Poem: Almost Monochrome

almost monocrhome 2

Almost Monochrome

Another day. Almost monochrome,
with just a touch of green cutting through the snow,
the slightest hint of spring.
due tomorrow, a date on the calendar,
something to laugh at as the temperature falls in the night.

Another day. Almost monochrome.
Your mood and the distant trees are kissing cousins,
not quite black, the markers of boundary lines
between land and moods.

You smile at them. At the grey.
At the evening fog rising from the creeks.
For this is what they do not know,
those who paint you and your depression in black and white
when it is anything but.

For after a long season of cold and grey,
your eyes change. You see color like a cat sees light
in the midnight air.
Even the smallest hue burns your retinas
and makes them tear down your cheeks,
a beauty more treasured in the grey season
than in any other.

Another day. Almost monochrome,
but not quite.

About this poem. 

One of the misconceptions about people with depression is that we feel no joy and are never happy. Those who know us know that is not true. Happiness is perhaps more rare in our lives, but it is treasured all the more because of that rareness.

The picture was taken near West Rupert, Vermont, a couple of small towns down the road from me.

Tom

Poem: Temporary Casualties

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Temporary Casualties 

I am dragging this morning. There is no poetry in me.
The words in me are discordant,
bully words,
the words of people who loved me intermittently,
intimate allies one minute,
aware of each weak point in body and soul,
intimate enemies the next, just as
aware of each weak point in body and soul.

That’s what I know. Bullies have a particular power.
They know best, just where to place the knife,
and they know they do not have to twist the blade.
They know
I will do it for them.

“Talk to me like you love me.” I once told one
of these off and on lovers.

It is confusing, love with a bully.
And in the end, they leave you,
their voices become yours.
You become them, far better
at evisceration than they ever were,
far more persistent.

At sixty-two, I know them well.
I listen to them,
just long enough
to separate out the voices,
to know which are yours,
and which belong to the devils
who wish so fervently to become demons
and possess us.

It’s not going to happen.
(not a poetic phrase is it? It sounds
more like a bad adventure movie, still)
They have had their moment.
But it is past.
Like a Celtic army, they can scream and paint themselves
with false righteousness before the charge.

I am no longer unarmed.
My mildness is no longer weakness.
It has been built of wounds and wisdom.
I have survived and I know the difference
between the devil’s insidious song
and my own.
Let them charge with their painted faces and spears.
I will laugh as I pull the trigger
and begin my day,
each word I do not feel is a roman discipline.
I write them and watch the lies fall,
temporary casualties.

Better them than me.
I stretch.
I push aside the cat at the foot of the bed.
I get up.
There is a life to lead.
Until tomorrow’s battle,
I am safe.

About this poem.

Another dark morning conquered. This is what I do. Every day. I left out the victory dance, but my kids call it dad dancing and it’s not a pretty sight.

Laughing with joy.

Tom

Poem: One Day Closer

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One Day Closer

It is the third day of a rare February melt
and still, the snow remains, grey in the morning,
the colors of old grass and wheat still buried,
just out of sight.

The creeks are high. Blocks of ice catch on fallen trees.
The water is angry, awakened from its winter sleep.

Today will tell the tale.
Another day of melt and the colors will return.
The landscape will burst with the browns and yellows,
almost dead things will become bright in comparison
to the smothering white snow.

You stand and look across the lake.
You feel the breeze for a hint of warmth
and find none. It is winter still
and you tighten your scarf around your neck.
The day will be a long one, cold and hard, but
one day closer to spring.

About this poem

About Winter. About life.

Tom

Poem: Manna, Diners and the Nick of Time

Rows

Manna, Diners and the Nick of Time

Joplin on the stereo.
Coffee to the side.
At the counter, they talk of fish and childhoods.
The tables are empty.

