Facing the dragons

“…if you have brain cancer, and you decide that standing on your head and gargling for half an hour every day makes you feel better, it may make you feel better, but the likelihood is that you still have brain cancer, and you’re still going to die from it; but if you have depression and you say that standing on your head and gargling for half an hour makes you feel better, then you are actually cured, because depression is an illness of how you feel. And if you feel really great after then you’re not depressed anymore.”

–Andrew Solomon, Notes on an Exorcism (an excerpt from The Moth)

How easy it is to lose oneself.

The battle starts out small.

You lack the ability to commit to the things you once loved. Books pile up unfinished on your night stand. Your yoga mat gathers dust in the corner. Sunny days are spent curled up in your bed–“What’s the point in going out?” You ask yourself. “There’s nothing to do and no one to see.” You pile on the excuses. Your dog needs you. You’re tired. You’ve got homework to do, but as the hours tick by you find that you’ve accomplished nothing. The day has been wasted. Your excuses were purely excuses, but you ignore that realization. The show you binge watched was just too good! Anyone would have done the same thing, right?

In desperate attempts to feel a connection you make a few reckless decisions with men. At least in those moments you feel wanted, you say. You feel needed and that’s all that matters, right? It’s not. They leave you feeling a bit emptier inside. You tell yourself that you’re just exploring your sexuality, but deep down you know this isn’t you.  You convince yourself that this nice guy you’ve connected with is exactly what you are looking for–when in reality you would never make such a quick judgment. You project your loneliness onto him and amplify your connection. The resulting silence leaves you even emptier than before. And so the spiral continues.

At some point you’ll notice it. There will be a moment of clarity. The clouds will shift, and alight will shine on that pile of books, the unused yoga mat. You make an effort to fix things. You lose yourself in the New England forests, and you find all of the beautiful things that make you exactly who you are. You remember that you are deeply loved, and that there are people in your life who care about you. And that will truly help for awhile.

These dragons are real. They lurk in the insecure caverns of your mind and they are ready to attack at any moment. You can be stronger than them. You can fight them and win. You have done it before and you will do it again. If you feed them, however, they will grow. If you are not careful they may grow to be completely unmanageable. But take heart, dear one. You are not alone in this battle. You have never been alone, but no one can know that you need help in the fight if you do not speak up.

With many of the big things in life we do not always realize they are happening until we are in the midst. I was sitting on the T reading a book that a friend had loaned to me and the above passage stopped me in my tracks. My heart seemed to freeze for just a moment, and I stared blindly ahead. Thinking. How often we think that the moment we feel happy our dragons have been defeated. It’s really not that simple. It’s an ongoing battle with wonderful victories and potentially heartbreaking losses. There have been so many casualties, and the reality is that we cannot and should not fight this journey alone.

In his short story in The Moth, Andrew Solomon describes a ritual called ndeup, which is used to treat depression, that he experiences in a Senegal village. It is a beautiful story–I highly recommend that you read the book or listen to the podcast because there is something quite therapeutic about listening to the stories people tell. The ritual is long and seems quite intense, but afterwards Solomon admits that he “felt so up!” It was an exhilarating experience. Years later in a conversation with someone in Rwanda he learns that they use a relatively similar practice, but had encountered something quite different when the Westerners came to help.

He said, “You know, we had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide, and we had to ask some of them to leave.”

I said, “What was the problem?”

And he said, “Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun, like you’re describing, which is , after all, where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again when you’re depressed, and you’re low, and you need to have your blood flowing. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement that the depression is something invasive and external that could actually be cast out of you again.

“Instead, they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to get them to leave the country.”

–Andrew Solomon, Notes on an Exorcism (an excerpt from The Moth)

Depression can seem like a lonely road, but it really does not have to be. In fact, it shouldn’t be. There is something absolutely beautiful in the bonding together of a community to help a single individual fight their personal dragons.

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…you come too

Today was perfect.

I slipped away from the city–from everything that has left me drowning–and I found myself in the beauty of the woods. I spent the entire day with an old friend, exploring the woods around Robert Frost’s farm, chatting over burgers and beers, and hiking through the woods near his mother’s house. We stared up at the trees and a beautiful waterfall and lost ourselves in the fullness of nature.

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There are moments in life that simply cannot be described.

This was one of those days.

And in the beauty of the autumn leaves I found a few of the pieces within me that I’d lost. I’d only just begun to realize how deeply I was sinking, but this one little trip helped to revive me. I’m so thankful for that.

On the train ride back into Boston I paused and I wrote. I haven’t felt compelled to write something in months, but as I reflected on the day I was struck by a single moment. As we were exploring the Robert Frost farm, we came across two roads diverging within a yellow wood (!!!). We only took one path–though a part of me wanted to take both. Clearly one was marked for a tour, so we took the other. As Frost explains in his famous poem it really would not have mattered which path we took, but it mattered that we chose one. I chose to move to Boston to follow a dream. It hasn’t turned out quite as I would have liked so far, but I am still on that path. I can enjoy it, or I can hold on to the darker bits and wish I’d taken another. The light shone so beautifully on the path that we took today. It illuminated the leaves in a way that almost made them glow. I don’t want to say that I have the ability to make my time here “glow”. That’s far too cheesy, and I am well aware that Jerry the mouse and the myriad of other problems in my apartment will keep me angry for quite some time, but I can take the time to truly love the days that shine. Today was a beautiful one. I’m still reeling in the moment, but a part of me wants to say that right now all of the bad was worth it for a day like today.

