To be a tree …
To be a tree …
I drove into that neighborhood last night.
It wasn’t with the old intentions.
I put myself into a position where I had no choice.
There was no right so I had to turn left. I had to turn left to cool off after an aggressive driver began making me lose my cool.
Taking that left was instinctual, out of necessity. But it wasn’t from that old, feverish, infected instinct.
It wasn’t under the pretense of going on a cruise and then just happening to pass by her house. It wasn’t after another long weekend night ending with me and you getting into another drunken fight, me giving up, getting into my car and driving off, running away back to my parents’ house, wanting to escape what was becoming an increasingly tangled mess, driving myself into that neighborhood, driving past her house, in the ridiculous and desperately vain hope that somehow, she’d be up and outside at four in the morning, and we’d somehow end up talking, and that I could find comfort in her lying words, in a world inside my mind, where our relationship was eighty percent in my mind and twenty percent her using me to escape her own, fucked up world.
Driving through that neighborhood last night literally made me sick to my stomach. I was filled with such an utter and raw revulsion – the strength of it took me off guard, especially since I was on my medication.
It was the memories.
I have told you before that all that time was like living in a fever dream, like remembering a really bad, drunk night, where you made all the wrong decisions, and you’re left with fifty percent of the memory of what happened, but you’re filled with one hundred percent of the sickly cold vomitsweat feeling of guilt that no shower will ever completely wash away.
Do you believe me?
I really wonder if you believe me.
But it’s true.
It was the first time I had been in that neighborhood since … the end.
But I guess I should have known better.
Every stupid, reactive, hurtful thing I had said and done when my depression was at it’s worst had scorched the physical earth with psychic scars, creating emotional ghosts leaving many places haunted by the sticky and sickly sweet memory of my self-destructive cycle of hate-filled action followed by the inevitable reaction of sorrowful feelings – regret, guilt, disgust and self hate.
The after-feelings never went away.
Every time after I drove past a particular part of town, every time I entered a particular room, stood in a specific geographic location, the memory wave of what I had done along with all the accompanying feelings hit me and filled me, leaving me forced to experience the feelings of that emotional event all over again with cruel, startling clarity.
It was like an emotional crime scene.
It happened with you.
It happened with my ex-wife, too.
Laredo, McAllen, Edinburg, Alamo, South Padre Island, San Antonio, Austin.
South Texas was littered with haunted landscapes.
And the worst part was even with all of that, all of those constantly running, self-perpetuating crime scenes that ran viscerally in my head, in my emotional memory, those constant reminders, those “Ghosts of Bad Decisions Past” everywhere around me, serving as cautionary reminders that left me devastated and swearing and promising – to myself, and to you – that it would never happen again, I would still find myself repeating that cycle.
I would never learn.
I could never control myself.
I always found a reason to self-destruct and sabotage myself and my relationships, scarring my loved ones indelibly. Scarring you.
I promised you that I would never hurt you.
I assured you that I wasn’t like all those other guys.
And for a while, for a wonderfully beautiful long time – three years – I wasn’t.
Until I was.
Until all the pressures mounted, all the have tos.
Until my father getting sick.
Until knowing my father was never going to get better again, he was only going to get worse.
Until being a father to your girls.
Until having to care for you, with all your own mental illnesses, your needs.
Until there was nothing left of me because I gave everything I had to everyone I loved.
Until I realized how foolishly unprepared I was for the many responsibilities I took on.
Until all the things I loved began to turn into all the things I hated, leaving me bitter.
Until I started to feel misunderstood.
Until I started to feel trapped.
Until I found myself unable to talk to you anymore.
Until all I could do was shout, so I kept my mouth shut instead.
Until the constant beehive buzzing in my head and the blurred vision I had every time I saw you.
Until I got frightened and told you I couldn’t see or feel our love.
Until I started talking to her, who was all-too-willing to talk to me.
Until the end.
Until you found out.
Until I realized what you had already knew – that no matter how much your mind could understand, your heart could never forgive me.
And that was it.
Until in a vain hope to find out why I had done the things I had done, why I was the way I was, I found a therapist, and that lead to my finding a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and ADHD with mild OCD that I self-generated instinctively, to give my consciousness some sense of control.
I was happy then. I was relieved then. At last I had an explanation for all the whys of my life. The whys that made me repeat the same self-destructive cycles. The whys that made me hate myself, that filled me with self-loathing.
And I was prescribed medication to treat my illnesses. The medication was right for me. It worked. I changed my diet, drank less, exercised more. I was finally able to sleep, to finally sleep early and long enough to feel rested, balanced. And with the pain of my father passing, along with the slow-building clarity and self-control that came with managing my mental illnesses with consistently taking my medication, I got better.
But my heart was broken, because even though I got better, even though we both tried for awhile, our relationship was ruined. I had killed it. And my betrayal opened up all the old wounds and traumas you had tried to keep packed away. And I finally came to realize that even love can’t heal all – that some scars just run too deep. And finally I realized that you weren’t going to change, and that even though we still had love in our hearts, the illnesses in our heads would never allow us to be together again.
