(My final paper for Adventures of Writers Who Walk. Written in the midst of seasonal depression IV, February 2013.)
I trudge past the Beaman with my arms clutched tightly to my chest. Thump, thump, thump. Every fiber of my being longs to climb into the building’s mammoth chest cavity and stare out the windows. I dig my feet into the pavement, cementing my pre-determined route, and press on through the cold as if I am punishing myself. If I had given into the impulse to sit inside instead of taking the required walk for class, I never would have noticed how many trees are crammed around the buildings and houses. I find myself surprised to see them.
I’ve never lived in a place before that had a lot of trees. I never before considered Dallas desert-like, but when I’m in Nashville, I see the difference. If there is vegetation in Dallas, it is contrived and sparse; the sky there does not need to share its space. Here, it is impossible not to notice the trees, especially now that their naked winter limbs sprawl above brown rooftops. They remind me how far I am from home, how far my branches are from my roots. When my mind finds that purple bruise, I don’t press on it. I don’t allow myself to be homesick, so it is best for me to not observe trees. I turn my eyes to the ground rushing quickly under my feet.
The world is tinted gray today. Not even the sun wants to penetrate the gloom. In the eerie lighting, buildings look older, concrete looks dirty, people look sick. Even though it’s bitingly cold outside, people move without vigor. It’s not that they don’t want to escape the cold; they can’t. The cool gray earth has zapped their energy. No matter how many layers of clothes they wear, the leakage doesn’t stop. Where does all this energy go? Why have we lost our passion? We feel the drain that tugs on our very livelihoods and leaves our skin pale and translucent like the sky. Annie Dillard writes: “I am a sacrifice bound with cords to the horns of the world’s rock altar.” So then I ask: which god is the sacrifice of our vitality pleasing?
I’m still walking, but I’m no longer paying attention. I know I am on Belmont Boulevard, but I don’t care to observe the lingering smokers outside Bongo Java or the musicians walking to rehearsal. Further along, I pass houses and lonely joggers. Is it just me, or are they running slower than normal? As Rebecca Solnit would say in Wanderlust, “a lone walker is both present and detached from the world around, more than an audience but less than a participant,” and I am finally giving voice to the grayness in my head. I am aware that I haven’t been feeling well lately. My physical health is in fine condition, but my emotional health has not been keeping up the pace. In the marathon, it is miles back, slowing pace and panting heavily.
I am at my worst right now, right this very moment, as I walk unwillingly away from campus. I feel myself teetering on the edge of a panic attack and on the verge of tears. Even my reflection in the mirror is suffering, falling under the gray spell. I tried to help her out with some orange foundation and pink blush this morning. The colors are unnatural, and they make me visualize my suffering. If each dimension of wellness affects the others, my emotional and spiritual sides are pulling the rest of my charming qualities—namely my physical and interpersonal aspects—into a pit. My internal color palette has too many cool colors—blues, purples, grays. What happened to the warmth?
I started off the year with hopes that 2013 would see the beginnings of a change in my life. This is what Solnit defines as “a liminal state—a state of being between one’s past and future identities and thus outside the established order, in a state of possibility.” I knew I wanted to be bolder, to add a new color to my life, but now my journals have become one big question mark. I thought I knew who I was, who I am, and in the college transition, that fragile idea came crashing down at my feet. It makes me think that my identity has actually been unstable for quite a few years. Does my writing reveal the tension in my spirit, like a rubber band stretched further and further? Will I snap?
But I know the bad times come like a cycle because they have to. As Dr. Ratey describes in Spark, “the paradox is that our wonderful ability to adapt and grow doesn’t happen without stress—we can’t have the good without a bit of the bad.” From studying the timeline of my ups and downs, particularly how Spring Break has served as my “coming back to life” time for three years in a row, it can easily be determined that I am suffering from seasonal depression. I especially feel it when I’m alone in a gray mood, moving aimlessly on the gray sidewalks, looking at the gray sky. I feel distant and left out and jealous of anyone who smiles. But this is all old news. Been there, done that. I’m getting tired of the broken record aspect of my life.
There is a time for everything. Today, it is a time for winter grays, but spring is our hope. For me, introspection is accompanied by vitality. Good must breed from my bad. Spring is brewing right now deep within the cool gray earth. Our lifeblood has crept through the cracks and at the right moment, the color will return to the dreary world’s heart. This is life. This happens. Let it be.
Through her boldness, confidence, questions, and tension, Annie Dillard helped me pin It down: “you’ll come back,” she writes, “for you will come back, transformed in a way you may not have bargained for—dribbling and crazed.” It’s comforting to share my wild twenties with Annie. And they are wild; wild with the wilderness of my soul. I’m coming in contact with it for the first time. I’m slowly accepting the fact that it’s OK to build up a new identity around the ruins of the old one. There are still qualities I like about myself and old qualities I’d like to reintroduce, too. Do you see what I mean about sensing a change? This is a real thing. And it’s scary and unable to be tamed.
Take my life, my blood, take my breath.
Give me Spring or give me death.