“There is beauty behind every tear you cry.” – Bea Miller
I started crying again last fall. At first, a lot. A dam breaking. Crying for all those years, all that missed time; for the thousands of moments where I was physically present but not really there; not really here.
And, I suppose, for what could have been, what I could have been. For the love that I could suddenly see and feel but that seemed permanently out of reach. For all the things I had, or could have had, and lost along the way. For the sudden absence of such a profound absence. And for the staggering realization that all that broken thinking had so badly undermined my love of music, of art — even of clay. The new awareness that my broken thinking process created a broken making process, and gradually eroded and spoiled even my connection to pottery; a connection which I had believed to be sacrosanct and immutable.
And fuck: it wasn’t just pottery. Come to find out, it eroded and spoiled almost everything within reach.
Up until my re: birthday last summer, I was what I now semi-jokingly call a ‘high-functioning depressive’. (Or, as you may recall if you’ve been around these parts awhile, I used to call myself a ‘high-functioning fatalist’, in those long years before I realized I was actually just super fucking depressed. Oops.) “High-functioning”, like with alcoholism, in that I doubt anyone but the few people very closest to me could tell. (The insidious problem there being that ‘the few people very closest’ are the only people that really matter.) So even while in the perpetual abyss of despair, I still got out of bed every morning. (Well, OK — on some studio mornings I got up, then went back for a while. Hint, hint.) I never missed work for it (not “real” work, that is). I kept having two pottery sales a year, come hell or high water — and sometimes both. But I just slogged through so many of them, the ends just barely justifying, rationalizing all the incredibly taxing means of getting there. And I was an omnipresent parent — here to read bedtime stories 360 nights a year; almost never missed a dinner or a school event or a lost tooth. Always here, almost always on duty, in one form or another. But rarely anywhere nearly as engaged as I could have been; as I wanted to be, in some abstract way; as I now wish I had been able to be.
If only I’d gone for help a decade earlier.
But yeah: Maron is right. Beating yourself up about the things you just discovered, for not having discovered them sooner, is a fast track back into the problem. It’s the broken part of the brain trying to reassert its dominance, in one of those moments of clarity about how little consideration it should be given by all the other, better functioning parts.
It seems to me now — and I’m super new at this, so please correct me if I’m wrong or just being willfully naive — it seems to me now that an optimistic person finds a way, upon making that discovery, to focus on being grateful that they’ve learned something new. A depressive person finds ways to focus, instead, on what could have been; to ruminate; to re-litigate past losses, past suffering, past regrets. It seems to me now that while memory is vital to an evolving sense of self, to — dare I say? — self-actualization, living too much in the past is a sucker’s game; an easy way to distract oneself from both the opportunities and the obligations of the present moment. This moment, right now, this one here — you and I each looking at our respective screens, doing those things we do in our heads when we look at letter symbols in all these tidy little rows — this moment, this now, is usually the best one to focus on. Because, really, it’s always and only all that we have.
[Channeling my inner Carter Gillies there, aren’t I? I say that counts as progress. Somebody’s gotta grab the Wittgensteinian mantle and march around proclaiming proclamations and such, don’t they? Don’t they?]
So I don’t know exactly when my tears had stopped — ten years before last summer? Twenty? Fuck Pluto and Hermes, I don’t really even know. But I know that I used to — in college, let’s say, my emotions seemed more a part of me; accessible and often just below the rocky surface. But over those decades of perilous adulthood, the jobs, the moves, the compromises against my true self, with a few very rare exceptions, the tears just stopped coming. Even when I wanted them to; even when I was aware that I needed that emotional release; that I was suffering more for the lack of it.
Since we moved here, particularly, which marks it at about 13 years ago, I have spent a lot of minutes — in aggregate, hours and hours and hours — face down on the floor, or face in a pillow, completely miserable. Hallowed out, lost, reeling; wondering how I could feel so shitty and yet not cry about it? Not drop a single tear?
It seemed very strange. Like I knew that wasn’t “normal”, but I never followed up. Never made an action item of investigating why. Something to ask Christine about, I think. In retrospect, the inability to cry was a sign: one part of my mind signaling — desperately trying to send — an alert to other parts. A sign, just like the other one that really should have prompted a different response: the persistent nagging voice that sang the Everything Fucking Sucks song in my head most hours of most days. Over time I started thinking, “It doesn’t seem right to think everything fucking sucks all the time, even when ostensibly not fucking sucky things are happening to me, around me, through me.” But, the problem being the problem, those signals never quite set off the stronger alarms that they should have/ that they could have. Not being capable of crying sounds to the now me like one of those symptoms that should have prompted a quick, embarrassed Google search. Maybe I knew the result would say Seek Professional Help, and my despairing brain — my hard-wired loop — wasn’t going to let that happen for anything? Because the first rule of Depression Club is you don’t go get help for Depression Club. Sacrifice almost anything to keep the party (loop) going.
So the point I’m hammering on here is that it’s rather disturbing to me now to see just how much my ‘core self’ — “I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it…” — failed to notice. It should have noticed! It should have flagged those symptoms for further review. To lean once again on the old brain-as-computer analogy, the majordomo program that’s supposed to be watching all the other programs for misbehavior, and to send in a neurochemical SWAT team when it finds recursive loops or rampant errors, was tricked into thinking all systems were running normally. It was tricked, or tricked itself, into believing that if things seemed odd, it was the outside world — outside the computer in my head, that is — that was broken; not me. Not the machine itself. (I still have Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon book sitting, unread, on yonder shelf, so I’m speculating beyond my research, but thus far my understanding is that that’s the thing about hardcore depression: it hacks into the majordomo program and, like any good hacker, the first thing it does there is hide it’s own presence in the system. If the target doesn’t even know you’re there, you can act with impunity. The despair, the Black Dog, got root on my brain and cuckooed my cuckoo’s nest. Hard.)
So I got hacked. Then, almost magically, some talk therapy and pills cleared my cache; defragged my hard drive. And now I’m back. And occasionally, when it feels warranted, able to cry, like Peter Gabriel says we shouldn’t be afraid to do.
Sometimes it’s just hard to realize.