Adjacent to the edge
Depression, tending, and coming back to shore
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A song I’m loving:
The first thing I notice is the desire to get in bed earlier, and earlier, and earlier, and stay in bed longer, and longer, and longer. Then, I start noticing having to aggressively peel myself up to take a shower, brush my teeth, floss, and put my favorite daily oil onto my face. I then take stock of the amount of days I’m skipping lunch not out of intention, but out of either lack of appetite or lack of energy to think of what to make for lunch and overwhelm trying to then get the ingredients out of the fridge and cabinet, and then cook/assemble/heat/put them all together, and then sit down to eat. I notice how impossible the most simple of tasks, like feeding myself, let alone my child, feel. I notice less glasses of water being consumed, less random texts being sent, less adventures outward. I notice comparison thickening, seeing how much “everyone else” seems to be doing in contrast to my quiet, mundane daily tasks. I notice my partner’s ability to get up and go to the gym in the mornings while I wonder why my knees are sore, why I can barely go for a walk, why the desire to move my body is so present yet the ability to do so seems invisible. I notice tidying and tidying and tidying as a method of trying to create some semblance of togetherness. I notice the felt sense of shrinking, interior thoughts insisting there simply isn’t room for me anymore, that my time as a writer or successful person has passed, that the spots are all taken up by everyone else in the cliques I’m not a part of, that my time is up. I notice my shoulders staying permanently close to my ears and an ache when I try to drop them, the sensation of release unfamiliar to my body. I notice not being able to concentrate on reading. I notice not wanting to write. I’m so glad I notice these things now.
When depression visits, my tendency is to deny it, shut it away as if it were a pest I can just keep at bay until it skitters off in some other direction, something I can kill with my inattention. I deny it because it’s boring; it isn’t interesting or helpful to anyone, myself included. I deny it because I don’t want to admit to myself it’s still something I struggle with. I deny it because it’s something I don’t want to admit to anyone else I still struggle with. I want the variety of tools and practices I’ve memorized to be enough. I want all the work I’ve done to pay off in a way that doesn’t include depression, at times, remaining. I want to be one of those people who has a story to be gobbled, a triumphant narrative of overcoming, of finally getting past the hurt, of moving beyond themselves and turning into the hero of their own life. I want to be a model for how to move past it all instead of a continual model for how to live with it all. And that is not who, or where, or what, I am; not now, at least. I am me, currently moving through a depression again, knowing it will pass yet inevitably having to face the reality that it is here, and now what?
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I can’t help but think about what depression has led to in the past; I can’t help but picture my teenage self in and out of hospitals, unable to sleep on those thin, creaky psychiatric ward mattresses, unsure of how to go on. I can't help but envision the versions of me who teetered on the edge of living and dying, who didn’t think I’d ever reach a place of being able to face depression without being completely wiped out by it. I can’t help but feel gratitude for all the edges I’ve stepped back from, and grief for all the edges I’ve faced; relief that the edge isn’t anywhere close by anymore, and grief that depression is still a familiar companion, one I haven’t yet figured out how to ascend beyond or leave behind, one that always seems to reach its arms just far enough to find me again.
What brings the most grief, though, is the difficulty of truly turning toward myself during these periods; instead of tending to myself when depression is visiting, I find myself worrying about when I’ll feel myself enough to return to sharing writing in ways that are meaningful or less drab. I find myself noticing the sensation of urgency when I don’t have anything to say, a sense of irrelevance gripping my neck. When countless people have shared how much you mean to them, how important your newsletter is to their weekly ritual, how wise you are, how much your words nurture and mend them, it’s hard not to feel like you’re failing when the words don’t come, when you need more time for your own mending, when your wisdom doesn’t always know how to reach your own self. And when I step back and think about how silly it is to assume anyone else’s needs, especially that of strangers, must come before my own, a new layer of judgment can quickly arise. This, of course, it all part of the process — not anything to hide or fix — just something to take stock of, just something I work to take care of and mend simply by noticing, by naming. Already, the energy of it is more settled, just through the writing of this paragraph.
What I want to say the most today, though, isn’t about the drag of depression or the challenge of facing it while being a public person who writes. What I want to say today is that even in the midst of moving through a depression, there have been opportunities to move even a little bit of the shame out of the way by simply naming it, by giving it room to exist. There is the planning of today’s lunch: a simple salad from our CSA box items, a protein shake, and a mix of cashews & dried apricots. There is a removal of the pressure to never feel shame. There is the willingness to write my way through what limits me, through what I once perceived as a flaw or broken piece. There is the admitting of what is true as a path toward momentum. There is the almost-empty can of sparkling water sitting on the desk where I type. There is the yoga practice I did this morning, even when I didn’t want to. There is no longer feeling the need to wait until its all “better” before I can give it some air, let it be known, let it be witnessed. There is a good playlist and a plan to visit the used bookshop a few towns over. There is a breeze, the subtle movement of wind as a mirror. There is sitting down to write, no matter how uninteresting or unimpressive. There is an energy of progression that reminds me this, too, will shift.
I’m sending this week’s letter out today instead of Sunday because I know I’ll want Sunday morning this week to be with my family, to perhaps sleep in a bit, to slowly drink my coffee and read a few pages of a book as my capacity to read returns, to turn off electronics and remember myself after feeling a bit farther off shore the last week or two. I’m sending it today to remind you, reader, that perhaps you, too, must tend to yourself first — even when there are others (humans, tasks, plans, dreams) pulling on your sleeves. I’m sending it today as a stake in the ground for myself to take stock of how I’m slowly unfurling again, and will inevitably curl back into myself at some point, yet I can always count on the unfurling, the returning, the coming back up for air again. And this quiet truth, this trite yet true ongoing realization, this near-silent humming of hope, is enough for now.
△on what not to say to mothers
△ A scene from a recent getaway to the central coast
And here are links to the most recent letters for paid subscribers:
~ Behind the Scenes #1: On less-than-ideal conditions for creating
~ Behind the Scenes #2: Courage over confidence & fraudy feelings
~ Behind the Scenes #3: Money money money
~ Behind the Scenes #4: What gets in the way
Human Stuff from Lisa Olivera is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.