Blues guitars fill the air
and you are tempted to sway,
eyes closed,
to lose yourself in the music,

It is hard this morning.
Hard to start. Hard to breathe and hard
to begin.  Darkness, like sludge,
fills your lungs and fills your mind

and you are nearly overwhelmed.
Even the music is your enemy,
penetrating too deep, too loud. a threat
to swallow you and beat you into the ground.

But you are old and tough.
A veteran of the dark wars.
Too dumb to surrender, too wrapped up in the battle
you begin to write, each work

another bar in the prison that will,
for a day at least,
keep the demons at bay, captured
by careful punctuation and word magic,

A thing stronger than you,
white magic, rarely beautiful, peculiarly powerful,
you weave them even when you do not feel them,
you grow stronger, less from effort than allowing,

of bearing your breast to the demons and God alike
and trusting God’s breath to come faster
and stronger, and always, only,
in the nick of time.

About this poem. 

Manna, for those of you who are not Christian, or are long lapsed, is the bread-like substance that God gave the Jews each day after they had left their slavery in Egypt. They could not save it, for it would rot. They had to trust that each day he would give them just enough. And he did.

That is the way I have led my life the past decade or so. Dark days or bright days, even when I am not feeling it days, I have to trust that I will get enough inspiration (literally “God’s breath”) to get through.

And when I am not feeling it? I do it anyway.

It’s amazing how that works. In the doing it anyway, in the trusting that by doing and living and creating, good happens. Energy comes. Depression is pushed back. Joy sneaks in. And from the little death of each morning, life creeps in. Always in the nick of time.

Rarely before.

Tom

PS – The picture has nothing to do with Manna or diners, but it reminded me of what my day feels like when I wake up each morning. Dark. Regimented. Lacking life. But if I put away how it looks and feels in the morning, also full of potential.  The picture was taken near my home in West Pawlet, Vermont.

Poem: Morning Snow

 

moss

Morning Snow

Early in the morning, you wake.
You walk outside,
clamber up the quarry,
survey the valley
that place you have come from.

There is snow on the moss,
on the slate,
a light feathering, no more,
and the clouds around you are dark.

You stare at the snow, unsure
whether it is melting, or
a harbinger of a storm yet unseen.

About this poem.

Often, when you fight depression, you wake in what most people would call a funk, and you have no idea if it will lift like fog or fall like a heavy winter snow. Most of the time, which way it ends up is up to me. Thus my early morning battle cry each day as I get out of bed: “It’s showtime!”

Outside there are several inches of fresh snow. But the picture was taken at Cape Cod in March.

Poem: The Mystic Print Shop.

Mystic Print Shop

The Mystic Print Shop

The bins are full of
letters of lead.

There is a message in there.
if only I could find it.
If only it would stop changing.

About this poem

A mood thing. Intensely personal.

On the other hand, the picture really is of the Mystic Seaport Print Shop, making the poem wonderfully surfacy at the same time. (There I go making up words again.)

Tom

 

Thoughts: Honoring the Wounded

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The painting above is called Fractured. It’s by a local artist named Lynn Cummings.

I took the picture a few years ago and I keep it where I can find it and look at it often. Because if ever a painting captured my feelings when I am fighting depression, this is it. The flashes of color are the good things that leak into life. The browns and darks are the disease, working hard to stifle the best of me.  I like painting because, despite the preponderance of the dark monotones, for me, it’s the violets and yellows that I am drawn to, the reminders that those things are always there.

Last night, on the phone to someone dear to me, I was asked “so, I have been reading your blog. The depression is still there?”

Well, yeah.

Depression, I have learned, is misunderstood, or even not understood at all by most people.  Ever since I began writing of my own battles, people have been thanking me for telling their story, of reminding them that they are not alone.

Because that is one of the elements of it. The shame of it. A shame that comes from not understanding. My ex-wife was fond of telling my kids that my depression made me weak. My father, who had, I believe, a lifetime of depression, felt it was shameful, a weakness and that was part (only part) of why he drank so badly.

