Doing it Anyway

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I wasn’t sure if I’d write today. I’ve started a new course with Rachel Thompson, Lit Mag Love, which focuses on refining your approach to publishing in literary magazines. I’ve been working on that this morning, with this blog post nagging at the back of my mind.

In the last two weeks, I’ve felt my seasonal depression creeping in. The sun takes a little longer to rise, now; the leaves have all dropped and the hillsides are bare and grey. Some mornings, there is ice on the pond near our house and the woodstove is going almost all the time. I find the days are more work. It is work just to maintain some equanimity: I feel sadness out of nowhere. I acknowledge it and I try not to let it take over my day. I focus hard on engaging with the kids, on coming to the page and writing each day, on going to the yoga class I signed up for, on reading and on stepping away from social media when it’s too much. It is real work to do each of these things.

It helps to have a name for the thing, and a box to put it in. This is seasonal. This is because there is a lack of sunlight. This is not my fault. I will do all of the things that I know might help me: vitamin D, exercise, light box therapy, maybe talk therapy.

I’ll continue to focus on my writing life. Tomorrow I have a FaceTime appointment with someone who is editing my chapbook manuscript. We’ll talk about her suggestions and my hopes for the work. Next week we’re doing another spoken word open mic at the Westminster, and I’ll read some of my new poems. Last week, in Whitehorse, I went to an art opening and poetry reading and connected a little with the very active writing community there. I’ve decided to do that as much as I’m able. Each of these things gives me a bubble of anxiety, a flutter in my tummy that suggests I don’t belong, I’m not good enough, I’m a big faker. I take a few breaths and do the thing anyway.

It’s a strange place for me to be in, and feels quite new: to be fully conscious of what’s happening internally but not to be swept up in its tide. I’m curious but also apprehensive about this new place. Can I let these feelings exist in me and still continue to do the work of living? So far, I am.

For now, the early morning fog has lifted. The sun is shining through my window, warming me. I’m off to get something to eat before the live video portion of my course begins. I hope you’re doing well with whatever life has sent your way.

 

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Balance Point

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In a recent personal rejection from The New Quarterly, the editors noted that while they often publish work “engaged with the dark side of the human condition and family” those works typically have a “point of balance.”  It got me thinking about my tendency to gravitate towards that darkness, to the exclusion of the light. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember; there was a time where I was sure I wouldn’t have kids because how could I raise kids in a world I had no hope for? These feelings have been exaggerated lately, to the point where I actually feel paralyzed to write anything at all (I do, though, continue to write daily).

I feel like it’s disingenuous to write pretty things, all light and air, when the world is dark and getting darker. Even in the microcosm of family life, I feel like it’s a disservice to the truth if I don’t talk about my struggles. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. If we don’t talk about it, everyone continues to suffer in silence, alone in the dark. But it seems like my devotion to the hard truths of life has become an unhealthy obsession: if I’m not writing about hard, sad things, I’m not writing. I can remember this being a part of my writing life as early as my teens. I wrote in my journal most often when I was going through heartbreak, either romantically or with friends. Writing through the darkness was how I made, how I continue to make, sense of things. That is a part of my depressive nature, I suppose. So maybe a part of my practice must be to continually choose to turn towards the light. To document the neutral times, the happy times. To learn the language of levity.

In the days since Trump’s election, I’ve seen it suggested by a few different artists that to continue to make beautiful things is, in fact, a radical act. I feel this responsibility to the truth; to not look away from all of the horrific things happening in the world. I feel like, as artists, we must witness and document. But people need to rest, too. I write so often about self-care, and for me, self-care is sometimes turning away from the endless feed of news and towards something so beautiful it takes my breath away: a favourite poem, the light on the hillside at sunset, my kids holding hands as they play. This leads me to wonder if my power as a writer might be in creating things of beauty. Safe places to rest the mind for a while. Because we can’t afford to look away. We have to stay engaged in order to fight what is coming, what is already here and has been here beneath our notice for decades. But to look for the beauty in each day, to turn towards the light, is the balance point I need right now. It’s a gift I can offer, first to myself, and then to my kids, and then to the rest of the world.

Full of Rocks

 

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This is a difficult time of year for me; I’d forgotten just how dark the winters are here in Dawson City. It’s been something like 3 years since I was here in December. With the kids, our day begins at 5 am…a full 5 hours before the first light in the sky. And because we’re in a valley, we don’t actually see the sun in the sky for several weeks (I seem to remember that it’s the second or third week of January when we get the first fleeting glimpse). The sun begins to set around 3:30. It’s hard.

I feel this sluggishness that seems to correlate. And maybe we’re meant to really hibernate at this time of year. My first winters here, childless, were spent binge-watching the t.v. series we could rent from the video store (pre-Netflix, don’t ya know) and smoking copious amounts of pot. I’d get out for a walk when there was light. We’d visit friends, the ones with the best sun exposure usually, and drink beer out of cans. Brunch, dinner parties, gatherings of friends in kitchens; it was not so bad. It was novel, in a way. The quality of light or cold, all new to me and my friends.

