Tonight we are having what feels like the first real rain of the spring. There have been other days of wet weather, but the lingering snow conspired to turn what is usually a joyfully fresh spring experience into a slushy disaster that, once the temperature dropped with the setting sun, would create impossible terrains of deep ruts and muddy ridges. This is the first time the rain felt like it belonged, like it was doing what it came here to do, sans interference. Earlier I grabbed an orange cream soda out of the fridge and stood with my back door open, half in and half out of the doorway so I could feel the cold drops on my bare legs and arms, breathe in the clean, fresh smell that belongs always and only to spring rainstorms. Even now, as I’m sitting at my computer, I have the window open and can hear the rhythmic spattering of the rain against some metal shelves I have leaning against the back of the house, afterthoughts from my move last fall that don’t yet have a home and had to spend the winter outdoors.
It’s nice to feel so caught up in such a simple moment. And it’s nice to be writing about it. You may have noticed that this site hasn’t exactly been buzzing with activity. To keep things fresh, I’ve tried to post new announcements whenever possible and luckily there has been a lot of theatre news locally to keep the ticker moving. But nothing substantial. Nothing with much…depth.
Like a lot of people who suffer silently with depression, I have my good days and my bad days; lately, there just seem to be a lot more bad days. Certainly some of it is situational: at the end of last month, I lost my fulltime job in a round of “restructuring” and have been trying to get back some sense of equilibrium. I miss going to work every day. I miss having that structure, that mundane need to be in a certain place at a certain time to do the routine things without which…well, nothing really serious would happen except that you would just have to do them the next day, or a week from Monday. I especially miss the social network that my job provided me, people to ask questions to or to ask questions of me, people sharing gossip or complaining about the person who just ran to the back to grab some staples. Since leaving my position, I spend a lot of time alone. A few people from work have called or sent messages to see how I was doing, but most just accepted that I disappeared into that gray world of people we’re no longer required to think about on a regular basis. And I have disappeared, for the most part. I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Fire Hall, getting ready for the show I’m working with as assistant director, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time, navigating a loop from my bed to my couch to my computer chair. Tweaking my resume, watching The United States of Tara on Netflix, sleeping in because I don’t have anything to be up for, clicking through the listings on the Job Service website still unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. Sometimes I send out random, pointless messages to people who show up on Facebook chat so I’ll at least feel like I’m getting a little bit of human interaction. Again, nothing substantial. Facebook is a wonderful place to go raise virtual farm animals and talk about limited edition flavors of potato chips, but not so great for saying, “You know, sometimes I feel like I’m going to stop breathing and nobody around me even seems to notice. I feel like I’m drowning.”
And this drowning isn’t about losing a job. It isn’t about having to move to a new place and let go of the old one. It isn’t about getting divorced. It isn’t about any of those situational mileposts along the road that’s gotten me to right here, right now, listening to the raindrops outside my window. Those are just…details. Flavor for this particular story, but a story that’s shared by many people in many different situations. When we hear those other stories, no matter how different the particular pieces may be from our own, we feel a sense of familiarity. At least, I do. I like to think that other people feel it too, but that might just be speaking to my impulse to always seek some sort of connection. It’s usually a story about facing the darkness, staring into the depths of our own personal torments and coming eye-to-eye with whatever it is that exposes our deepest vulnerabilities, our deepest shames. From there we can either look up and try to find some pinpoint of light to keep us going, we can stay locked in the gaze of internal menace, or we can tumble headfirst into the dark depths we’ve been staring into. Not all of these stories have happy endings.
Me, I’ve always tried to go for that pinpoint of light. I was born on the 17th, which in the tarot is aligned with The Star card; the Star card is all about looking for the hope we have with us as we stumble through our darkest nights, waiting for the sun to return to us. Even when I struggled, I prided myself on being a survivor. And I was. But being a survivor isn’t enough. “Survival” is no way to live, not every day. If we live our lives in survival mode, how many connections do we close ourselves off from for fear of being hurt and how many opportunities do we miss because we won’t allow ourselves to feel vulnerable? If we hide away in survival mode for too long, I think it can do more to harm us than to help. After all, who wants to live their entire life feeling like they are just surviving? I am coming to believe that while “survivor” is a role that can help us in the short-term, we must respect its temporary nature and allow ourselves to take off this mantle when the immediate threat is gone and try to find a way to once again open ourselves up to connection and vulnerability, to a life that moves past surviving to thriving.
So why am I posting this blog, putting my private pain out there for the world to see? Because I’m lonely. And because depression takes loneliness and twists it until you believe that you are alone. Every time you don’t tell a friend or family member how you’ve been hurting because you don’t want to worry or upset them, it tells you you’re alone. Every time you hear someone near you getting frustrated with your dismal attitude or your string of complaints because they don’t see (or are scared to look at) what’s underneath, it tells you you’re alone. Every night when you turn out the light to go to sleep. Every time you sit by your phone, hoping it will ring. Every time you are out in public and you look around, secretly hoping that someone will see the hole in your heart that you are so bravely trying to cover up. Every time the mail is late. Every time you hit three red lights in a row.
I’m not writing this for attention. The internet offers a degree of distance for talking about this struggle that I would probably find embarrassing in person. I’m writing it in the hopes that at least one other person who is struggling with this will read it and say, “I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling like this.” We can talk all we want about the statistics and medical realities of depression and mental illness, but sometimes you just need a real face to put on it, someone with a real story who can say, “You’re struggling? I’m struggling too.” You don’t have to share every detail of your story or disclose any deeply personal information; all you have to do is say, “Me too.”
My struggle with depression reminds me a lot of the raindrops I hear assaulting the metal shelves outside my office window. If I’m determined to create a hard shell, the drops will keep wearing away, year by year, until metal becomes rust and rocks become pebbles. But if I allow myself to be soft, to look inward and find vulnerability and joy tamped down underneath the darker pieces I carry with me, then I can once again try to forge a connection. Rather than tearing me apart and breaking down my defences, the rain can help me blossom forth into full bloom. Because no matter how low I sink, there is still that part of me holding on to that pinpoint of light, following my star until one day I can find connection not only with those who struggle but with those who’ve grown through their hardships into beautiful flowers. And when I find them, I want to be able to say, “Me too.”
For more information on The Star card in tarot, check out my blog post HERE.
Several of the images for this article include quotes from Brene Brown. I find her work absolutely inspiring. Not self-help in the typical sense, her books talk about amazing concepts like vulnerability, authenticity, and courage. I highly recommend them to anyone. It goes without saying that no book, no matter how wonderful, is a substitute for compassionate, professional care, whatever form that may take for you; if you suffer from depression, I certainly hope that you will seek whatever services are necessary for you to have your best chance at finding your way back to a place of true beauty.
Tags: Brene Brown, courage, depression, hope, hope in the darkness, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, mental health, mental illness, rain, raindrops, rainstorm, recovery, rust, star card in tarot, suicide, tarot, the star, thunderstorm, United States of Tara, vulnerability