The last couple of weeks have been a struggle in some ways although in other ways that same period was one of extraordinary gifts. It is this paradox that strikes me now, how I could feel myself struggling even as I experienced deep joy and appreciated the fortune of my life, even the recognition that it is the very nature of that sense of struggle, of floundering even in the currents and responsibilities of life, that allows those moments of joy to shine all the more brightly. I am sure that I will resolve nothing here in this post, resolution and understanding take time, often revealing themselves long after the spark which ignited them in the first place.
In fact, sometimes when one is feeling at odds with the world, those little things, those small joys, take on a sharper significance, and one can appreciate them all the more. Take a hibiscus blossom for example. The large showy flowers make me smile every time I see them, and I experience a tiny seed of disappointment on those few days between periods of bloom. But on a melancholy afternoon, a large yellow blossom is like a beacon of hope, with an impact far greater than its physical presence.
Not surprisingly, it all started with a bout of exhaustion. I run around all wrapped up in the world of doing, not wanting to miss anything. Yes, there is time to stop and notice the flowers, the blackberries, the joy of time spent with friends. But I really don't allow enough time to rest, not until my body just cries out "enough" and I am overwhelmed by exhaustion. Exhaustion does not, in and of itself, imply depression, and if it did this time, I was perhaps too eager to blame my ennui on my own self-perceived failings than on any real understanding of myself or the world. And therein lies the problem. It seems that it is too easy to both to blame myself for failings that aren't, in fact, failings at all, and to blame everything on the most obvious thing that pops to mind.
I was exhausted and I blamed myself. "How could I not know I was overdoing it?" I would ask, ignoring the fact that I had not felt tired and that I had allowed time for rest. I was not really listening to what my mind and my body were telling me, that this was just a period of refueling that was necessary before I could make the next leap forward, a leap I did indeed make, a leap that surprised me because it was so unanticipated. The whole process makes me wonder how much any of us really know and understand ourselves. It makes me wonder if understanding only comes after the fact, if our comprehension of the world and ourselves actually is more retrospective than current, if by the time we see where we think we are, we are actually looking at where we've been. I know that I am often initially wrong when I try to explain why I am unhappy or upset; that I latch onto the most obvious answer, and although that supposed event may indeed have been a trigger to my feelings, it often hides something deeper, something that had been biding its time, waiting to surface. If I only look to the obvious triggers, I miss the opportunities for growth that come with allowing the depths to surface, even though the dredging process is often uncomfortable, and I don't tend to see the actual benefit until days, or weeks, or months afterwards.
I was exhausted and I blamed myself for my exhaustion, driving myself further into despondency. I was self critical instead of self-accepting. It is true that I needed physcial rest, but primarily I needed to allow myself to listen to my body, and my soul, and respect their needs according to their schedules, not some predetermined time-frame determined by an overfilled agenda. I suppose that finding balance is one of the problems of modern life, we have too many options to fill our time, and experience too much pressure to keep our lives full, to the extent that rising to the occaision takes on a greater importance than just letting ourselves rest and letting our minds wander. But tiredness wasn't to blame for my melancholy.
I was exhausted and I was frustrated with myself. I was frustrated wtih the process of healing, frustrated with the slow process of getting stronger, frustrated that I cannot do more. Worse, I was annoyed with myself for pushing myself too hard, for exhausting myself to the point of not being able to function. And then, beaten down by exhaustion, all my self-doubts would rear their ugly heads and I would fear that the world see my inability to function, see me for the overwhelmed, irresponsible flake I really am. And of course, feeling like a failure, I would wallow in my own sense of uselessness rather than tackle some small task in order to regain a sense of accomplishment. But one can only wallow for so long. And although frustration and insecurity may have been the shadow demons that haunted my thoughts, they were only symptoms and not the cause of my melancholy.
I was also lonely. And yet at the same time I wasn't lonely. I am surrounded by friends and my life is full. But something was different and I hadn't quite accommodated myself to the change. For the first time in months, I didn't have someone coming in to the house every morning to help me with my morning chores. I could do the chores myself; I didn't need help. But I missed having someone to talk to in the morning. I reliazed that I had counted on that bit of conversation to start my day. But lonliness has nothing to do with living alone. One can be lonely in a house full of people: there were times in the last years of George's life when I was never alone and yet I was lonely. My inner Yoda was telling me "Live alone you do, yet lonliness you must not choose". Upon reflection I realized that I don't feel alone in the world. And happiness must come from within, not because a few kind words from others. Lonliness was not to blame for my melancholy.
Then one morning I woke up with bright eyes and dancing spirits. I lept out of bed with a glad and cheerful cry. I had been missing this part of my nature; I had wondered if my inner lark had lost her way, and there she was, brightly singing her morning song. Suddenly my days got easier. I did more, did it more easily, without explanation. In this constantly measured and quantified world, I jumped from walking 6,000 steps to 8,000 steps a day without even trying. But I also rest more easily. I still get tired, yes, but now when I am tired, I am simply tired. That zombie-like state where both my mind and body seem to shut down has passed, although I am sure that if I tried I could force myself back into it. But why would I try? I can focus again. How did it happen? Why now? Why was I melancholy even? Was it really that simple? Did I simply have to accept that I was melancholy, simply have to accept that melancholy is a normal state of existence? Or was there some seismic shift that I am only just beginning to understand?
Oh, my mood shifts are not gone forever. I am certain that on an occasional tired afternoon, when I hit my usual 3 o'clock slump, my mind will wander off into the shadow lands. But I am also confident that it will wander back into the light again as well. Perhaps my inner lark can only sing when I can acknowledge my own insecurities and imperfections, in accepting them I give them less power to weigh me down. Understanding lurks somewhere on the fringes of my mind and helps guide me even as I can't quite put my finger on its pulse.