I’ve wanted to write lately. But I also haven’t.
I’ve thought about individual readers by name or by email address and wished I had something to say to them, or even that I had the energy to reach out and let them know that I had nothing to say but hoped they were well.
Then I wake up with a pounding headache and a thick fog and give Hank my best hour or two of the day before retreating to bare-effing-minimum to wait out another angsty bedtime.
* * *
This is what depression looks like. You don’t forget your name or what you like to do, you just can’t do it, no matter how badly you’d like to. I want to write more than anything. I want to write books, essays, short stories—hell, I’d even be happy with a corporate copywriting gig or three just to flex the finger and brain muscles a bit. But my brain and heart aren’t up for it, and so I sit and wait.
I am sitting here with an utmost willingness to bare my soul or share inspiration, to try or do anything to make even one person’s day better or write a single sentence worth reading and repeating. For two weeks now, no such thing has come, which leads to this strange genre of meta-nonfiction where we watch our ambling protagonist write about trying to write.
There are, at least, a few snippets of good news to report.
In all of my backroads driving and rambling, I’ve yet to find the right canvas for my 2017 list. But a recent conversation with the same friend who inspired that list revealed that he had just the thing—an old map of Alaska he’d bought at an estate sale—and that it’s currently in the mail on its way to my house.
This map is particularly apropos because high on my list is driving to and from Alaska this year. As I’ve processed through my life since being hit, I’ve learned what helps and what hurts and gotten at least one or two percent closer to finding a voice, an audience, and a calling. Traveling slowly, simply, and by road figures largely into my story.
The initial road trip in the copper-bronze Porsche was incredibly restorative; it was indeed a bucket list item crossed off before its time by a new understanding of fickleness and urgency. Its healing powers were also mightily waved off the day after the trip ended when I went over the handlebars on my bicycle, broke bones in my hand, and reconcussed my head.
In a matter of milliseconds, I went from at least sort of following positive trajectory to being completely derailed. Again.
* * *
By way of background, the truly bad bicycle crash occurred last June when a careless driver in a Nissan Altima swerved into and out of the bike lane, forcing me into an emergency evasive maneuver before t-boning my bike while I was going 25 mph and he was going even faster. Literally a week or two prior, I’d backed out of a contract to purchase a house in the laughably-hot Austin real estate market. I was building new friendships and following the step-by-step plan we’re assigned for life fairly well, even as pieces of my heart and soul were being buried beneath my coping mechanisms of choice: physical exertion and mental numbness.
My dad, the literal paragon of goodness and cornerstone of life-well-lived, had just undergone successful prostate cancer surgery. I was working the kind of job that’s no fun but pays well enough, filling my schedule with plans and commitments, and quieting my mind and soul’s longings with long days on the bike. I was going to be a homeowner in a city that’s enjoying stratospheric growth and accolades and popularity. I was bagging Strava King of the Mountains (pointless digital achievements unlocked with a popular GPS-enabled cycling app) left and right thanks to my peak fitness and lack of anything better to do. I could ride seventy miles by noon and be floating the river with a totally different friend group by two thirty. I took fairly nice photos of many of those moments to make them seem even more meaningful than they actually were.
Still, there was a nagging malaise somewhere that I couldn’t quite place. And once every part of my body ached with thousands of pounds of differential force and steel and glass and concrete, once the shockwaves pulsing through my brain caused me to stand up and stumble and collapse again, I knew that not only was my life trending in the wrong direction, but that if I ever stood up again after that ambulance ride, that it wouldn’t be the same.
* * *
The things I did and wrote in the wake of that crash were celebrated and are likely at least part of the reason you’re reading this today. But there were, of course, plenty of things that didn’t go so well: I shredded promising relationships with my damaged and erratic brain and behavior, I slowly lost a grip on the three jobs I was juggling that enabled a luxurious and flexible lifestyle, I jumped off the conventional trajectory rails and onto a runaway train destined for God-knows-where by swapping my down payment for a car purchase and my comfortable routine for a giant, living experiment. We all know how that’s turned out.
