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.
That was just all heart, John. Hope you feel better as the days go by and find inspiration around you more and more, that your feel-good days come more often and when depression starts to knock, know that you are bigger and better than this blanket of sadness. Rest and cry if you must but do not break. Always praying for you, kindred soul. God bless you more.
You did write something that made my day better: your comments on my blog and this post. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
“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”
Firstly, this isnt true. Your instagram photos of you and Hank tramping through the woods or having a quiet coffee always make me smile. It’s been raining for DAYS here, and Im tired of being cooped up and cold. Hank’s expressive face and your spirit of adventure are like a soul-calming snapshot of sunshine.
John, you’re being excessively hard on yourself. Really. Almost this entire post is you beating yourself up, and it’s not fair. You’re not being fair to yourself. Take a step back and look at the flip side of the coin. Look at all the things you have done and are doing well. Look how happy you make Hank. Focus on your achievements.
Obviously that’s easier said than done when you’re feeling depressed. I know that. I’ve spent the last two months feeling like I’m dragging my soul along the ground behind me like a shadow. But it’s all we can do. Making ourselves feel worse than we already feel because we’re not living up to our own high expectations is unproductive. Let’s try live in the present and enjoy the moments that make us smile. Let’s try be more like Hank!
I completely understand where your coming from. I hope you’ll be able to get out of your haze soon! I know it’s not easy, but you can do it.
Yet again, an amazing piece. Thank you for your honesty and always giving your all. God bless you.
John, you are wise before your years and you always inspire me, make me smile and cry. Your description of depression is perfect – it’s always been hard for me to adequately describe to someone that has never experienced it – pics of you and Hank truly put a skip in my walk. I have two dogs Lulu and Gracie (7 yes and 10 yrs) Gracie is brilliant and Lulu is a bit challenged but they have given me unconditional love and more joy than I ever thought possible. I am still trying to get a list started – one day!
Thanks again John for sharing.