Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We've Got Company

I pulled this off her website, heidiwdurrow.com

As a part of this year's Story Week Festival of Writers, Heidi Durrow came into town and read and spoke. Heidi Durrow is really cool; her name's been pretty important in my house for years now. Last summer my husband and I told a story at the 2011 Mixed Roots Literary and Film Festival, and since, we've been big fans.

I've been making my way through her arresting debut novel, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and a few nights ago, I came across this passage.
"David," she said to her husband as she turned toward him in bed. "The sadness is coming over me again."
"I know. Come here."
Laronne moved closer and let herself feel the warmth of his arms around her shoulders and on her back, and the heat of his chest on her face.
"I can't get rid of this sadness," Laronne said.
"Well," David said, "then we'll just have to keep it company."
 I slammed the book shut at this point. There've been lots of places where I've been slamming this book shut, where something I read has taken my breath away, cut through to the center part of me and I have to think and feel for a while before I can keep going. This one I remember the most clearly.
"I don't like to stay still when I'm sad," my husband said to me this morning when I asked him how he combats the blues. I like this idea, this choice to get up and move: maybe take a walk or, as I cast my eyes round our apartment, do some cleaning; this choice banishes the blues, makes them less "rooted" (says husband) maybe loosens them so much that they blow or wipe away.
I took this in Baltimore, January 2007

I feel sad today. I had a nightmare about arguing with someone I like but haven't seen for months, and since last night my chest has felt wrapped in a kind of sadness. The heart is a kind of center of the body, a muscle that never ceases to move important information throughout your body; or rather, if you're lucky your heart only stops once, at the end of a life lived with joy, satisfaction, health and minimal regret. So to feel cloaked in sadness at this center of myself, the space where more than anywhere else I try to connect with others, in many ways, it hurts.

In a yoga class recently, I spent more time than usual connecting to my heart center. As per the teacher's coaching, I sent my awareness from my third eye into my heart center and silently said things like "Hey, heart. I feel that you're beating really fast right now. That last round of sun salutations was great; you're stronger than I thought you were. But I'm going to try not to work too hard. I'm not competing with anyone. Thank you. I feel you." It was pretty nice to practice checking into that place, that chakra where all the love you can feel, that part of you that connects with devotion, forgiveness and social awareness. I came out of that class walking tall, my posture impeccable, feeling connected to the world around me while still grounded in myself--in short, like a million bucks.

But sometime yesterday this cloud has descended around my heart, a lot like the fog that's been wrapping around Chicago lately. I feel sad: a kind of wordless cold, tingly ache that is hard to understand.

I like explanations, and so I'd love to blame this on something: my hormones; current job stress; a bad break-up; and maybe it is all these things. But having an explanation doesn't make me feel better. It doesn't make the sad loosen or evaporate.

My therapist would tell me (and probably will, in a few hours) to be still with the feeling. You know, protect myself, make healthy choices and all--so no curling up with the Knob Creek or the dairy-free chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream and seasons 1-4 of Mad Men--but stay grounded in what I'm feeling and see what comes up. There's wisdom in that advice. I suppose there's something Taoist about it, given my extremely limited knowledge base of Taoism. The idea of accepting what is will prevent suffering. Face the facts, don't judge or belittle your reality, just recognize what is true.
But I can get on board with my husband's advice. Moving around will help me forget what I'm feeling, that is so wordless and unclear, and yet heavy enough to make me feel like it's lead running in my veins and not blood. If I can move around, maybe this feeling will slide off me, maybe the smell of white vinegar and tea tree oil will make me forget whatever it is I'm mourning.

The truth is, though, even if I do put on some speed and spend the next hour in a frenzy of house cleaning and practical behavior, that I'll be dragging that sadness with me: into the bedroom to make the bed, into the bathroom where every surface imaginable needs attention, over to my desk that has been waiting for me to tidy up, and eventually onto my yoga mat. The sadness isn't going to go away.
Guess I have to keep it company.


Elizabeth said...

This is so interesting, Jess (though I'm so sorry to hear it), because I have been struggling with something so similar for the past couple weeks or so. On and off. Seemingly related to nothing. I read recently that March and September are particularly bad months for people who struggle with anxiety and depression, but of course now, in trying to dig this up for you, I'm finding nothing. I'm definitely in the 'get moving' camp and the idea of keeping this sort of feeling company is one that makes my anxiety spike. But I hope it's what you need, and I hope it works for you. Take care of yourself, Jess. Oh, and I'm going to check out this book too, thanks. Speaking of books as therapy, the Paris Review Daily just ran in their advice column a few books to make you 'undepressed'.

Elizabeth said...

And then serendipitously, I left your blog and stumbled upon this, from a letter Henry James wrote his friend:

Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see. My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don't think, don't feel, any more than you can help, don't conclude or decide—don't do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. The only thing is not to melt in the meanwhile. I insist upon the necessity of a sort of mechanical condensation—so that however fast the horse may run away there will, when he pulls up, be a somewhat agitated but perfectly identical G. N. left in the saddle. Try not to be ill—that is all; for in that there is a future. You are marked out for success, and you must not fail. You have my tenderest affection and all my confidence.

Jessica Young said...

Oh, Lizzie, thank you so much for including these. It makes some sense to me that March and September are challenging months for those of us with anxiety/depression presets. Based on what I've been learning about Ayurveda, spring and fall are seasons of transitions, which are tricky: the air is different, the light changes, the energies that govern our selves and the seasons are fluctuating: maybe that makes for unsettled emotions.
I also heard a great interview with Rachel Maddow last night, in which she talked about living with depression in a really grounded, thoughful way.