A question about depression, and a song

May 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 5 Comments
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A question came up in conversation this week, and I have been pondering it ever since. It is around a subject that has been synchronistically (is that a word yet?) showing up on several fronts lately, so I decided to explore it here. I have found writing to be so helpful these last few months! So thank you in advance for “listening”.

First, a little history.

On August 8, 1989, out of what seemed like nowhere, I plummeted into a depression. Dan and I had recently moved and had been in our new house for just over a month. It was a beautiful place, our dream home, on a few acres outside of town. I had come into the city that morning for a haircut. To stretch the self-indulgence out a little longer, I bought myself a picnic lunch to eat in contemplative solitude near the gardens in the park, next to the lake where the ducks and geese hang out. I spread a blanket in the shade of a tree, laid my delicacies on it and invited myself to sit down and allow all my senses to enjoy the feast.

As my freshly coiffed self sat on the blanket under the tree and ate the lunch, admiring the flowers, set to a soundtrack of children in the nearby playground and other such summer music, I felt it begin to descend upon me. It was a little like darkness, though duller. Like a coverlet, but one devoid of comfort. Heavy and grey. I could sense myself going down, though it is probably more accurate to say that I was being dragged inward. There seemed to be a growing distance between me and the rest of the world, one that seemed too hard to reach across. And it was accelerating, a train carrying one sole passenger.

That night I had a date with a friend and her two kids to attend an outdoor concert. I was sinking lower by the hour, but I went anyway. I didn’t tell my friend what was happening to me until later. This was a fellow musician whose husband had left her a few months earlier, just weeks before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent most of the summer in chemo and all of us did the best we could to support her through the hell of side effects as well as the hell of sudden loneliness and abandonment. The concert was probably wonderful – the performers we went to see ARE wonderful, but I couldn’t take much of it in. (Years later I found out that a member of the band has suffered for decades with depression himself, which in retrospect added a strange irony to the evening.)

I won’t go into detail here, though I intend to write more about it in the future. To bring myself (and you) back to the intended topic, suffice it to say that I suffered through a few months and then began to find my way back into the world again. I was helped by the lovingkindness of friends and my kind and patient husband, by a smart therapist, by a massage therapist who not only helped me come back into my body but also served as a model to me in how to tell myself the truth, and others as well. Once walking on higher ground, I navigated my way through a miscarriage, a pregnancy and the resulting Chloe, carrying on the doings of a music career throughout. (Actually, the music career had never stopped – it was a constant even through the depths.) And then we had Rachel and we moved back into town and I sank again, not as deep perhaps, but with a greater edge of desperation. By this time I had left my career (permanently, or so I believed) and had some newly-found friends to hold my hands, as all my music comrades were busy in the world from which I had divorced myself. Also I had not only Dan but my two wonderful kids in my corner. Once more I rose, even higher this time. It has now been several years since that last dip, and I am hopeful that I will not have to walk that lowland ground again.

Hence, (finally), the question: what brought me out of it? And the corollary: why was I able to come out of it while some people struggle with it for most of their lives?

Rachel and I just finished listening to a book on CD called Izzy and Lenore by Jon Katz. It is a beautifully told memoire of Katz’ decline into a very dark time and how his beloved and amazing dogs helped him to find his way back out (hence the title). As we listened, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with many of the steps he took to provide himself with what he needed. Rachel, who has only a ghost of a memory of my low times, commented meaningfully as we were driving and listening, “He’s doing a good job.” It is both a tender and affirming testimony of finding one’s inner softness and strength, and we both recommend it.

Today I looked up “depression” in Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body. From page 28:

Problem: Depression. Probable Cause: Anger you feel you do not have a right to have. Hopelessness. New Thought Pattern: I now go beyond other people’s fears and limitations. I create my life.”

If someone had shown this to me when I was in the depths of it, I would probably have gotten defensive. I felt myself to be a victim of depression. How could my own feelings and thoughts have caused it? Yet now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I can see it is an apt directive. I felt hopeless, all right. And I was carrying around a truckload of anger and then making sure I hid it, even from myself. On those occasions when I was able to admit to being upset with someone, while sitting in a therapy session, or when my massage therapist helped me feel it in my body, I was so frightened by it – scared that it made me seem like a bad person and repelled by the power of it – I would shut down, just adding more layers to my own muck. The fear of looking bad and/or causing “badness” kept me sick even longer than the original offenses.