In a way, of course, it is a weakness. It’s a disease. A chronic disease. You can treat it. You can manage it. But it rarely goes away. You just learn to push it back. Or you succumb. Some people have bad cases. It cripples them. I spent a year or two in that place. It’s dark. Black. Horrifying. Consuming.

Others of us, most of us in fact, have medium to mild cases. You don’t even see the disease. We function fine. We plow through each day. We do our work. We laugh. We love. We do good stuff. We create. We raise kids, cut our lawns and help our neighbors. We’re invisible (at least until some loudmouth like me pipes up.)

But it’s not easy. Even those of us with medium to mild cases are fighting a battle the rest of the world does not have to fight. We have to consciously battle lies our minds tell us about our value, our ability, our worthiness as people. We have to fight to get up and get going in the morning. We have to smile when we don’t feel like it. Function when what we want to do is crawl into a bed and hide from the world. We have to fight the stigma and shame that people put on us for our depression. We feel the bad stuff more and the good stuff less than most people. Stuff that is simple for others is hard for us.

But we do it. We live lives that, unless you know us well, are perfectly normal. It’s just a battle to live those lives. We take medication to help, but all that medication does is lighten the load we carry. (unless we are doped to the gills, in which case we don’t function well at all.).

The rest of it is on us. If we are smart, or if we have the courage, we get psychological help and that lets us develop ways to battle our own minds so that we can live relatively normal lives. Invisible lives. It’s work. And no one sees it.

I’ve said it before. People who fight their depression to live normal lives are not weak. They are the strongest people I know. They are courageous, fighting a battle for normalcy that they will never win, a day by day battle where they know there is no rest, only now, only this moment of victory. They cannot let their guard down. Not for a day. Not for an hour, or this thing will swallow us, push us back. We are always subject to having it take us down.

And on top of that, we have to fight the stigma. The people who think we can just snap out of it. That we are just having a case of the blues. That we are weak.

Sorry boys, we carry weight that blissfully, you don’t have to carry.  I am not proud of my disease, but I’d damn proud of my battle, of each day I push through it and laugh and love and am, to most people, invisible. Put me down all you like. Put down those other people who fight the same fight. I know the truth. We are soldiers in civies. Your putdowns and insults are part of the battle, and honestly, they are the least part.

Depression has made me more compassionate. I have learned more about emotional trauma and disease than I ever thought I needed to know. I have become far better at listening to people’s stories. I have come to see how many of us are walking wounded. Anxiety. Abuse. Life

Anxiety. Abuse. Life trauma. Each of them literally leaves wounds on the brain, and the people battling them are my soldiers in arms. They fight their own wounded minds day in and day out, and for the most part, they do it. They function. They build lives. They do good work. It’s hard. They don’t do it easily. They have moments when it overwhelms them, but then they get up and start again.

I have never fought in a war. And I am glad of it. But I have listened to many soldiers talk about their time in battle.

In battle, there is no shame in being wounded. When one soldier is wounded, others gather around them, extract them, protect them. After the battle, they honor them.

Imagine that, honoring the wounded.

How did we miss that in regular life? How did we turn from honoring and helping and protecting those who battle on to stigmatizing them? To mocking them? To shaming them?  I simply don’t have the answers, but I find it sad.

In my favorite diner this morning, I had a conversation with an elderly couple. The husband fights depression. The woman fights anxiety. They have been married 50 years. They have three kids who they raised and who are doing well in life. He had a long career as a chemist. She’s a freelance writer and has done that for 40 years. They were delightful, wounds and all.

Don’t tell me they’re weak. They are crazy strong. They have fought the battle all their lives and made a good life for themselves and others. And they still fight it. Every day. If we were in a bar instead of a breakfast diner, I would have bought a round of drinks in their name. They made me smile. Such a loving couple, wounds and all.

So here’s to the walking wounded. The world may put you down and push you aside, but not me. Not today. I honor your strength. I honor your courage. I honor the battles fought and the battles to come. You are my heros.

Every day.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom