Poem: Outside, It Snows

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Outside, It Snows

It is snowing outside.
You are sitting in your favorite diner,
hands wrapped around a cup of coffee,
the warmth seeping into your skin.

It is snowing outside.
It is late in the season
and you have not seen the ground
since October.

This is life where you live,
here in the valleys of Vermont.
Winter is the longest season,
It enters the mind like snow through a cracked window.

You shut your eyes.
The winter has become oppressive.
The sameness seeps life from your soul.
You are as buried as the grass.

You shut your eyes and remember spring.
You know it lives, there below the snow.
You know this. It is the mantra of an old man
who has survived much and knows

nothing remains forever, knows
winter is not the assassin it seems,
merely a sieve for the survivors
and the patient, those unwilling or unable

to wait out winter.

Perhaps your day will come.
Perhaps someday you will lack the will to wait.
But not now. Not today.
You shut your eyes and remember spring.

The colors are real as real.
You can feel the sun. You can feel her hand in yours.
You feel, for a brief time, strong.
It is enough while

outside, it snows.

About this poem. 

I was feeling utterly uninspired this morning, so I scanned through my pictures and chose this one, taken just down the road from my house in West Pawlet, Vermont, and wrote to it.

Oh, and it’s snowing outside.

Tom

 

Why I write about depression

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The email came in this morning.

I get a fair number of them. Not just emails in general, but emails about this one particular subject: “Why do you write so much about depression?” Frankly, I get a fair number of emails about why I write so much about a lot of things, but the depression question comes up more than most.

Some argue that it’s so, well, depressing. Others worry that it will stain and harm my reputation professionally and pastorally. Some just get tired of it.

There are a couple of reasons. First, I came to the place a time ago that if I was going to write it was going to be real. And guess what? I fight depression. Every day I fight it and I’ve fought it for at least a decade and a half.  Just getting going in the morning is a battle. One I usually win, but not without effort. So, if I am going to be honest in my writing, depression will be part of it.

That morning battle thing figures in too. I do most of my writing early in the morning and that’s when the battle is in full force. Writing becomes my declaration of war some days. My battle cry of “Not today! Today I will prevail!”. Done sometimes in something close to iambic pentameter.  So sometimes it is just a matter of timing.

But there is something else. There are a bunch of us fighting depression. Estimates and studies say between 10 to 15 percent of us battle the dark little demon. And most of us do it in isolation (I did, for a time.). But isolation is the enemy. We all need to know we are not alone. We need to know we can battle it, and how. We need to be able to lean on each other. That’s how we win.

At least for the day.

If I write about it. Talk about it. Wax poetic about it. Write books about it, then the few hundred people who pop on and read each day get a reminder that they are not the only ones. They get a reminder of how it can be beaten back. How we can have relatively normal lives, even, yes, even, find joy and happiness.

So I write of my victories. To remind readers that victory is there. At other times, I need reminders from others because I am not in a place of victory. And I am grateful for those others who share, teach and preach victory.

We all need reminders that victory is a real thing.

I often say I am the happiest depressed guy you will ever meet. I am. It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. But I am blessed with good work, a wonderful family and wife, a loving and tolerant church, dear friends and interesting, fulfilling things to do.  Am I willing to let depression rob me of those things?

Hell no. (Remember, I am a preacher, so when I use that word – I mean it will all due venom.) And I don’t want anyone else to settle for less either. If I can help, and writing is what I do, so it’s kind of what I have, then I’ll do it.

I don’t know why people suffer. Why this one or why that one. I don’t think suffering gives us purpose unless WE give it purpose. And sharing our stories, particularly our stories of victory, is one way to give our suffering purpose.

I’ve been told from non-depressed people that they appreciate my writing, that it gives them an idea of what we depressed folk fight. It gives them a sense of understanding. If that’s so, that’s worth doing. Understanding is powerful. Understanding promotes help and love and healing.

So that’s it. I’ll still get complainers, I know. That’s OK. I’ll just point them to this post and not have to type it again and again. I’m lazy that way.

Thanks for listening. On to what’s next. Because that’s where the battle is won.

Be well, Travel wisely,

Tom

Thoughts: A Contradiction in Terms

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I am in a good place just now.

