw gleefully at any sign of weakness. They whirl and duck mid-flight, parry and feint, pretty agile considering their advanced age. They’ve been doing this since Nixon was president.
I remind myself each time that just because I want this to end doesn’t mean I want to end. That reminder has gotten easier over the years. I mean, if I survived 2008’s cocktail of death, divorce, and dislocation this passing dry monsoon cloud should be a piece of cake, right? And 2008 was nothing compared to 1972, or for that matter 1983. Plus I’ve got more tools these days, what with the stash of bupropion and the internet, and occasional recourse to things I will not here specify that promote neuroplasticity. At some point in the next days, or weeks, I will notice that I’m enjoying something uncomplicatedly. The cycle will have reset to zero.
I won’t go on and on here. There are few things more boring than someone else’s depressive episodes. It’s the lessons that are important.
Lesson one: every word you speak to someone can echo through the years. Spend just 12 or 15 years telling a young person he or she is worthless and disappointing, and your investment may well still pay off a half century later.
Lesson the other: Someone else’s easy triumphs may not have been easy. Everything I have ever accomplished has been accomplished while navigating through this cloud. Making the summit of Whitney is something to be proud of. Doing so with a 150-pound anvil in your backpack is something else altogether. And if you can’t make the summit, consider whether making it 5/6 of the way up Whitney with that anvil on your back might not qualify as impressive.
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