So many things have changed for me since those years, I look back on that time almost like it was a past life, rather than merely an earlier chapter in my adulthood. I could go through a litany of befores and afters, but that’s not where I want to go right now. (I will undoubtedly dwell on said litany in detail when I am ready to really write the whole “book”.)

Excuse me while I take the time for this teeny little conversation with myself, set aside in parentheses: (Okay, yes, a “book”. But since it’s mildly terrifying to contemplate the magnitude of that, I’ll qualify it by putting the word in quotes for now. It’s pretty much the same as saying, “I’m planning to, like, write a, like, book?”)

Thanks for indulging me. Now, back to the original stream:

…But – or maybe I should say “and” – maybe that (in case you’re lost, “that” = “the before and afters”) is the point. I had to change. A lot.

And the gritty truth is people don’t like to change. People? Hey, even Bella the dog doesn’t want to change. She likes to check out your crotch, and she’s the right height to do it, too. And you and I have plenty that we like, too. (Which is hopefully less obnoxious and more socially appropriate than the canine version.) But back in the day, a lot of what I liked, or at least what I was used to doing and thinking and believing, wasn’t working for me. So I had to drag it all out on the table and take an honest look at it. Then, with a lot of loving guidance, I began the process of choosing what to throw out, what to put aside to look at later, and what was worth keeping. It was a long and arduous task (not done yet, by the way), though ultimately it not only saved my life, it gave me a life. And I can assure you it’s a life I couldn’t have pictured when I first began that rough part of the journey, nor before it.

Dan and I celebrated our 27th anniversary a few days ago. (William and Kate missed our special day by just a few hours.) Two years ago, on the morning of our 25th, I remember how we lay in bed and listed out loud to each other all the things we could think of about our present day lives that are miles, seeming chasms, apart from where we started. We still shake our heads in wonder sometimes and try to imagine where we would be, what we would be doing, and how it would all feel, had we not made each individual choice along the way that lead us up to the here and now. As I look back on that routing with the perspective of hindsight, I can see how it is all lit up with miracles and billboards, but at the time I felt like we were groping through the dark.

And after all is said and done, isn’t it the hard-won milestones that we value the most? The things that come so easily that you hardly notice what it took – those can feel good, but they do not shine as radiantly as the ones that make you sweat and toil. It must the extra perspiration that gives them the added luster. Or maybe the tears. Or some combination of the two.

In January of 1992, three months before Chloe was born, I wrote the following song about my journey up to that point. In truth, it went well beyond that point. As is typical of many of the songs that have been birthed by channeling themselves through me, I continue to learn its meaning even now. In less than three weeks, I will be performing it again – for the first time in God-knows-how-many years – with some of the afore-mentioned musician friends who helped me through that first storm. I am so grateful to them and to my other guides, along with whatever grace delivered me to this place along my path. May you see – and feel – the evidence of your angels too.

(Listen to the song here. It will take a few seconds.)

Awakening (copyright 1994 Salonica Publishing Company/BMI)

I feel a shifting in my soul, I have no strength to defy it
A river out of control and I tumble inside it
It’s like an earthquake within
The earth tilts as it spins
I curse as I swim
This shifting in my soul, it’s called awakening

I had been walking in my sleep although I did not know it
For denial ran deep while the cannons were loaded
The battle stole away my rest
Depression held me to her breast
Oh what a bitter caress!
No more walking in my sleep, I was awakening

I cannot say that I am glad for all the pain and the anguish
But I am grateful for the path that gave my heart a new language
I learned the power of friends
And in a chain of many hands
I can dance my own dance
As I follow this path of awakening

I used to live life in my head, proud of intellect and judgment
But now I turn my trust instead to my heart and my conscience
Oh change is frightening!
But as I raise my voice to sing
I feel a marvelous thing:
I am joining humankind, I am awakening

More on tension

July 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
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After posting yesterday’s blog, questions came to me.