But now there are so many demands on me, and also I’m 10 years older. I suppose, children or no, I’m happy to be past those fuzzy days spent stoned on the couch. And I’d like to be able to access some kind of motivation, or a continuation of the motivation I feel in the sunnier months. But the long dark fills my veins. It feels like a game we used to play as kids: you’d lay down, eyes closed, and someone would run their fingernail along your outstretched arms, tell you they were cutting you open. Then they’d lightly patter their fingers along the cut, then, more pressure with their fists. Filling you with pebbles, then boulders. They’d pinch along the cut, stitching you up, then tell you to lift your arms–they’d be so heavy. It’s like that, with the winter dark and cold. My limbs are full of it. It’s a monumental effort to write this now. Monumental effort to engage with the kids. The thought of getting all of us dressed, only to spend 10 minutes in the yard with at least one of us crying that it’s cold, is not motivating. I confess to not getting the kids outside much at all, lately. I’m so thankful Aedan goes to school, has recess. It’s one less thing for me to stress about.

There are families that thrive here. I see their pictures on Facebook: tobogganing, skating on frozen ponds, snowmobiling along the trails. It makes me so tired just to think of it. Maybe it’s SAD. Maybe I just need the right supplements, or a swift kick in the ass. What I do know is that I’m taking the kids to London for Christmas: we leave on Sunday and I know that even just a couple more hours of daylight will make the difference. Or I hope it will.

How do you cope with the winter months? Are you able to stay motivated or, like me, would you rather stay in bed til March?

Fog

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There’s been a fog hovering low over Dawson yesterday and this morning. It obscures the hills behind a colourless veil. It lifts sometimes: tendrils of cloud drift across the slide that presides over the north end, to reveal the town, its trees and its tall, dry wild grasses, all delicately picked out in hoarfrost. We can see the sky again, white tinted with the palest pink, blue, and lavendar. And despite the wind, the hoarfroast with its jagged crystals, clings to the twigs and branches, not to be shaken loose.

I’ve been feeling this fog within myself, these past few days. But on the occasion that it lifts, I don’t see a similar beauty. I’m stuck in this socked in valley right now, stuck enough that I don’t even want to see the sun because the grey and the fog is so familiar. I reject the possibility that when it lifts, it could leave something singular and beautiful in its wake. I want the grey fog. I want to nest in my duvet in the dark. I want to make a pot of rice and eat the whole thing with hot sauce. I want to zone out, to stumble through unaware.

At the same time, I know this isn’t true. I don’t want to walk through life like this. I want to see the bare bones of my self picked out in ice crystals that seem so fragile but that can’t be shaken. I want to glitter in the muted sunlight. I want to be new and not new, revealed to have always been there, obscured. I’ve written about this before, haven’t I? And yet it’s a lesson I can’t seem to absorb. Or maybe it’s just that making the changes, the internal changes, the changes in routine, the changes in my thought patterns, are so damn hard to make and sustain. It’s easy to slip on the ice. The fog is always there, just waiting to coalesce under the right conditions.

I accept that this is the nature of reality, part and parcel of being alive. I don’t have to like it.

Permission to Have a Bad Day

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Yesterday was one of those days where I woke up exhausted. I muddled through breakfast and my first cup of tea. I lay down in what passes for the kids’ playroom and watched them play, trying to stay awake. I had my second cup of tea, the sun still not even close to being up in the sky. I felt low, in general. My negative self-talk was a grumble in the background. You should be doing more. You should get the kids out. You should put pants on. What kind of mother are you? Get up. Get up. Get up! On top of that, I was feeling anxious about Halloween (how am I going to get through trick or treating when I’m already so tired? I don’t want to do small-talk in the street!) I was also feeling distress at the state of the world and my place within it.

I struggled with this as I drank my second cup, and then I told my chattering mind to just hush. I stopped following those anxious thoughts and just let myself rest. I gave myself permission to just have a bad day. Though that’s not quite right, either. I gave myself permission to be feeling low right then. No promises or expectations for the rest of the day. And so that’s what I did. I spent the morning watching the ebb and flow of the kids at play, reading books when asked, redirecting when things got too rough, dozing when things were calm. Charlotte went down for an early nap as the sun came up at 10 (10!), I wrote a blog post, and then P came home from work.

Lately, I’m big on doing, as Glennon Melton calls it, “the next precise thing.” And what I wanted at precisely that time was a shower. Not even to wash: just to stand in the hot spray, the close humidity of it, the absence of little hands tugging at me. And that was just enough of a reset for me to get dressed, get the kids dressed, and go for a walk along the river after we ate lunch.

All in all, it wasn’t a stellar day, though our friends did pop over for tricks and treats, so that when Colm fell asleep at 5 and actual trick or treating didn’t happen, nobody was sad about it. I went to bed early, too. The thought crossed my mind more than once that maybe I need to get antidepressants. But today dawned differently. Even though it started at 4:30 for me and Colm, I don’t feel nearly as exhausted as I did yesterday; I’m already dressed, we made muffins, we walked to the store and back.

Part of my recovery from PPD, and from a lifetime of bouts of depression, has been learning that just because I have one bad day, or two bad days, doesn’t mean I’m doomed. It doesn’t mean I’m failing, it doesn’t mean I’m going back “down” again. Sometimes, we just have a shitty day. We’re tired, our energy is low. It’s winter and sunrise is 10 a.m. Giving myself permission to feel that way yesterday was an act of self-love and self-care. Staying present with whatever feelings arise, without making sweeping statements about what they might mean for tomorrow or even five minutes from now, is what’s getting me through each day.

Today, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to feel your feelings, whether they’re high or low or just neutral, without making any judgements. Love yourself as you’d love your best friend.

Image via Flickr user Asja Boros