I was going to post the next chapter from Maine today. I had it 99% finished yesterday, actually, but my confidence was shaken and photos needed editing, and today I probably backslid in progress even though I finally loaded the photos to my poor old laptop.
Then I got hit with headaches and that creeping, insidious feeling—uncertainty about everything I was doing, no interest in doing it, really no interest in anything at all.
Since I’ve been back in Austin from the trip that I’m still way behind in chronicling, I’ve tried to stick to my guns and keep the momentum high from a few weeks on the road and a newly-polished, more positive narrative behind it all. For the first few days, it worked. Warm air and long sunsets and tacos and swimming holes and a few interested friends made it easy to fill a couple of days with optimism and the sense that things really were different.
Then came the early hints of trouble—first a deep-rooted headache that prevented me from stopping by a party I was graciously invited to by a distant acquaintance, then waking up with a headache and grogginess after a nine-hour sleep, then the dangerous thoughts.
“Maybe I could email that employer and tell them that I’m better now and available if they ever want me to do any work for them again.
Maybe I could email my old full-time job and see if they have any contract work.
I’ve got a renewed outlook, money is always nice, I don’t really have anything to do…”
* * *
None of these are good thoughts to have. They’re gigantic red flags of complacence and surrender, showing that I’m breaking down and falling headfirst into ruts and old routines. Which clearly weren’t working for me then, and they sure won’t work for me now.
I have a list of things I’m committed to doing this year, and none of them will happen if I just keep having headaches and crawling back to old miserable employers with my tail between my legs. Depression is a conniving beast, and it takes subtle forms that don’t always make you want to blow your brains out. You don’t always get stuck in bed until noon, 0930 can be just a nefarious depending on when you went to bed and when you were supposed to wake up. You won’t always have sunken eyes and pallid skin and a softened voice. Sometimes you just think about selling your Porsche and maybe even the Land Cruiser, too, and calling everyone you used to date and every job you used to have and trying every old stopgap solution until one of them fills a hole that may well not be fillable. I don’t even find beer to be as palliative as most country musicians do, so in times like this, I’m truly SOL.
The human experience is, of course, comprised of a series of highs and lows and a staggering amount of neutrals. I believe it is part of my calling to document these clearly in a way that keeps us all moving forward. It can seem at times as though I am riding high with the world on my side and a few gorgeous photos to show for countless hours of slog and grind, a couple dozen encouraging comments from friends and strangers, and maybe a few slick words to write about whatever minutia is occupying my brain at the time. In between those photogenic moments and entertaining stories I tell are likely dozens of lows and even more neutrals, passings of time not really noteworthy at all. I, of course, try to minimize those moments, but I also must be realistic if I want my encouragement to last.
This is part of why I hated the antidepressant Citalopram so much. Once I was up to the maximum dosage a human or horse can handle, my lows were perhaps lifted a touch higher and my highs were suppressed dramatically, so that I spent virtually all of my life in a hellishly medicated purgatorio. How would you like to feel 10% less like spontaneously weeping and 90% less passionate about everything from the sound of music to laughing at jokes to your dog’s wellbeing?
Life is about compromises, not bad deals.
I finally pried myself off the couch late this evening to go for a quick bike ride, in no small part thanks to the simple and profound encouragement of someone who knows me well. Because of all the gloomy rain we’ve had, my road bike was my only viable option as the trails are so muddy and soft that I’d be doing much harm to the same spots I am so grateful for in better weather. I got out there against all odds, watched the miles tick by painfully slowly, and suspected a U-turning Honda Odyssey of having such nefarious ulterior motives that I sprinted to the next intersection so I’d at least be visible to other cars when it finally caught up and mowed me down (instead, a strikingly beautiful middle-aged woman rolled down the window and told me I looked like someone she knows who owns a bike shop).
I thought about the things I’m writing now, perhaps more eloquent in my mind than on the page, and about whoever might be reading this. I am always so stricken by how badly one moment can hurt, how neutral another might be a short time later, and how beautiful that same day may end. By halfway through the ride, the muted gray light and constant sound of water splashing off my tires became invigorating instead of dreadful, an underline to my resolve rather than a mood suppressant. I thought about my friend Patrick who has been living life vibrantly, inspired by his own feelings and our recent ongoing dialogue. He was prepared to take a dramatic pay cut to pursue a more edifying job, but the potential employer came back with a number far beneath even his admirably low offer. This defeat cut me deeply because it felt like an affront on the philosophy that I fight for every day. Then I thought about how strongly he’s been encouraging me to jump in the car with him for a work-trip blitz from Arkansas to D.C. and back simply because it’d be more fun than flying and there’s camaraderie involved. And the fact that it upset me so much was strangely pleasant. There is such thing as healthy righteous indignation, and feelings are always better than a bizarrely medicated lackadaisy.
