Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Down and Up, Up and Down

I crashed. Plummeted, really, this weekend.
Can't quite remember the trigger, but sometime after watching the engrossing and satisfying final Harry Potter on Saturday night, I settled in with those black dogs of depression and hung with them 'til the fog began lifting (mixed metaphors much?!) sometime late Sunday..
These encouraging scenes from community gardens in our very urban neighbourhood (only blocks from downtown proper) were happy enough.
Sunflowers don't make me cry, nor do earnest folk shopping for wonderful organic produce.
And the vibrant colours of healthy garden gleanings must only bring smiles.
And, obviously, the UBC Museum of Anthropology's stunning exhibition of Inuit prints, explaining their connection to the Japanese tradition of print-making, could only have been exhilirating. Go, if you possibly can, and see these brilliant images for yourself. Here's Kenojuak's Ravens Chorus. Isn't it wonderful?!

Here's her equally amazing Enchanted Owl, the exhibition's emblem.

Here's a photo of the Cape Dorset artist. The words printed beside her portrait almost brought tears to my eyes, but they're far, far from depressing. Amazing, really, to think of the time she was working, so far north, such a remote community confronted with such a massive change to her people's way of life. Her linking of her artistic gift with her family's survival I found profoundly moving. But not depressing.

Nor did this contemporary Inuit artist's humourous vision of a staple fashion icon bring me down. Quite the opposite, his stiletto made me chuckle, his "little person" finding utility in it, as a harpoon shaft..

Still, something pushed me from happy to sad at some point Saturday. I hope not many of you suffer from these episodes -- and I'm lucky that mine are few and far between -- but I find them so difficult. While a rational voice persists in offering perspective, it becomes less and less convincing, and tears overtake me, becoming me. I'm nothing but crying, tears. Words get tested and rejected as impossible and I need to curl up and hold myself together. My body hurts, perhaps from the tension of keeping myself glued. And worse, there's a judging self that despise the weakness it sees curled up there on the bed or sobbing in the bath.

That's enough of that. Indeed, I'd prefer not to share this at all, but it seems required as an honest counterpart to the many busy, happy images I offer up here. Real life generally balances up with down, and I've been having lots of happy lately. This was the other side.

I was so low Sunday that Paul wondered if we really wanted to stick to our plan to see the Merchant of Venice at Bard on the Beach, but we'd already bought tickets, and I thought it might be good to force myself out. Did the best I could with make-up to disguise the puffy, red eyes, then jammed on the sunglasses. And yes, even the walk across the bridge to the theatre tents was good, the movement loosening up my painful joints. The magic of the twilight sky as backdrop to the stage distracted, even soothed me, and once the play began, I was caught up following Shakespeare's rhythms, imagery, and lively humour. Indeed, I'd forgotten how much comedy there is in this play, all building to that excruciatingly uncomfortable "resolution" of the climax, the jarring disjunction between the three loving couples staging a comedy's traditional culmination and Shylock's words echoing across centuries: Hath not a Jew eyes?

Being taken out of myself, forced to concentrate on something so engaging, seemed to be enough to start me moving back to the light. I'm much luckier than those who get locked in depression for longer periods, who suffer it chronically. My bouts are generally acute, time-limited, and I don't know that I could manage much more than this. If some of my readers grapple with more extended versions, you have my sincere sympathy.

As for me, I woke up Monday morning feeling much better. Except. . . .I had the start of a really colossal cold sore on my lip -- by midday, I swear it looked like a lip injection gone very wrong. In fact -- and this is a true indicator -- by midday my husband had stopped claiming that he couldn't even notice it. Given that I only ever get cold sores when I'm stressed or tired -- perhaps once or twice a year, and I can't remember the last one -- I realize that the depression was probably a result of pushing myself too much over the last several weeks. I loved all the company we had, the entertaining we did, enjoyed adding to my runs and taking on some yoga classes, felt good about getting some academic writing done in the mornings before anyone else woke. But I learned yet again that I can only push myself so far before my body rebels. Probably a useful lesson to be reminded of as I head back to campus this week.

And you? Any lessons to share? Any comments to make? You know I'm always keen to hear from you.

Oh, and yesterday, Paul and I (and my cold sore) did a bit of retail therapy. I've been holding off on shopping for quite a while now, trying to refine and filter, but I discovered a new Vancouver line I really like. I'll tell you about that soon. . .


  1. So sorry to hear about your blue dog. Glad the episodes are short! My only lesson on this front is that no matter what you want to do or feel that you must do, your health and quality of life come first. Sounds easy, but I know it's not :)

  2. I'm sorry to hear about this bout of depression, but glad that you're coming out of it. I feel fortunate in not having experienced severe depression. I know many who have and it's a bear. (Some days, the bear eats you.)

    "Merchant of Venice" sounds wonderful. I appreciated Shakespeare so much more once I had a better grasp of the period language and picked up more of the puns and humor he used.