I realized that I had to let go.
I realized that the only hope I had left of us ever having even the slimmest chance of a possible reconciliation somewhere out in a vague future, was to cut myself off from you.
I realized what all the literature was saying was true: that we can only save ourselves.
I realized that now we are both on separate journeys.
Now, all I truly hope for is that you find your way, that you can use all your strengths to heal yourself.
So with time, medication, reflection, meditation, talking, writing, and thinking I achieved clarity. I saw clearly what my depression had done to me, what depression had taken away from me, how it tricked me and beguiled me and tortured and tormented me.
I had tried to be a good man. I tried to lead a good life. I tried to be a good boyfriend and friend to you. I tried to be a good father to your daughters. I tried to live the life of a gentleman.
My depression grabbed up all of that in one sweep of it’s oppressive, diseased, hallucinogenic hand and laughed blackly, looking wild-eyed at me like Frodo looking at Sam in the red heat of the Sammath Naur and told me, “Oh, you think you’re a gentleman, a good man? I’ll show you what you really are, motherfucker!” And with one squeeze my depression showed me.
It’s a dark moment when you truly see yourself for what you are, for all the things you’ve done, all the hurts you’ve caused yourself and those you love.
They say you are not your illness.
They say it does not define you, that it’s just a part of you.
It’s true, but it takes a lot of time to come to terms with all the things that I regret. I don’t feel the darkness in my mind anymore, though I’ve learned to accept it’s presence and respect the power it has. All of those haunted places, and the amassed baggage of negative emotions they contained, they’ve all faded away thanks to the medication.
And, if I do the math right, it’ll be three years come this September that I’ve been medicated.
Two months ago my psychiatrist told me that he was no longer worried about me. Last month, despite some tragic news of the death of someone who was dear to me, my psychiatrist told me that he was shocked. When I asked why he responded because despite the obvious pain I was in, not once during our follow up appointment did I once talk about me or what I was going through. I was talking only about others.
So it was a shock that by making that left turn into that neighborhood that I relived those feelings again.
But in reality I shouldn’t be surprised.
That place was ground zero for the worst part of my life.
It shook me.
So once I found myself in it, I drove as fast as I could. I tried to face forward, to not see too much in case every detail I’d glimpse would fill my mind with more memories, more emotions.
I made it out.
I made it home.
The feelings lingered there for a while.
I had just seen Annihilation earlier that day. It imprinted on me all of it’s surreal hallucinogenic and phantasmagoric beauty and terror, it’s sense of mental, emotional, and physical dislocation. It lingered with me long after I left the theater.
A line stuck with me, from a scene in the film where Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are talking, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who portrays a psychiatrist says, “Almost none of us commit suicide. And almost all of us self-destruct …”
I found it a curious thing that the line from the film and my near-disastrous detour coincided with one another.
The mind, the heart, the body, the soul – all need to be tended to carefully, and with love, lest our illnesses give power to our desire to self-destruct. The only way to avoid that is through self-care, nurturing, and growth gained by self-examination.
Next time, I’m driving straight.
And so I’m shedding another skin.
This one was dark but warm sleepy blue like grandfather’s cardigan, and it kept me from the cold.
It kept me sleeping.
I was in a fallow state along with trees in this strangest of South Texas winters.
There was actual snowfall here in Laredo.
A strange side effect of my ADHD medication is the intense state of hyper-focus it puts me in, and as an educator, I still mark the time the way children do – by the seasons, by the state-mandated school year calendar. It was through this that I saw my rebirth as a focused teacher; every school year was a different fixation, a specific and laser-like focus on one area of teaching. This year was all about my classroom.
I had a vision for my classroom, and the way I wanted to tailor every last bit of towards learner-centered, small group instruction, instead of the shackles of the front and center lecturing teacher.
It began my second week back. I began pulling twelve-hour days, going in at 6 AM and signing out by 6:45 – 6:50 PM. It left me drained, exhausted, and not wanting to go out for anything or anyone – except, on occasion, when my best friend would coax me out. Even then, half of my mind still yearned for home.
My focus was such that I’m just now coming out of it. I actually have the mental energy to write again.
Waking up is always a strange instinctual, mechanical business, though, isn’t it?
That strange segue from the dream state to waking life. Knowing that your mind was somewhere else for some amount of time – that past a gray-misted haze of a memory – as the present comes into slow and clear focus.
I’ve never been more acutely aware of my evolution as a human being since my depression and ADHD diagnosis and being on consistent and effective (for me) medication.
I’ve always loved learning – about myself, about the world – and now I’m getting a crash course in the education of myself as person in more control of his life than he’s ever been, as well as the world of mental illness.
I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning.
I know that I will continue evolving.
What a strange adventure this is, being human.
And I’m up and alive and blessed by the sun.
I’ve personally never had a problem with asking.
I was the baby of the family, so asking for things becomes par for the course. In a family of four siblings, it’s a way to ensure that you get your proper share of whatever choice goodies are proffered. As part of the process of asking, you learn to develop and utilize your charm.
