What a time to dust off a blog, right?
When this thing started, I had grand hopes that I would write and otherwise creatively engage during lockdown. Sadly, this plan wildly overestimated my access to the mental and emotional states that I typically need to function in that realm. These are the days that as I emerge from sleep, I try to check – quickly before my eyes open – which me has shown up for the day. Is it the stubborn, resilient one who refuses to be beaten, or is it the FUCK EVERYTHING version of me, who needs two or three naps to make it to the next day? Some days both show up and fight it out before I ever leave the bed.
Anyway, after two months of lockdown, I can finally report that I’ve seen some patterns emerging.
The Covid era offers many flavors of difficulty and hardship, and of course, they lie on a spectrum. People who have lost loved ones who died alone have been traumatized. But even the middle-schooler who is confined away from the world she’s just begun to grow for herself is still struggling.
I can only speak personally to the flavors in my own cake. My husband’s job is good – great even, a discordant reminder that the need for mental health treatment is higher than ever right now. He is working 12-14 hour days trying to conduct therapy sessions over video, a medium he says is far more taxing than in-person sessions. There’s a difficulty in seeing body language and other nonverbal cues, and also, research suggests that it’s more tiring generally because it requires constant mental focus. All of his emotional and mental energy is spent on this, and he can’t dial back because – and here is where we get to me – my career is at a dead halt and I am contributing almost nothing right now.
I’ve noticed similarities in my own experience and with others my age whose careers have been torpedoed: Every past loss, every past grief that still has any hold on you in the current moment may come roaring back, bigger this time. You may not even know which boogeyman is on your doorstep, because it may come in different disguises, and it may not confront you openly until you find yourself on your riding lawnmower one sunny afternoon (because that is one of the things you can still do.) “Oh,” you may think to yourself as you are rounding the curve around the oak tree, “this is really about [X thing]. Ouch, that feels terrible, but somehow better now that I know what it really is.”
The risk of hitting hard walls is very real right now, and there are few avenues to soften the blow. This current moment seems to challenge my most difficult mental spots, as if all the things in my psyche I try carefully to manage have landed on my feet at once, forming an alarming pile.
This isn’t all bad. I’ve learned some things, and a lot of them are good things, if I can remember them and continue to apply them.
First up: Self-blame and self-recrimination are heavy, heavy loads, and they need to be dropped. Yes, we all suck in some ways. We’re better off forgiving ourselves for that, though, recognizing that we’ve been working from the beginning with a set of cards we didn’t deal. A lot of the usual discussion around feelings of inferiority suggests that you’re wrong to feel inferior. I’m starting to feel differently about it now. Yes, some of the things I fear about myself are in fact true, but I’m going to forgive myself for them anyway. It’s okay to be “inferior” in all the ways you suspect you are, whatever that means. You’ll continue to fall short in the future. Forgive yourself for that too.*
Second: I never knew precisely why I was a wonder junkie – just that I was one – until I read Michael Pollan’s How to Change your Mind, about the history and neuropsychology of psychedelics. I have a history of and tendency toward depression. The neuro-folk think a part of your brain called the Default Mode Network runs this whole thing, and most depression, addiction, and so forth is a result of an overactive DMN, a brain that gets stuck in a cud-chewing, self-ruminating rut. Turns out psychedelics, as well as your garden variety sense of wonder, derail the DMN and help the brain jump its depression track.**
When I woke Saturday, I was in the beginning stages of a blossoming depression. It was our fifth anniversary, though, and we’d been planning on a kayaking trip for a week. I’ll write more about this later, but the slowed-down moments I experience on a river or creek are the opposite of depression. They are just two totally incompatible states; they cannot exist at the same time. Those moments re-align my brain, and help it jump out of the rut. I’m still reaping the benefits of that afternoon on Eagle Creek.
The fact that you’re reading this, and that I have anything at all to say on the subject, is entirely due to the cliff swallow that came flying toward me, wings beating in slow motion as I was about to paddle over a mini-rapid glistening with sunsplash, and flew directly over my head. And also to the two owls I saw last evening sitting on a branch together, silhouetted in the sunset. And the baby squirrel leaning out of its hole twenty feet up a tree, taking in the fading light of evening, just as I was.
There is no space to concern myself with my failures when there are two barred owls having a chat on a branch in front of me, or a baby squirrel on its front porch.
So that’s where my nature thing comes from. It’s an anti-depressant, apparently.
I don’t mean to suggest that all anyone needs to do is go outside and their pandemic depression will lift. Conferencing owls and porch-sitting squirrels are my anti-depressant; they may not be yours. So if you are cut off from your sources of awe right now, please revisit my first point above, and be very gentle and solicitous with yourself. You’re in a serious place, and this is no time to carry any extra bullshit. Being depressive is not a character flaw, and even if it were, so what? You are entitled to some character flaws. They are expected.
Anyway, that’s it so far. We’ll see how far the owls take me.
*This is the one I’ll have trouble remembering.
**Read this book. It’s very interesting.