  3. My husband has periods of depression and, even after 14 years of marriage, I have a very difficult time trying to deal with it. It's not as you describe your bout. It's more chronic and subversive (if that makes any sense). It results in a very lethargic, non-speaking, non-communicating, just plain depressing person to be around. I am a mosty upbeat, energetic and optimistic person and it really sucks the life out of me to be around him when he's like that. It's a constant struggle for me trying to figure out how to deal with it.

  4. Your bouts sounds somewhat similar although mine are also filled with a low level anxiety that taxes my energy and creativity. And yes, sometimes movement is the start of pushing the negative energy out of my body. T
    hank you for this post. I know it's not easy because I believe that as bloggers we want to share the good things in our life, support one another in our particular endeavors and widen our circle of acquaintances. Yet we also face the challenge of becoming real in our writng, to ourselves and to others. I believe your blog does this admirably.

  5. Fatigue definitely hastens the blues.
    I am sorry that you have had to experience this sadness.
    One does need to feel sorrow in order to feel joy.

    Getting outside in the fresh air is a wonderful tonic and seeing that play with some humour must have been a godsend.

    Retail therapy has got to be good!

    I hope that you will rest up, maybe you could have an at home spa day or just cocoon with some tea and gaze out over that beautiful waterfront.

    Take care,

  6. I'm sorry to hear those black dogs visited you this weekend, but am glad to hear that Shakespeare lifted your spirits and that you woke up feeling better this morning, despite the cold sore.

    I also get cold sores when I'm experiencing stress.

    Depression tends to bother me when I feel my life lacks direction and purpose, that's why I keep seeking meaningful life roles. Otherwise, stress can bring it on, like that one day last week when the markets tanked. It can be hard to stomach the news at times.

  7. May I suggest Abreva for the cold sore. It works wonders and cuts the time into 1/3.

  8. I'm sorry that you had such a visit from the black dog. I am subject to bouts of depression too, usually brief and intense, not the long drawn out kind (although I did that once not so long ago). I tell myself it is the balance required because I can go off the wall with excitement as well, but perhaps I am just fooling myself.

    I don't have advice. For me it often comes after periods of intense stress, where I have been neglecting some aspect of my inner nature. I just had a big dose of it the latter half of this past week. I think it was necessary. I had been busy busy busy, and I tend to go through an intense need for quiet time after family visits. I love my family and the time spent with them, but it took me a long time to stop feeling guilty about the way I needed to just be left alone after a period of intense togetherness. I don't always pay attention to brain wiring modes, but have learned that being a right-brained introvert in a family who are all left-brained extroverts takes a toll, and if I don't heed it, I crash.

    Of course this week I am all too aware of how much I haven't gotten done concerning putting this house on the market. I'll probably crash again.

    Take time and let yourself relax a bit before the duties of the school year fully commence.

  9. I am sorry to hear the black dog got you - I hope the bite is healing well.

    Depression runs in my family, right down to attempted suicide, so it's not something I take lightly.

    Like you, I tend to succumb when I've been overdoing it - this morning I burst into tears when making Kid 1's cup of tea ...

    Thank you for sharing. Sometimes feeling that everyone else's life is an unending parade of happy times can make one maudlin also :)

  10. Jillian, Given your more chronic health issues, I'm really appreciative at you reaching out so quickly to reassure. That kind of generosity is what I associate with you, though, so I'm not surprised. Thank you.
    Sue: So true, that kind of familiarity helps v. much -- and you being a Renaissance buff with a feel for the music and dance might also help. The company has a wonderful voice coach, and I really feel that's made a difference over the last few years so that even with my hearing issues, I can catch almost all the dialogue.

  11. Well hello there babycakes:). You do know it makes you all the more appealing, in a way. Which sounds kind of mean on my part, but I hope you know what I'm talking about. Anyone who can be so thoughtful as you is unlikely to have a uniform response to life.

    Now, that said, I have no doubt this was crashing after so many high points and so little time to yourself. I could imagine you might want to curl up all alone with a book for some time.

    I appreciate you telling us all this. And hope the sun is shining more brightly ever day. oxox.

  12. Jane: Thanks so much for your comment. It helps to know, sometimes, that we are not alone, doesn't it? It's funny how the movement works, because in the depths of a bout, it feels next to impossible to move. Music sometimes help, being such a mood-shifter, but again, it depends. It's true, isn't it, that as bloggers we tend mainly to write the good, at least partly because during the bad there's little energy to spare and once we're out of it, we don't want to risk looking back. Thanks again for the kind words.
    Hostess: I remember you writing about dealing with something similar recently and hope you've mended. We're back home now and yes, I've been sitting in the sun with a cup of tea, one last day before heading to campus tomorrow. Thanks so much.
    Susan: Ugh, cold sores! But as Paul says, at least my body gives me some clear early warning signals. Ignore at your peril, as they say! You take care!
    Anonymous: Thanks for the suggestion -- I'll see if I can find some tomorrow.