And I thought about my friend Jordy who quit her job to go re-center herself and find peace amid the balmy breezes and mind-bending history of Southeast Asia. There are friends in Connecticut and Missouri and Canada and North Carolina and California, all living the best versions of their lives and in some way encouraging me to do the same. Closer to home, a dear friend pulled me out of a dark spiral this weekend and forced me to get out and soak up one of the most hedonistically Texan days ever instead of lying on the couch feeling grim. It’s funny where your brain goes when you finally drop the disgruntled attitude and start finding a bit of flow on the bike, but today I was thinking about you and how I hope I can make you smile and that we can do right by each other, because that’s what makes life beautiful and more moments feel better-than-neutral (side note: #TBT Better than Ezra).
The reason I’m sitting here at 12:30 AM while Hank dreams of chasing squirrels beside me is because I felt it imperative to capture an honest snapshot of a roller coaster evening. I spent the majority of the day unable to do anything productive because of headaches, brain fog, and something between depression and misdirection. I spent the evening knowing I needed to get work done, that I needed to exercise, that I needed to buy groceries and unload the washing machine and load the dishwasher and fold at least 30 articles of clothing. Then I got to that familiar point where stillness made me scream and I got dressed to go ride.
The ride was a catalyst for an even sweeter moment: I got home from a relatively brief jaunt on the bike and decided to take Hank for a run so he could show me what happiness really looks like. We headed out for a quickie and he was on his best behavior—no tugging at the leash, superb pacing, and an extra-wide grin. As the sunset faded to black, fireflies flickered all around us. It was one of the most dazzling insect light shows I’ve ever seen, and five minutes into the run I felt that elusive runner’s high crackle through my brain and work its way down my spine. I wasn’t hungry or stressed out or tired or depressed. I simply was. With Hank at my side, water to my left, the foamy remnants of a sunset straight ahead, and fireflies in every direction, I was given the precious gift of being alive and glad for it. HECK YEAH I’M GONNA GO BUY GROCERIES, AND I’LL BE SO HUNGRY WHEN I GET THERE THAT I BUY TWO POUNDS OF QUINOA AND CHICKPEAS FROM THE WHOLE FOODS TO GO SECTION AND END UP SPENDING SEVENTEEN DOLLARS ON DINNER.
I’m not giving up on my goals to drive to Alaska with Hank or to write ten songs this year. In fact, those will probably be the easiest things that I’ll do in 2017. The hard stuff is the tedium and navigating it graciously. I won’t write for someone just because I have the skill and they have money; it has to be far more meaningful than that. Whether I get to write a book for you to read or serve you a cup of coffee, I have something tangible to offer that will be served up with joy and integrity. I think one of the surest things that causes me to plummet into darkness when I return from times drenched in light is the in-between; the time between dreaming and the realization of dreams, when it feels like I’m treading backwards into familiar places full of memories and ghosts of former selves.
I’m not very good at waiting for things to happen. Sometimes, this serves me well and leads to good achievements and even better stories. Other times, it means that I cannot see through to the other side of a sinking spell. I’m grateful that God gifted me so much stubbornness that I typically just stare the pain in the face until it backs down, but that can take days if I don’t have any help. I think of the people who are so much like me who stared at that pain a little too long and didn’t see it blink, and I wish I could tell them stories like this. I wish I could tell them to buy a nice guitar or a cheap bike or adopt a free dog. I wish I could give them a pair of hiking boots and a backpack or a cone full of my friend Ali’s cookie dough ice cream.
I will finish writing about Maine, and I will make my way through the unfolded laundry and unopened mail and tedious tasks that stand between me and more time doing the things that make me feel alive. Life is about compromises, but it’s not about compromising the things you love or giving up on them because you have to wait a little while. That sounds like a bad deal. And if there’s one theme I have gathered from the people who hear my story when I’m at my best and feeling good enough to tell it, it’s that you regret the dreams you never give a chance to come true far more than you regret sacrificing a bit of surefire comfort. Sometimes the best friends are the ones who say, “I know you’re gonna hate me for a little while, but get off the damn couch right now and come join me.”
It’d be an honor to be the friend that so many of you have been to me. Call me any time of day or night. I’ll be tired whether I get two or ten hours of sleep.