Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Yesterday I sat in front of the computer for too long, staring at the typed notes and annotations, treatments and revisions, the blueprints of my project, my horrible two-headed baby that nobody loves but me. I stare at it too long, until I see it start to come apart, the overworked materials of it collapsing in front of me, criss-crossed with false starts and dead ends, the integrity of it's structure hopelessly compromised. I saw that I have spent two years of my life doing nothing, entertaining myself, a kid making mud pies. I saw it, finally, the nothing in the middle of it all, the emptiness of my whole enterprise.

I got up and went outside. I left the monstrous project squatting on the desk and walked out into the street where I could see the sky. Used to be I would have sat there at the desk, willing myself to start bleeding from somewhere. It took me a long time to see that my blood is not really going to fix things.

I unlocked my bike from the fence, feeling my pulse pick up as I began to pedal. The evening light was yellow, lying over the whole neighborhood like a veil, the old bungalows wrapped up in vines, the new condos, clean and cheap, the shells of still more condos, as progress marches relentless over us. Maybe that will all be ending now, as the banks all crash. Maybe the condos will stop and vines will grow over the raw steel and the scaffolding. The old houses already look like the holdouts of a lost civilization, and they are the happiest houses anyway.

One peeling cottage leans in on itself, molting its gingerbread, dwarved by pecan trees. In the yard a pregnant girl, belly huge and ripe, waters her garden. The amber-colored light thickens til it is like the light at the bottom of a green bottle. She stands there in her lawn, watering the green grass with her green hose and her dress is green, her skin is green, her hair is moss. She stands there, blossoming and bursting and burdened with possibility. I am in love with her as I ride past. I want to be the mosquito humming in her curtains all night long. And then I pass her with the breeze in my hair and she is behind me, gone.

Nothing is resolved since I left the house. I have no better idea than before how I will go forward or what I will do next. But I am happy. I coast down hills, picking up speed. I remark to myself because no one else is there, that if you could bottle this feeling and sell it --

And of course it does come in a bottle. Ten milligrams a day -- twenty for a tough bad week. My happiness is as natural as a perfect, white factory egg, but it doesn't feel like that. It feels like part of me, ordinary, unremarkable. Which is itself a kind of minor miracle. I remember being nineteen, first time in a therapist's office at Student Health Services. I was there because I needed help not killing myself. Not killing myself was something I'd been working on for years, but it was harder at some times than at others.

They gave me a test to take to see if I was depressed. I filled it out with great suspicion. Doesn't everyone have "persistant feelings of emptiness or worthlessness"? Come on. I can't be the only one to "cry for no reason" and "feel they are hurting or bothering others just by being around"? This is the human condition, no? This was life as I knew it, had known it, for almost as far back as I could think. If other people were filling this test out differently, they were kidding themselves. Is there anyone out there, really, who doesn't "think the world would be better off it they were dead"? Nobody can be that happy.

The psychiatrist at Student Health Services said I should think about medication, but I was unequivocally opposed. So instead we talked about my childhood, everything that ever made me feel like shit. Dug it all up and waded through it once a week for four weeks until my student benefits ran out. It might have helped. I didn't kill myself. Over the next few years I turned down anti-depressants repeatedly from doctors at the Student Center, and later at the People's Clinic. I didn't want to kill myself, but I thought pills were weak. I didn't want to medicate the darkness in me, I wanted to kill it. Pin it down and choke the life right out of it. Beat it to a bloody shit with my fists. Then and only then I would know that I did, in fact, deserve to keep living.

When I met C. and fell in love, then I knew what happiness was like. And it was so sweet, it was so good. When I started to feel sick again, I went to a doctor and I asked for medication right away. He gave it to me. The first weeks I felt sick and strange, like my head was a helium balloon that any second was going to lift right off my neck and float away. Then that went away, and everything was, for lack of a better word, normal. The kind of normal that other people know about, the normal kind of normal. The kind of normal where sometimes you are happy and other times you are sad, but then after a little while you are happy again. The kind of normal that is, in point of fact, amazing.

I coast home. My computer is waiting for me. Nothing is any better than it was, but everything is OK. At the beginning of the project I had the vision of how the final thing would be. Those visions are so beautiful, so strong. You fall in love with them, and thank God, because only love would get you through what happens next. You can't help but fail, finally, if your vision really was so perfect. You can't help but fall short. If you don't fail you didn't try hard enough. That's all.


TomboCheck said...

Undeniably beautiful words.

jnavarra said...