  • How much tension is “necessary” for what I am trying to accomplish?  More to the point, am I adding tension?  If I have habitual tension in my shoulders, and I place my hands on the piano keys, it is likely I am holding myself differently than I would if I tended to move more freely.  When I was working with an Alexander Technique teacher, we spent one session exploring my piano playing.  It took many tries to play one phrase without engaging my neck, back, and jaw, and when I finally accomplished it, there was so much emotion released in that act of free movement, I almost started sobbing!
  • Do I hold any attitudes or beliefs that contribute to my tension?  Can I explore these? 
  • How can I “work on” not being tense?  What an ironic question!  It will not help me to approach this with my usual drive and determination, because that will add unnecessary tightness.  In the aforementioned AT session, I did not sit down to the piano until we had spent a good half hour getting into a lighter and more effortless place with my posture and breath.  I cannot will myself to relax – I have to walk down a patient and conscious path in that direction, every time.  And it is a different path each time, otherwise I am approaching it in a rote way, which I have found to be almost useless.
  • How can I approach this with my mantra of doing it imperfectly?  There are so many days that I have only a limited time to practice.  Is it more important to work on technique as often as possible, or to work on “practice readiness” by walking down my AT path first, which might cost me my practice time?  I don’t have an answer to this right now.
  • I understand that if I practice a piece with tension, I am practicing playing it tense, which is the result I will get.  I also know myself well enough to say that one of the most important things I am learning these days is how to say “This is good enough for now.”

For the present I am going to do my best to dwell in the paradox this last piece contains.  A friend once asked me if I could expand myself enough to hold two (or more) conflicting feelings at the same time.  I have just been given another opportunity to explore that frontier.

Recital and post-recital mood

July 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 7 Comments
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I wrote this about two weeks ago:

Last night was Chloe’s senior recital.  The final senior event!  It went stunningly well, but right now I’m so tired and low, all I can think of are the negative things.  This happens to me only occasionally these days, fortunately.  Rather than really bringing myself (and you) down, I am going to list the positive things, and see how I feel after that.

  1. She played very well.  In fact the last piece was incredibly challenging and she really nailed it!  It was exciting and expressive, even dramatic, and a wonderful end to the performance.  And this is not to say that her other pieces were any less stunning.  She has been practicing very hard and often, and it paid off (a lesson her father and I are happy she is learning!)
     
  2. People from all different parts of her life were there:  her grandmother and uncle (my mother and brother), several Irish stepdancing friends, friends from her Costa Rica tour and their parents, her present violin teacher and her family AND her past violin teacher and even her classroom teacher from grades 1 through 8, a handful of her classmates from school as well as several others from her school community, many friends from our synagogue, old family friends who knew us before Chloe was even a distant twinkle, and even a couple of friends who knew me when I was young.  It was a thrill to have them all there to honor her.

  3. She shared the evening with her sister, which made it even more special.  They opened the performance together with a duet, a flashy quintessential violin piece, and later Rachel played all three movements of a concerto.  The latter was to mark her graduation from the Suzuki books, which is really quite an accomplishment, especially for a 13-year-old.  And she played elegantly.  It was a beautiful addition to the program.

  4. I baked enough cookies.  More than enough.  So people were apparently satisfied.

  5. The weather was cool.  This was significant because with a July recital date in a church that has no air conditioning, I had been quite concerned that we would have a heat wave and someone would faint during that hour in the sanctuary.  Instead, it was actually cold when we first arrived!  After I warned everyone to dress lightly.  And though the room warmed up somewhat with all the bodies there, it was entirely comfortable.  Only a few programs were employed as fans.  And there were no emergency room visits (that I know of.)

  6. The sanctuary was actually a lovely setting for the recital.  Over the past few years, my chamber orchestra has performed almost exclusively in church sanctuaries, and I have come to appreciate what they have to offer.  This one was fairly simple, yet there was a feeling of quiet reverence.  (Or was I reading that into it because it was such a special night for us?)  And the lobby worked well as a reception hall afterward.  AND it was not too costly to rent.

 
So why am I down?  Is it letdown?  I don’t think so, though perhaps it is impossible to recognize it when you are in the thick of it.  I feel mostly relieved that it’s over.  I’m exhausted, fried, used up.  This is partly from not feeling well all week and consequently not eating enough, so I had no reserve on top of little fuel to begin with.  I was supposed to go to a concert with Chloe tonight, but I decided I just couldn’t push it one more night, and offered my ticket to my easygoing husband, who accepted.  They should be calling any minute to announce that they are on their way home. 

