Autobiography · Mental Health

Dark

She reminds me that each day brings us closer to when the days start getting longer again. That in thirty-three days it will be as dark as it’s going to get. I try to remind myself of this when I’m outside smoking a cigarette at 4:30 PM and the sun is already sinking below the horizon. When I’m wrestling with my brain to get me out of bed to go running without light. We’re getting closer to it getting bright again.

Like every year, I take my vitamin D, I try to remember to eat, get enough sleep. And like every year I struggle to take care of my most basic needs while I’m living in the dark. All the things I know I need to do to feel better seem to be just out of reach.

My therapist tells me we’ll work on motivation. My psychiatrist tells me we’ll figure out if my medication is draining me. My sister tells me she’s only always a phone call away. My mom sets up my old apartment in case I need to be somewhere else. Chuck says I can stay “for a night, a week, forever”. Andrew checks in on my wellbeing over and over. Vinnie shares smoke breaks with me. We’re rallying.

There has to be a way to get through this again. I’ve managed it this long, it’s silly to think I won’t be able to this time. But every day my alarm clock goes off and I can’t make myself get out of bed. Today I slept until 9:45 when I had to be at work at 10:00. It’s hard. Everything is so hard. My mom tells me how much fight I have in me and follows it up with, “I just wish you didn’t have to use it all the time.” And I find myself wishing that, too.

I don’t want or need life to be easy. I just need it to be a little gentler with me. But I guess like anything it just comes with practice. It’s just muscle memory.

Photo courtesy of Jason Leem.

Mental Health · Personal Development · Relationships

Feral

When I told my dad I signed another lease he laughed at me. “You don’t have a real great track record of staying in one spot,” he said, grinning. “I always told your mom we’d have to nail your feet to the floor if we ever wanted you to stay anywhere.”

At the time I was frustrated, but now I wonder if he knew exactly what he was doing. Igniting my stubborn “I’ll show you” side. Knowing it is the only thing that can overturn my propensity for flight.

In the hospital it took two different nurses to find a vein. Years of shooting dope into any source you could find collapsed all your arterial walls while you worked hard to build impenetrable ones around yourself. Your face pale, bones protruding, you looked like the promise of my old friend undeliverable. But there was still paint on your hands and that was enough to rekindle just enough hope in me to stay. Planted. I sat by your bed for days while you drifted in and out of consciousness. Asked your permission to call another friend even though I would have done it regardless.

We exchanged hugs in the hallway and I remember the last time I saw him was at a funeral. Always the most vile situations bringing us back together. The smell of his leather jacket was exactly how I expected it to be and his arms were familiar still. Friendship like ours doesn’t disintegrate due to a year without phone calls. Later he described me to his partner as “OG” and I giggled about it over an echoey phone line.

He said, “Let’s not do it like this. Let’s grow old.”

My throat tightened down on itself and my eyes clenched tight. Pushed through the ache of watching you throw your life away to confess that I’m barely holding on here, too. “I want to want that,” I said, “but lately, I just don’t know how.”

He sighed and the sharp exhale told me he still knows what that feels like. And I remember making a blanket fort in his old apartment and whispering to each other about leaping from bridges. Instead we’d just drink more Jim Beam and Rainier and go to sleep. “We change so much, but nothing really changes, does it?” he whispered.

“No. It doesn’t.”

Back at the hospital I tell you I’m not going anywhere. I hold your hand in mine and tell you I love you. I have you. I promise to move every mountain I can to help you through this. Promise to stay with feet firmly planted. Promise.

In the psych ward we walk laps and I catch myself making mental notes about what it would be like to live there for awhile. Try to imagine myself walking those halls in a pair of scrubs and socked feet. Wonder if I would write more. If I would just sit in the corner and weep. If anyone would come to visit me. I tried hard to keep listening to you, but you sounded so much more hopeful than I’ve been feeling lately. I wondered why I was the one who could just ask to be let out. Why you were the one staying. I wondered if you’ll hate me when you find out I can’t save you.

I pick up and put down cigarettes again. Call around to find a therapist and someone who can manage my medicine. Save the number of the crisis line on my phone. I get that panicked look in my eyes and run from my partner’s apartment because I have to be alone, even though I know I shouldn’t be. Hours later I show up on his doorstep and he folds me back into his arms. “What can I do?” he whispers into my hair and I sob on his shoulder.

“I don’t know. I don’t know.”

And I remember curling up on the floor with Mason as he would beg me to let him help. How I pushed away long enough to push away completely. I wonder how many times over I’ll do it before I learn to let someone help even though they don’t know what they’re doing. How many times it will take before someone else figures out I need to have my feet nailed to the floor.

Photo courtesy of Hoshino Ai.

Autobiography · Mental Health

Daylight

"last daylight" © Raul Lieberwirth , 2006. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
last daylight” © Raul Lieberwirth, 2006. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

They talk about vitamin D and circadian rhythms. Talk about seasonal depression. All I know is that this time of year I start to go just a little crazy. I never know if I should be eating lunch or dinner. Can’t tell if I slept in two hours late or woke up right on time.

I get up well before sunrise because I don’t want to miss a moment of day. Want to make sure I’ve worked out, showered, and eaten breakfast long before the light peers in through our windows.

My alarm clock lamp turns on slow, drowning out the dark of night with a soft white glow over the course of thirty minutes. When my cell phone screams at me, I’m already mostly awake.

I stumble to the bathroom and put on my running clothes before I have a chance to think about anything else. Brush my teeth, layer up, and head outside. The cold is shocking at first, but I adjust quickly, giving into the icy crisp of 5 AM.

On my run I pass an empty field. No lamps or houses to strangle out the still night sky. And I stop and stare at the stars I was never able to see when we lived in downtown Seattle. My frozen cheeks fold up into a smile. I lose myself in thousands of brilliance of it, and for a moment I think maybe the endless night isn’t anything to dread after all.

After breakfast, I take handfuls of vitamins and long pulls from a bottle of fish oil. I sit in front of a HappyLight and hope that maybe something will help this year. I drive to a barre class and bask in the presence of strong women. I stretch out. Chest open, chin up. I play graceful. Long and lean and flexible and tripping over my own feet. Just another silly activity to keep me from sitting and slipping into the dark.

At home, I draw all the blinds, windows open wide. Any ounce of sunlight that I can get, I let in. I don’t dare block it out. Instead, I absorb it. Embrace all I can because there’s not much of it.

In the afternoon, when my office fills up with light, I turn my heat up and strip down to my undershirt. Let the sun climb over my arms, my chest, my face. The hair on my arms prickle back to life and I close my eyes, finally relaxing.

When the last bits of light threaten to sink below the horizon, I put on a raincoat and boots, wrap a scarf up around my face, and pull a hat down over my ears. I face all elements to make sure I get the last little bits of natural brightness to shine in my eyes. And all I can think is that in a month it’s going to be even darker than this. But then I remember that in a month, it’s going to be as dark as it will get.