It’s been less than two days since my counsellor and Mrs Blackbird both agreed that I need to take a month’s stress leave to buffer my depression, but I already feel like the ice beneath the fine powder of yesterday’s first snow – cracking. Having to take ‘stress leave’ is bad enough for many people with the associated stigma when you have to just ‘disappear’ from the workplace. For a self-employed person, who has no coverage for illness or disability, it feels like just another source of stress. For someone who was raised to believe that every bit of one’s identity and worth was hooked on the work you can do – the amount you can produce or contribute to society – it’s devastating.
My emotions, always in steady lock-down, are starting to leak around the barriers opened up by my very public breakdown of over a week ago. I feel anger, anger in direct contradiction to the day outside that I witnessed when taking the garbage to the curb. The sun was not yet above the horizon. Yellow and orange were fighting in a crisp pale sky, setting the white icing trimming the bare grey trees on fire. Logically and spiritually (in that centre we call the heart) I could see the day was glorious. It was great to be alive, taking great gulps of freezing air into my stagnant lungs, even as my muscles and joints locked down in the cold.
Perhaps even that breakthrough means that the Prozac is working just a little. There are many signs I still have a ways to go — the frequent suicidal ideations and the thoughts of ways to go out peacefully (for I’ve had enough pain in this life). Those thoughts, confessed in the office to my counsellor and my wife mean that the prescription of a month off work was in order. Not only that, but my counsellor said I was to accept the help my wife offered (by taking on the role of family breadwinner for the time being) and to receive it graciously. I replied that I didn’t feel like I can receive without dying. Shit.
So, I know they’re right and yet in less than two days, I’m cracking. Anger is seething through me. It’s hard not to let it creep through as irritation at my wife, who even now sits working in the other room. I retreated to let these feelings out and at least set the anger off at the right place. But even as I crumble and crack under the injustices of (and I want to say my workplace, but I realize now it’s) my illnesses, I immediately feel crushed and empty again. Why rail and expend energy at something I can’t even see, much less heal from? And stress makes my illnesses worse, both mind and body.
So I sit, looking out the window as a faint wind blows fine powder off cedars. Blackbirds, starlings and ravens congregate at the feeder in their search for reliable food, and the sky is so blue, it’s painful. Why? It seems the epitome of happiness — the blue-sky, blue-day, blue-bird of happiness that all the ‘think positive’ people so revel in. I hate it right now for feeling so happy. I see through it, and in my mind, I know many miles above the ionosphere (an area I once studied in my past scientific career) that space is black, and the stars are cold and distant. Even though in their cores, those stars are millions of degrees hot.
Maybe that’s how I am, and depression is. On the surface, it’s dark and cold, and on the inside, it’s searing with the anger we were never allowed to express and the frustrations we were never allowed to feel. At the end of their lives, some of those stars puff off their shells and become nebulae of icy beauty. Others become supernovae, and burn bright and hot before becoming a cold dark hull of their former glory.
I want to cry, but the tears aren’t there in my eyes, and my heart, briefly luminous in the dawn is cold again. My illness exhausts me and I long for worthwhile work. My wife says I can take over the house duties for a while, but that seems cold satisfaction, and the irony is that in my exhaustion, my body feels unable to rally from a short trudge to the curb with the trash bins, and a shuffle to the feeder with more supplies for my blackbird friends.
This past week I have been able to read a book for the first time in years it seems, using a tablet, as my eyes and arms feel too fragile for real books with ink and smooth, crisp paper. I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series — a collection I’ve always wanted to read and never made time for. My imagination — long dulled by meaningless work that pays my bills — stirs and imagines other worlds and other lifetimes. It dreams of an alternate reality where my life didn’t go off course at 24 years with madness and cracking and physical dis-ease. In Asimov’s book, I read of the death of a robot — stoic, loyal, emotionally controlled, single-minded and loved fiercely by her life partner — and how she sacrifices herself to protect her love. For the first time in a long time, I feel the stirrings of identification, and I mourn her loss.
I know there is a place for me, even though right now I feel like an empty shell in danger of cracking. I know that my fragile gifts and life are worth something, even if I can’t see what they are right now. Maybe in the end all we have to distinguish us is how we loved and how we were loved.
It’s 10:30am, and it’s time for this former scientist and now writer, to rest.