A year into my marriage, I am still in love. My daughter has recently moved and started a new job where she wants to be. She’s ridiculously happy. My son is halfway through his college time, doing well and planning for an exciting future.

It’s spring and the lilacs are in bloom. In the evenings, when I leave the doors open in my house, their perfume fills the air. The cat, holed up through a long winter, wallows in the sun. Neighbors are emerging from their winter homes and we’re all reconnecting. Recently, I got a lesson in forgiveness from a long-ago friend and it’s been a good thing. (Not all lessons are, after all.).

I have interesting work, and the prospects of new challenges are in the air.

It’s a rare thing when pretty much all the aspects of a complex and rich life are aligned and doing well at the same time. Certainly, it seems more often than not life is a strange dissonance of good and bad, easy and hard, clear and confusing.

From time to time, I write of depression here. I write because I fight it. I write because I find writing about it helps me. And in recent years, after hearing from readers, I write because I have learned that sharing my story helps others, if in no other way than to let them know they are not alone. I’ve even written a small book about my story, which, if notes from readers can be believed, has been helpful.

Here’s another side of depression. Even when things are good, depression does not go away.

A lot of people think depression is brought on by events, and to some extent that can be true – events, physical or emotional trauma and the like can certainly trigger it. But it’s not that simple, because depression is also caused by chemistry in our bodies. Medication helps. (I love my happy pills.) and therapy helps (Our brain can do a lot of self-healing with help.), but it’s not a situation where Badthings = depression, and Goodthings = No depression. Good or bad things are just one of a lot of factors.

Life being wonderful is certainly a help. No doubt about it. And I am crazy grateful right now.  But it doesn’t go away. It’s a chronic illness and all you do it manage it.

So to say “Life is wonderful.” and “Getting going was a battle today.” are not contradictory statements. They are just a fact of life for us who live with depression. But mostly we’ve learned to shut up about the depression. People tend to say “But your life is so good, what have YOU got to be depressed about.”.

I can remember hiking along the Appalachian trail once when I was in college. It was well into summer and the trees and the brush were thick and green. I was high on a ridge somewhere near Front Royal, Va. I knew there had to be amazing views, but the undergrowth was so thick, I wasn’t able to see them.

After miles and miles of walking in the tunnel of trees and undergrowth, I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. I plunged into the undergrowth. I got whacked by branches and there were some thorny things that cut into my legs as I pushed through the green prison.

Finally, I got to the edge of the ridge. There were rock outcroppings and I climbed on one. The panoramic view went on for miles and miles. I could see forever. Other mountains. Farms in the valley. A crisscross of country roads cutting into the landscape. And sky. So much sky.

It was glorious.

That’s how it is with us people fighting depression. There’s joy out there. We know it. But we have to work to get to it. Fighting the chemicals in our brain and the effects of those chemicals, we have to push through the undergrowth of our own minds to get to that joy.

But when we do, it’s glorious. All the more so because we had to work for it.

I woke up feeling sludgy this morning. But a call to the woman I love (who was in Mass this morning.), some time on the back porch listening to some very happy birds. A prayer of thanksgiving, even when I wasn’t fully feeling it.). Meditation on the porch. All that and I had cut through the brush.

I could feel the joy I am surrounded by.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Depression has taught me the value of joy. It’s worth the work. And I feel blessed that I have the tools to cut through the underbrush, thorns and all. Not everyone does. I have found new strengths in my weakness. I have a sense of value for even the small things that I lacked before depression hit me so many years ago.

Life is good and I am going to savor the view. It’s glorious. And I’ve earned it.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Poem: It is Dangerous Out There

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It is Dangerous Out There

Everything you know.
Everyone you know
tells you:

It is dangerous out there.

And so you live in your rock castle,
nursing your wounds,
barring your windows,
chaining your doors.

It is dangerous out there.

They will hurt you.
Again and again they tell you
so fearfully you draw the shades
and no longer peer out as you heal.

It is dangerous out there.

You are sure of it and live in fear behind strong walls
until you realized each scar and wound
came in this prison you have built,
in this safety you believed in.

It is dangerous out there.

That’s the lie.
It is no worse there than here,
and you tear the bars from the windows
and escape.

It is dangerous in there.

About this poem

Isolation is the enemy.

Tom

Poem: Almost Monochrome

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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