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Nothing

I expect nothing of you.
I desire much.
I would love for you to stay
To share in this adventure
To trust
Simply trust
That it would be great
If we tried
Truly tried
But I expect nothing
And I desire so much

There and Back Again: A Wedding Story

Currently, I am sitting in the Charlotte airport–utterly drained of energy, but full of heart. This past week was a whirlwind of love and reunion. I still feel a bit like I’m spinning from the rush of it all. Where to begin?

Well, I suppose it would be best to start at the beginning of the adventure. About two weeks ago Allison and I spent a glorious day roaming around Boston. I spent a solid hour in Starbucks attempting to get a bit of homework done–Thank God for coffee shops which keep grad students from being hermits! We sat in Harvard Yard and read a bit for our separate classes and then walked over to Harvard Bookstore to apply for a job.

Side note: One of the most frustrating things about living in Boston thus far is that I have not yet found a job. I saved a good deal before moving, but those funds are quickly diminishing. It’s an added layer of stress that I feel should easy to alleviate, but finding a job is absurdly difficult in a city without connections!

Whilst perusing the shelves at the bookstore, we noticed that Elizabeth Gilbert was coming to speak about her new book that very Friday! If you are unaware of my love for Eat, Pray, Love that is not overly surprising. I don’t talk about it nearly as often as I talk about Harry Potter or any of my other favorite stories, but I read Eat, Pray, Love at a time in my life when its message of finding yourself in the darkest of times–truly seeking what helps you come alive–was in dire need. Don’t you love how a book tends to know when you need it most? We bought tickets to the event, and her new book and all seemed well in the world. That Friday we were totally unprepared for how motivating Gilbert was. My notebook is back in Boston so I do not have any actual quotes to say, but if you have a moment watch her Ted Talk here. Many of her points and the core inspiration for her new book came from this talk and I think it matters. During a time in my life where I generally feel like I’m struggling to keep afloat, her reminders that every moment in my life is an opportunity for creative growth and that it is so important to follow your curiosity mattered to me. (We also made a beautiful new friend that night. It felt as though the universe completely aligned to help both of our hearts feel better).

So I was on a bit of high when we boarded our plane Tuesday afternoon. Knowing that I was flying back to a place where I felt wholly loved and valued only heightened the feeling. One of my best friends was marrying a girl that I absolutely adored. I mean, what could dampen those emotions for me?

The entire week was a blast. From super chill bachelor parties, to long chats with old friends. It felt like the reunion that my heart had unknowingly been yearning for. I’ve been trying to find the best words to describe the entire affair all weekend and everything falls short. There was so much love in the room that I felt I could have burst with the sheer force of it all–and this is not an understatement. My friends are incredible people. Being around them for any amount of time simply never feels like enough. So I’ll give you a few of my favorite snapshots of the weekend and maybe you’ll get some idea of the emotions behind them?

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And now I’m sitting in the airport in Charlotte with a grumpy stomach (SO much pizza, alcohol and general bad foods that were totally worth it), a bit heartsick for all that is left behind me, but also a smidge hopeful for all that lies ahead. Timehop reminded me today that a year ago I’d posted this poem by R.M. Drake with the following caption,

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“But she did look back and I love her for that because it was so human. So she turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five I am predisposed to look back–to let my past color my future. It is a struggle every day, but I am determined to focus on the present. Let tomorrow come and let yesterday stay. It is impossible to move forward if I am always looking back.”

One year on and I find that despite my “determination” not very much has changed. In my defense, I was not expecting to make such a huge move which would naturally make anyone overly nostalgic. However, as I sit here awaiting my flight I am surprised to say that I am a solid mixture of happy and sad to return to Boston. A friend suggested to me that I focus on all that is good around me rather than missing all that I left behind. Perhaps his advice mattered more to me than my own? Perhaps because I have a few solid friends waiting for me in the north I find it a far less barren place. Perhaps I simply miss Carter so very much? All could be true. I am just happy to say that a part of me seems to be calling Boston home.

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My computer died before I posted the above blog, and I’m actually rather glad about that because now that I am home I have a few additional thoughts. It actually feels like autumn in Boston now. That made coming home a million times better because who doesn’t love autumn? I navigated home successfully on my own which always makes me feel quite good about myself, and nothing really beats coming home to the sweetest dog in the world. I think I can safely say that my speculations were correct. Home is what you make it, and if I want to follow my dreams then I refuse to be miserable in the place that I live.

Finding a job, however, needs to happen ASAP.