"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -- Plato
"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." - Isaak Dinesen
One of the hardest things for a basically happy person to negotiate is unhappiness, or melancholy, or, and I'll say this in a whisper, depression. I spend a lot of time and energy persuading people that I'm a happy go lucky person with not a care in the world. I fill my days with lots of stuff. Masses of stuff. I do have -- as my shrink points out (and this is evidence that I'm good at this) -- an enormous capacity for joy. And all that is right. I am surrounded by beauty -- by trees and sunny California skies, and dogs with senses of humor -- and I have friends and a yoga practise and a kind family that cares about me. Everything that any girl could want, right? And most of the time, 90% or more of the time, I am bright as a buzzy little bumble bee, grinning and shining and sparkling and trying to find new ways to make the world a happier place.
But then there is the 10%. The dark days. The ones that are worsened by flu. The "I wish I had a name for this like tonsilitis so I could explain it to people" days.
It's hard when you have a blog because you feel this compulsion to write in it but there is also a deeper need to hold things inside and not air them here. I have said this before. I acknowledge that there would be certain catharsis in the tell-all splattering of one's dirty laundry but that has to be measured next to the losing friends and respect ratio that would be sure to follow. My mother says, always kindly, "I am sorry that there are things you don't want to or can't say" but I think that we were all brought up that way in England, my class, my generation at least, weren't we? Mental health care at my boarding school comprised matron giving you a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda and telling you to "think about something else." My family cure -- and one that I am a great fan of still -- is walking. Richard Mabey espouses a version of this in his "Nature Cure" book. The walk is the great leveller, the great cure-all, the great return to your roots. The walk brings you back to the rhythm of the planet, the essence of who we all are. To God, if that is what you believe.
It's hard to imagine that you're not alone. I struggle with this all the time. The notion of God, the kindly, sweet-natured CofE God that we grew up with, He of the Lord's Prayer and vespers and matins, is a lovely one. I always imagined him with Jesus at his right hand, and lots of kind-looking angels shimmering in golden light, with lambs frolicking at his feet. Now that notion is different, it's more like a pure, benevolent energy that is in its purest form in nature, in the sea, the trees, the way that the sun and the sky and the earth interact together, the interplay of the elements if you will. It shouldn't be elusive. It should be constant but apparently that is the nature of depression; the inability to feel its comfort when you need it most, that God, that energy, that not-alone-ness.
If I as a twenty year old were to imagine myself now, living in Hollywood, doing kundalini yoga with a beautiful Sikh woman dressed in white, chanting to the Gurus and imagining a better world through meditation, I would have laughed. If I'd imagined that there was such a thing as depression, some invisible force that you have to fight to live a happy life, I probably would have given up then. Depression changes the way you look (I read this on the Mayo Clinic site) and it makes you a social recluse (I, the social butterfly, can vouch for that). It keeps you from the things that will make you better. But if you can break through it and pull yourself outside, you will see amazing things. Yesterday, I walked for two hours in Hansen Dam with the dogs (click on the images to make them larger). And it was as if some invisible force were pulling me back home, back to the essence of all that is good in the world (see the George Harrison quote here).
You see the dogs with their tongues hanging out, smiling? That's how people feel in nature, too.
There are few people I feel like slapping around the head, but the people that say "Oh my goodness, what's it going to be like when Minky goes to college?" fall into that category. I'd do it gladly. Minky goes in the fall. And thus, my life as I knew it is irreversibly and completely changed: No husband, no son, no daughter at home, different job, different life. I heard a story on NPR yesterday about a womanwho decided to go climbing in the mountains of Kathmandu after the dissolution of her marriage. What a good idea, I thought. Could there be horse too? And no mortgage to pay? Oh, and no college tuition bills? And then I bought myself a scratcher card for the California Lottery. (We Live In Hope in the Golden State, We Do.)
So, Plato. Yes. It's important to remember that. Even your best friends may not reveal to you that there mental health is a little wonky. So, be kind.
And as for Dinesen, that's the other family cure: sea water. My grandmother bathed in it, brushed her teeth in it, washed her face in it, gargled with it. It washes everything away.
You see, I do believe that is everything is here, inside of us, and around us, but we just have to remember that. I just have to remember that.