Thoughts: Hardcore Gratitude

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I am the happiest depressed person you will ever meet.

Don’t kid yourself. I struggle. Every morning is a battle to get going. Some days I am flat emotionally all day long. I don’t pretend it is easy anymore. It’s not. Ever since the depression struck nearly a decade and a half ago, it’s been a daily battle. It’s hard work. Most days I win.

What does winning look like?

Some days it’s just getting up in the morning. Functioning well enough that my clients and friends don’t see the depression. They see good old reliable Tom who gets things done, keeps his promises and mostly seems OK. If I do it right, if my discipline is good enough, no one would know I fight the good fight each day.

Other days, it’s getting up and doing something special for someone. A client. A parishioner, someone I love, a stranger. It’s adding value to someone’s life. It’s helping someone else know they are not alone. It’s reminding people around me that it’s going to be OK, whatever it is. It’s helping people move from where they are to where they want to be. I am living proof that you can be a bit broken and still do good stuff for others.

Mostly, winning is using gratitude like a weapon. Reminding myself how fortunate I am. I live in a place I love, not a place I am stuck in. I have people to love and people who love me. I am warm. My bills get paid each month. Mostly, I live a life I love. I eat every day, mostly well (At least according to my standards, my doctor might disagree.). There’s music in my life. Color. Laughter (Lots of laughter). I have a lot of the stuff I love in life – time, creativity, love, faith) and little of the stuff I hate (paperwork, anger, worry.), I’ve made it to 63 in relatively good shape and good health. I have a ridiculously wonderful woman who manages to both accept me and challenge me. (neat trick, that.). I have a cat. I take each of those things and in my mind (and at times, when my depression is rougher than normal, I say it out loud.) I say “Take that!” and beat it back like a club.

If I have to push back against an unruly mind each day to fully enjoy it? That’s a small price to pay.

Depression is a battle. Medicine helps. Therapy helps. (I am a bit evangelistic about both.) But so does a good dollop of resentment and anger. Not against people or ourselves or circumstances, but against the gnarly beast itself.

You’d never know it to look at me, but I am tougher than I look. Just ask the battered beast I left on my bedroom floor this morning, battered into submission (at least for today) by a dollop of hardcore gratitude.

Take that!

Tom

PS; The picture was taken not far from my home. One of the many things I love is that we have all these farms around here that let you come and buy fresh things on the honor systems. And up here, the system works.

Poem: Dark Passages

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Dark Passages

Dark passages
lead to light.

That is all you need to know.
All that sustains you.
The whole of your truth.

Dark passages
lead to light.

This is your biography,
your strategy,
the path before you and behind you,

Full of promise
in the midst of the dark chemicals
inside your brain.

Victory, it seems,
is in the persistence,
the refusal to stay in place,

to move, never fleeing
always forward, always
even in the face of fear.

Especially in the face of fear,

Dark passages
lead to light.

Poem: Victories of the Day

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Victories of the Day

The chaise calls you
and you yearn to answer,
to lie by the windows
and let your mind wander far into the clouds,
to think of greatness and possibility.
Deep thoughts. Spiritual thoughts.
On Eagles Wings thoughts, but
it is too early and
you know the reality.
You know the danger,
for it is too soon from the morning’s first battle.
You are awake in this moment,
fighting past the darkness of the morning,
but not far enough away
that it cannot swallow you again.

So you will walk past the calling couch.
For all it’s beauty and comfort,
it is not for you.
There are things to do, battles to fight,
and until the day is nearly done there will be time
to rest, safe in the victories of the day.

About this morning. 

I am in some ways, a creature of another era. Despite how I make much of my living with technology, I do my best work when I am allowed to sit and think. Good old fashioned thinking. That’s when my clients get their money’s worth.

But not too early in the morning. If I stop early in the morning, my depression wins. So thinking is best left for late in the day, and at night. Mornings and days are for action. I like to stack my victories before I rest. That’s what works.

Tom

Poem: Strangely Muted

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Strangely Muted

The flowers on the table are backlit by the sun
casting a strange tint to the colors,
bright, not quite real,
too like your life, all colors,
but strangely muted by the dark parts.

About this poem

Even in the best of time, there are dark parts. Even in the dark, there is color. Somehow by the grace of God, we survive both.

Tom

Poem: The Magic of Steps

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The Magic of Steps

You can’t see it at first.
It takes time and patience.
The stringing of each strand,
all of them, some of color,
some bland and almost invisible.

The first work is tedious
and there is no visible evidence
of progress.

But you continue none the less.
counting on the knowledge of others
to carry truth
that even you can use.

You begin at last
and the magic happens
right on cue.

It’s astonishing what happens
when you finally follow the instructions.

About this poem

One of the amazing things (although I should have known it all along) that I came to understand when I fell into my darkest depression a decade and nearly a half ago, is that I was not as unique as I felt like I was. That others had traveled the same path and that I could learn the lessons and follow the experience and teaching of those before me, and that it worked.

Oh, or the poem could be about weaving.

Tom

PS: The picture was taken at the Hancock Shaker Village

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