  13. My experience of this takes the form of intense anxiety. It's horrible - so unpredictable, so overwhelming. I have little advice except to say that, if you can take the long view - even in that horrible moment - you are so ahead of the game. (I don't feel so ahead of the game.)

    Quick thought (that might be totally stupid, but I'll throw it out there): Cold sores are the outcome of an active virus in the nervous system - the virus lies dormant in the nerves, until something activates it (getting run down, the extreme fatigue of anticlimax?) and the type of pain that ensues is very deep, very innate. I have friends who suffer with cold sores (suffer being the apt word) and have described a kind of depression, an intense malaise and unease, that precedes the onset of an outbreak. It's like the nerves are literally frayed.

    Giving you good vibes xo

  14. Glad to hear it's acute and not lingering. It's funny how it comes upon you (and me) and just takes the pleasure out of everything. I sometimes think it's like succumbing to flu, a sign the body or in this case the mind/spirit has had enough and needs to shut down for awhile. Your courage to shake yourself out of it and go out for the play is admirable. That is tough when the mind is so distracted. And retail therapy, absolutely. Nothing better. Look forward to your find(s).

  15. Mardel: Sounds like we share some patterns. You'd think I'd know by now how to manage this, but I'm not sure I can regret the ups, even for the downs. Take care of yourself during this busy, stressful time.
    Tiffany: So you know well of what I speak. I do think it's true that being open about these episodes (without dwelling unduly on them) can dispel the kind of unhappiness we create when we imagine others' lives as so much better than our own. So I do my little part. Sorry you hit a teary patch, but I do love the image of you making Kid 1 his morning cuppa. Doesn't seem that long ago I used to do that for my Kid 4, when he was in his very late teens. He was so appreciative, too -- now I'm getting teary . . .
    Lisa: Hey sweetie (giggles from babycakes) -- you know how to cheer me up. And yes, I know exactly what you mean and know there's no meanness at all. And the sun did shine brightly today, although this damn coldsore is turning into a whole weird colony, a life form all its own. . .
    Kristin: You're spot on about the cold sores. The biological and the psychological and the mental are so tightly interwoven. The herpes simplex, of course, of cold sores, is related closely to chicken pox, and by the time all four of mine had gone through this, one thing I recognized about the illness was the (approx.) day and a half of serious crankiness. The mood's repetition so consistently across all my kids seems relevant to my experience of cold sores. I'm seriously guarding my immune system against the possibility of Shingles which my father, my paternal grandmother, and at least one paternal aunt all suffered from. Do not want to go there. Meanwhile, I look like I have a growth on my lips, and it won't even have peaked until tomorrow. Now THAT's something to be depressed about!
    L'Age: And the interesting thing is that once I've succumbed, the waves of fatigue just keep on coming -- makes me realize how much I've held back beyond that "not surrendering" gate. No superwoman here, more's the pity.

  16. I only know that when such moments hit me that it is probably time to journal rather than blog. The second option is to sleep.

    I also know that it is psychologically trying to return to work after a sabbatical. The year I took off I didn't want to return and though I had a burst of creative energy, the culture of the college rejected most of what I thought I'd gained by the sabbatical. I hope your experience is better.

  17. Terry: Yes, I usually prefer to keep these moments to myself, but I worry about the effect of only showing the sparkly parts of my life. And yes, sleep, nature's nurse, knitting up the ravelled sleeves of care, or something like that.
    And you've hit exactly what is probably part of the fuel here -- returning to work from what is called a Research Leave at our institution, rather than a Sabbatical -- so there is an expectation of what I will be laying out. I feel I've done much that will show up in the classroom and I've managed to get some writing done, submit some, get some accepted, but not sure that will be enough. Plus the freer time I've had makes me dread the intensity of 4/4 teaching. I'm glad to hear of your experience, even just to help me prepare and to know I have company -- thanks!

  18. I used to have episodes like this - it's almost like a migraine, isn't it? Good for you for sharing this experience with us - you have lots of company.

    And just as with a migraine, it's no "failing" if you can't just, you know, spirit your way out of it. Anybody who tries to get you to "think positive" or some such nonsense should compare it to a migraine. It's real, and very difficult.

  19. I always could tell it was coming on - the sky would look like it was a different colour. And not in a good way.

  20. OWW: That's a good comparison, to a migraine. I've convinced my husband that it's not something I can will my way out of, that it feels as if I've been giving an injection of something -- I can feel the change at a biochemical, even cellular level. I feel so lucky that I've never suffered for more than two, at most three, really intense days, before I felt my normal biochemistry returning. Can't imagine how folks manage who get hit more seriously.

    And thanks so much for commenting -- I'm always so happy to hear from new visitors.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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