As I write this, my room is in a state of disarray. My brother’s air mattress slowly deflates in the corner. My clothes are strewn around the room, a reminder of the folding, organizing, squishing I will have to do to fit everything into the one suitcase that hasn’t taken up residence in my rented storage unit.
My emotions are already folded and squished. Neatly organized in packing cubes around my body. My heart is full from the last few months, although carefully not overstuffed, because there isn’t any room left. My hunger and curiosity are sated, dormant, awaiting what’s next. My anger and fear are thankfully packed away. Quieted, because we have danced together so much this year. I am ready to be checked in, not a pound too heavy.
Everything is going to be okay, I tell myself. It’s empirical: everything has been okay lately. Things do fall into place, with sufficient time and perspective. But I am weary. I am sad. I am saying goodbye to the home I’ve lived the longest in during my adult life. I am saying farewell to some of my fondest memories of building and partaking in community. I am parting ways with the cocoon that cared for me in the pandemic, the people who have nourished and celebrated me, the first ever physical space that I truly made my own.
Moving all my stuff into storage is new — I’ve never had stuff to move before. But it’s not the only new thing: my life has felt like a marathon lately. Like someone pulled out the stopper in a full bathtub and the water is now swirling around in a whirlpool. Even on replacing the stopper the whirlpool continues, constantly in motion, consistently shifting everything.
Three months ago, when I first started traveling, I used a different metaphor: I’m standing at the edge of a beach, watching a tsunami as it heads towards me, fully aware of its extreme magnitude and impact. Sometimes in my vision I’m alone, fearful of being swept away and annihilated, and at other times I’ve got my surfboard, ready to ride this chaos all the way to safe harbor.
Well, the tsunami has crashed. And it swept me up along with everything I hold dear. Another great reshuffling, except this time it wasn’t by my own choice. I’m not sure I even noticed myself strewn on the beach with all of the structures I’d built over the last year in disarray around me. I’ve merely been focused on grasping for air.
I’ve talked to a lot of folks about depression lately. It seems to be the singular thing that’s consistently on my mind. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around my depression, wondering where it comes from and how I can move it. I’ve been trying to love my depression, calling it beautiful, wise, revealing. I want to welcome it in even as I direct a dull and withering hatred in its way.
I’ve considered spending more time in nature, spending more time with people, trying to build a creative routine, trying to remove any creative pressure I feel, resting more, working out more, taking vitamins, more time in sun, more time in blankets, letting myself binge video games, forcing myself out of the house. But it’s hard! The damn thing keeps coming back. It’s not like this stuff is useless. It’s that at this stage I know that when I feel good the other feeling is just around the corner.
A victorious recognition: I’ve had depression in my life before, except this time I’m sober, present, lucid. So, I almost have to celebrate that I get to feel this way. I’ve earned it! Whatever little good that does.
I talked to more people, and got more perspectives. Someone once told me me that depression is my system asking for deep rest. Another person shared that they felt it was like a switch, except that you can’t see the switch. When you flip it, light floods the room and things are better. You might even wonder why you never recognized switch’s presence to begin with. But what use is imagining an easy out when I’m stuck in the hole?
Amidst all of this, though, I managed to do things, things I’m writing down here because sometimes you need to see it all laid out to recognize how much has happened: I put out a personal website. I organized and attended a stone soup. I got into spoken word poetry and wrote and performed in three different countries. I rekindled old travel friendships, learned about cooperative processes for organization and agriculture, and just plain had fun. I cried when looking out at the Drôme river and the Pyrenees mountains. I got back in touch with music and dance and improvised my heart out with friends and strangers alike. Life has been good to me, almost so good that it’s easy to question why I feel the struggle so acutely, or even to just feel guilt at the ease with which I can talk about my experience.
This weekend, I had the chance to sit down with someone and just talk through all of this stuff. I recounted all the ways in which life has pulled the rug on me. How I haven’t had a moment to breathe, really, in over a year. Between my parents’s divorce, my sobriety journey, extended relationship repair with D, losing my job, my purpose, my drive, and my trust in institutions, losing my grandmother, losing my front two teeth, saying goodbye to my community, saying goodbye to my home, saying goodbye to my life. I am exhausted. I am grieving.
This is what came through: I am grieving. I am processing and being with the continual nature of change. And I’m not just grieving my own losses: like most of us I’m witnessing the pain that we feel as a collective. The pain of escalating war and conflict around the world. The retaliatory pain that power inflicts when people step up to resist, today in Iran but on every single continent. The dulled pain of multiple cycles of political stagnation: more and more forgotten bodies evidencing that our societal experiment is failing a lot of people. Everyone lost someone in the pandemic, many of us multiple folks. Some of us never even got to say bye.
Grief swirls all around me like fog coming in from across the bay. I breathe its vapors in and let it seep into every corner of my body, like spilled liquid inching across the floor. This isn’t the kind of feeling that can be kept in a packing cube. You can sop it up with a towel but the dampness remains.
Soon after that meaningful conversation I found myself crying into the arms of someone I had just met, when he asked about my grandmother. He held me as I opened wave after wave of grief. Instead of trying to pull myself together, I let myself collapse — I needed it. I miss her, but more than that I am in awe of her life, her power, the way she chose to go out. I celebrate her, by celebrating my own grief, and in that moment some part of the flood left me me and was shared with the world.
I feel a little different now. Just a little. I’ve decided to refer to myself as “depressed” less and identify as “grieving” more. I want to see what happens when I reorient away from productivity or doing or diagnosis and instead focus on what I want to release, what I am feeling. It’s just another step on the grand experiment, but today it feels aligned.
I’m no further along on any of my other questions. I haven’t figured out what purpose the next phase of my life will take, and I have an array of experiments I want to play with: coaching, immersive experiences, consulting, art, and more. All I know is that I want to feel alive, the way I did in those beautiful moments with kind strangers.
As I write this now, I’m sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight. The bag containing the entirety of my belongings for the next few months is in the hold, ready to journey as I do. I’m not exactly sure where the road will takes me, but I know that the most important trip I’ll make is to India: I will see my grandfather, and we will hold one another as we cry and wonder over the life of the most beautiful and powerful person we mutually know.
I know I have more grief to sit with, regarding my living situation, my relationships, my professional purpose, my sense of ease and stability. As you know, I am grieving a lot right now. But I feel a little lighter already, knowing what I’m working with as I enter this phase. I know that it’s going to be beautiful.
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Great piece! I like this Stone Soup thing!
Wow. A rather beautiful way of coming to this conclusion about grief. Happy for you to hear you are unraveling things within that seem to want to come to the light of day. I truly hope you are getting closer to whatever it is that you are searching. This last weekend I was able to listen to the voice of Alex Ebert during a sound experience festival at MONOM in Berlin. I think you would like some of his writings and revelations as well.
On that note, I leave you with one word to ponder on: belonging.