You sweat
the wind cools you
you pedal faster.

good luck

Anonymous said...

You are such a good writer!

Krafty Like A Fox said...

I almost thought it was funny when I realized other people's normals were different than mine. It's like being told that what you call green everyone else calls purple.

Sra said...

I don't want the project to die without ever being able to know what it is!

Mark for Cabernet and Chocolate said...

....blowing you a smootch, good to have a great day!

Grace said...

The project is not going to die. It's just in an ugly phase. And yes, it's still a secret. :)

cosmiccowgirl said...

Very good writing.
I feel the same way about the meds. Sometimes I can't explain why I don't want to take them.
I just want to beat it on my own. (of course my doctors think I am crazy when I say that...;)
I think I can overcome my depression without medication.
That is where I am now. In the past, I took them, or sometimes I refused and insisted on therapy, or positive re-programming of my mind, or seeking things that truly made me happy and letting myself actually feel and relish in that.
I last stopped taking meds a few years ago when I got pregnant again, and all of a sudden the doctors freaked out about what kind of damage they could do to my unborn child. They said I could take fish oil instead.
Well hell, why was I spending so much on medicine when nature has its own therapy?
Anyway, now I don't even think I need that. I just have to know it is okay to be happy, and continue to beat the dark forces away from the door.
Good luck with your project. I have something just like that at my work right now.

Grace said...

I feel the same way -- it's just a matter of deciding to be happy. On the other hand, before medication I don't think I would have even understood what that meant. I either had no choice in how I felt, or thought I didn't, which is the same thing.

I'd like to think spending this time on medication is a process of figuring out how to be happy, so that maybe later if I wean myself off the drugs, I might still remember how.

It's all very interesting. I might have to go revise the post eventually. Thanks for the interesting thoughts, people.

Jason The Lee said...

I just got off an hour and a half phone conversation with a friend who's on the other side of the continent now, and I read this, and I realize that she (and I) are not alone.

We talked about a lot of things, but the one thing that she told me about was how she fell all the way down, then came back up. In my own life I've only stumbled slightly, dusted myself off, and kept on walking in my dazed, aimless way not knowing where I'm going. My friend, on the other hand, was thrown off a cliff at age 11. But being tossed down, then pulling yourself back up from the abyss leaves you with a perspective, one that makes us realize that the horrible pain in our eyes is actually light illuminating some direction in our lives. You say if you don't fail you didn't try hard enough. I'll also say if you never hit rock bottom you don't know what you're capable of. You are someone who is capable of great things, I see that in how you see the world, and I think you know that too, which is why I think even though you'll fail, you'll still do something great. Because you're someone who's been down there, and is now still rising.

Don't change this post.

Anonymous said...

When I took antidepressants, they made me not feel. Sure, I didn't feel sad, but I could not feel happy. I just felt empty and dull, the colour of grey. I didn't care about anything. There are worse feelings than complete apathy, but not many.

I'm not on them any more, and I'm glad because at least now I can feel happy.

Anita said...

There was a time when I used to keep chasing good times just to fill the void in me (I didnt even know why I felt like that!)...but now I have learnt to sit back and just "be". If you are happy right now, then you are truely happy I gss. Naturally.

Keep the faith in your project...it will come through..:)

Anonymous said...

Hi Grace,

I've never dealt with persistent depression but I did feel empty and worthless before. This was after I let go of my huge pride and ego which led to nothing but vain accomplishments. I think medication also covers up the pain and makes everything seem okay for a while. We are too weak to tackle these demons on our own. I think we have to rely on God if we are to have true peace, love, hope, self control, etc, etc. (and I say this from experience) Thankfully, God is willing and ready to hear our prayers and help us through. read my blog on suicide and evil @ http://bradyblog.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/the-nature-of-evil/

with concern and love,



Nice to read that your still up and running, or riding I should say.

Anonymous said...

I tagged you in a blog post.

Don't hate me!

-failed said...

Some of the greatest, most innovative theories in biochemistry were produced by tortured souls, unfortunately some did kill themselves before their genius was recognized by their peers.

Stay cool,'cause an altered mind in a terrible thing to waste.

read and delete

Anonymous said...

You're right... no one is really very happy. And every has stretches of time when they're screwed up and everything seems wrong.. jus keep hangin in there... u write beautifully.... and that is a gift

Anonymous said...

And I wish I was the mosquito in your room,
a mosquito that could still read you though.

Everything's ok,
if you say it,
then everything's ok.