I’m the type of person who will go into any shop or store and ask for freebies or samples – more so when I was off my meds. I’m the type of person who will go to the movies, and if I don’t like what I’m watching, will walk out of the theater and go ask for a rain check – and I’ll get it. And I always find it surprising that many people find my behavior outrageous, that they would never ever ask for anything like that.
I think it’s outrageous to not try to get what you want, or to sit there in a darkened theater and suffer through two hours of your life that you will never get back, watching a movie that’s horribly made.
That’s the type of person I am. Those are the things that I do. In a heartbeat.
But when it comes to me being sick, I’ve found that I have a very hard time asking for help. My mouth transmutes from flesh, muscle, cartilage, and bone to lead.
So, Friday night, when I was in the middle of my depressive episode, I knew I needed help, I knew I needed something.
I was lying on the couch we have in our music room/study feeling leaden-limbed, and I called out to my mother, who was in the den watching TV and coloring the color books she uses for relaxation. And I felt bad, because she was by herself. She came over. I apologized. I explained to her how I felt. She said she understood.
You see, when I’m in that depressive state where I can’t move, I feel such oppressive guilt. I don’t want my mom to think that I’m ignoring her. I feel like I’m failing as a son, a forty-two year old man, a human being – despite everything I do, and I need to hear that it’s okay, to allay some of that guilt.
My mom did that. She told me what I think anybody who’s struggled with depression wants to hear from a loved one: that it’s alright, get your rest, take as much time as you need.
So I asked if she could bring me a banana and some walnuts because I hadn’t eaten anything that day. She did.
I ate a little, then lay there a while.
Then my mom comes back in. In her hands she’s holding a charcoal gray blanket. I have never seen this blanket before in my life. She covers me with it. And I’m amazed because this has to be the most comfortable-feeling blanket I’ve ever felt. My mom didn’t make a fuss. She left quickly. I was near tears. I thanked her.
I laid there, wrapping myself up in the soft comfort of the blanket, and somehow, I found myself texting my ex-girlfriend’s eldest daughter, who I helped raise since she was twelve. She had texted me earlier, and it occurred to me that I never responded.
But in the middle of texting her I had a thought, and something compelled me, so I asked. I asked the eighteen year old girl who I helped raise if she could stop by my house and give me a hug. Her mother struggles with depression as well, so she understands.
I fully prepared myself for her to say no. She’s a teenager. I’m no longer with her mother. I waited, not very hopeful.
She texted back yes.
My leaden heart jumped slightly. Then I slipped back into a stupor.
The doorbell rang. There was a knock at the door.
My mom, surprised and happy to see her, let her in. I heard her talking. I heard hellos being said, but there seemed to be more voices. Then to my surprise, she brought her younger sister with her.
Four and a half years I did my best to raise these girls. I gave them my heart unconditionally. They still have it. I have no other children. These are my daughters.
And when I needed, my daughters came. They sat beside me a while, they gave me hugs, and they let me hug them back. Then they stayed a while. They were themselves, being dorks and children and sisters – the eldest threw the youngest the finger behind my back, but I knew so I called her out, and we all just laughed. They sat a while longer, then they left.
I felt loved. I felt alive. I felt the lead in my limbs lightened.
They came, because I needed help.
And they enveloped me in their love.
For a moment we were a family again.
For a moment I had my daughters again – most probably the only children I’ll ever have.
And their love, and their energy, and their youth lifted me up a bit.
And for me, that bit was enough.
I’m on the tail end of my Christmas break. I’ve been sleeping regularly, keep the same hours. I have chores to do. I wanted to polish a pair of hiking boots. I have towels in the washer that need to be dried. I was going to take a shower, but now I don’t feel like it. Now, I feel nothing but the urge to give in to the deep blue slow static that is somewhere between a mild ache and that really relaxed feeling you get during and after a good stretch that is buried deep within the marrow of my bones, within the deep tissues of my muscles, that drip like slow candle wax off my ligaments, a feeling of tenderness in the joints after a severe flu or fever.
I just want to give in and sleep. I felt so bad, I called my mother over, and apologized to her, because she’s in the other room watching tv by herself. I explained how I felt. She told me not to worry. I don’t like doing this, but today I swallowed my pride and asked if she could bring me a banana and some walnuts because I haven’t eaten today.
I’m going to try and get up soon, get water, take my medication, and make the right-now-arduous-seeming climb up the stairs I take everyday, and lie in my bed, and wait for oblivion to take me.
This isn’t a cry for pity.
This isn’t an attempt at getting attention.
I am simply reporting this. I am a reporter, describing what it feels like to battle depression for those who do not know, or cannot understand.
This is just another dispatch, sent from the world of depression, out into the ether, hoping that somebody will read this, hoping that somebody will understand, or not feel alone.
Too tired to type anymore. Too much effort. I’m done.
The Last Homely House.
The magic and comfort of The Last Homely House.
Always a light on.
Always a song to sing.
Always a tale to tell.
Always good food to eat.
Always good drink to drink. Always a chair to sit.
Always a place of peace, love, and good cheer.
And a fine place for a think, which is what I need right now.