I know that since the recital is behind us, it means there is that much less standing between the here and now and the big C.  (Okay, I’ll spell it out:   C-O-L-L-E-G-E.  Just in case you hadn’t figured it out yet.)  We leave in six and one-half weeks.  Seven weeks from today, Dan and I will say good-by to her and begin the drive back home across several states with an empty back seat.  (Rachel is staying with a school friend and will have to say good-by three days earlier, here at home.)  No, I don’t relish the thought.  But I don’t even think that is what is bothering me.

I have this sensation of having been thrown into the washing machine and the dryer multiple times over the last year.  Tossed and cycled and rinsed and wrung out and then bounced around and around, banging in the tumbler like a lone sneaker.  I rose to it every time.  Took her on every college visit, every lesson, every audition, sat through the writing of every essay, helped edit every application and email, sent out announcements of this recital as well as every other culminating event before this, helped her pack for her Costa Rica tour and her senior trip to Germany, nursed her when she got sick, before and after both trips.  All in the line of duty.  All out of the biggest, deepest kind of love there is. 

AND NOW I HAVE TO HELP HER GET READY TO LEAVE ME?  What do I get out of that?  The answer to that question feels far from simple.  Right now all I see is that she will be gone, that I will not get to reap the pleasure and satisfaction of being with her, sharing those simple daily moments with her, hearing her laugh, watching her tackle some challenge, marveling at how she makes lemonade out of life’s lemons, etc., because she will not be here.  I will have to learn to trust that she will be okay out there in the world, even if every fiber of me is afraid she won’t be, because only I know how to take care of her.  (I do know that isn’t really true, it just feels entirely true to my hard-drive mom cells.)  I will have to learn to offer support and encouragement when she calls us, homesick or discouraged, or suffering from some miserable virus or roommate woe, even as I will be battling my own screamingly adamant desire to fly out on the next plane to be there with her.  I will have to pretend to be excited to hear about all her performances and even all her hours of practice when truthfully I will feel jealous of all the people who get to hear her.  Because I won’t get to.

If someone had told me about this part when Dan and I were trying to get pregnant, it wouldn’t have sounded very bad to me.  And I’m sure it doesn’t sound like the loving and selfless mom I think I am supposed to be.  It is amazing to me how being a mother is so often all one thing and not a bit of the other.  When my two were very young it was just plain hard to get anything done because they were so high-maintenance.  There were diapers and nursing, snacks, toys, meals, and the constant distractions that are the very nature of young children.  They needed attention almost every minute, and they demanded it in unbearably noisy, invasive ways that were impossible to ignore.  They especially wanted to be held when there was something I had to do on a deadline or in a hurry.  They needed me to mirror and guide and model for them every nuance of daily life.  It was non-stop and immense for a long time.  And then suddenly, around age 11, I fell from grace and they didn’t want kisses and hugs anymore, except on their own terms, which meant only very occasionally, and then they asked in indirect and hard-to-interpret ways.  They were distant and fresh (not it a good way) when they were around their friends.  I got the distinct feeling I was doing a lot of things wrong, but couldn’t figure out what to do differently.  It was like all the rules had changed, but I hadn’t received the memo.  A fellow mom told me, “It’s like a bank account – you have to save it all up when they are young and they worship and adore you.  When they reject you years later, you have to draw on your savings, because there’s nothing being deposited for awhile.”  It seemed funny at the time that she told it to me, but it wasn’t funny when it happened to me.

So now that we have the most deep and meaningful bond, now that we have amazing heart-to-heart talks, now that she can tell me in plain English when she wants a hug, now that she actually sometimes offers the hugs to me for my benefit, now that she is expressing gratitude for what she has been given – now that we could really cruise on the present status quo – we are instead speeding toward the edge of a cliff and there is no stopping the car.  She is going to fly. 

I am going to let her go because that is my job.  I know without question that it is the right thing to do.  And those who have gone before me tell me that there is life after the departure.  I will pretend to believe them, because it is the best option I have.

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