So here I am now, after weeks of travel, friendships found and lost, new highs and certainly new lows, sitting in the same places I sat before things changed at all, struggling to piece together words or a cohesive story for myself, much less for anyone else. I am still making payments on a relatively new car that doesn’t enhance my life in any way. I have a dog that enhances my life in every way. I don’t really ride road bikes at all anymore. I read a lot of books and go on lots of walks and tinker with cameras and guitars at least a little more than I used to. I have to sleep ten or twelve hours a day to be even moderately functioning for three or four hours. I use coffee like an upper and citalopram and melatonin as a downer, playing a poor man’s Elvis with less talent and fewer jelly donuts. This is what happens when you almost achieve escape velocity then come crashing back down with skin full of gravel and broken bones and attempts at the same processes expecting different outcomes.
I am aware that no part of this routine is working, that no matter how much I love my friends and friendly strangers, no matter what I’d give to make the people I love smile or their lives better, it’s all for naught if I don’t achieve some sustainable joy of my own or live the same life I advise them to. I talk often with friends new and old about the merits of quitting a job that’s robbing them of joy (which I did indeed do), yet I’ve stopped short of finding a joyful replacement. Ideally, that’s where this writing comes in, yet I struggle to do it with any sort of consistency or conviction. Even on my best days, I’ve always had a hard time sticking with creative projects when I don’t have any audience or guarantees. It’s so easy to fall into a dull, comfortable routine because it can be done on a numb, comfortable autopilot. It’s much harder to identify the things that our infinitely interesting heads and hearts long for, harder still to take any sort of meaningful leap to pursue them. Nothing will snap me out of my hypnogogic trance faster than someone telling me that I have more interests or dreams than they do. I will fiercely accost a perfect stranger because I believe so firmly in the human imagination and the childlike whimsy that resides somewhere inside every one of us. Even when all I really want to do is pull the plug on my headaches and regrets and agitated existence, I can find a trillion things to giggle at and a gazillion things that other people should giggle at.
Last week Hank and I took a quick, impromptu trip in the 911 to Houston. It was life-affirming to wind down some backroads with the windows down and the simple, singular pleasures of manual steering in my hands and a happy dog over my shoulder. We met new friends and old friends for rooftop yoga and dinner and a day full off coffee and NASA museums and more coffee and another dinner. We took pictures and ambled around the wildly underrated metropolis of Houston and filled our quick 28 hour visit with nothing but fun. Strangers asked if they could “say hi” to Hank and pet him and always said “Thank you” when they were done as if he or I had done them some sort of favor. These are the sorts of interactions that make my tired heart beat a little faster and draw me out towards the road to find the stories I need to bring home.
So, back to that Alaska thing and the snippets of good news.
I sold my modern Volkswagen for a price I can’t help but smirking a bit about. No more car payment(!!!!!!!) and no more treading water in the new appliance and depreciating asset circus. For the few folks who read this blog as a result of some automotive outlet, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s being replaced with something older and more interesting that will once again figure prominently into future stories. This one will remain a cliffhanger for now, but the wheels are very much in motion and the paperwork is serving as the first line of motivation I need to turn idle daydreams into something more concrete.
And perhaps that is my greatest mission in life, the ultimate takeaway from the last nine months, and the most enduring lesson that being dealt a traumatic brain injury and the ensuing depression has taught me. My threshold for inanity and bullshit is the lowest it’s been in my entire life (and it’s always been pretty darn low). My thirst for simple, satisfying days is at an all-time high. The things my soul craves cannot be found in the newest, lightest bike or the coolest car or the most hip bar or the latest TV show. I care not about beating anyone on a racetrack or Strava or anywhere else. I want to wake up easily and happily, open the curtains on a world I’m happy to see, and spend my time doing things that fulfill my insatiable brain and heart and bring me closer to God and man and dog all the same. I don’t want to grow numb or misplace my hope. I want to inspire and be inspired and to use my existence and situation and talents to the benefit of as many as I can.
As best I can tell, I’m supposed to be a writer. Now Hank and I just need to go find a few stories and work on soothing my soul so I can sit down and have something to write (a book) about. And if we inspire you to do anything at all, won’t you please share it with us? It’s impossible to explain how much it means to me.