Thursday, August 2, 2012

Emotional mountain climbing

 (Subtitle: Where you don't even get to burn calories but you still might pull a hamstring)

The peaks and valleys of Glen Nevis. Bods/Creative Commons
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could."
– Louis Erdrich, The Painted Drum
I came across this today on a beautiful blog post about a woman in New Zealand who just passed away from breast cancer, and the sentiment could not have come at a more poignant time for me. 

Call this irony, or hypocritical, or yet another example of the failure of modern sensibility thanks to the Internet, but I woke up sure that I needed to share on my blog, with strangers from around the world (all 113 of you), that I have been feeling withdrawn. I'm too exhausted from psychoanalyzing myself to decide whether this is an idea I should feel ashamed about, leaving me in the all-too-familiar position of being completely past the point of possessing even one singular shit to give. I am quite simply overflowing with stress, angst, worry, and guilt.

It's what we do. People, I mean. I could probably make a solid argument that it's more a symptom of my X chromosome, but I personally think we are just more chatty. Both sexes tend to take on a heavy burden when we come out of hiding and participate in the world. My participation lately has led me to a place of utter sadness, in so many ways. It doesn't matter how many times I assure myself there's little point in fretting about things I cannot fix, or even improve. My heart is heavy, and it has led me to near total withdrawal. I'm not reaching out to people I love who may need it, because I feel so overwhelmed, and the fact that I'm not reaching out only makes things worse. It's a bad cycle.

Are you still with me? Has my cryptic, angsty vent triggered your involuntary eye roll? I get it. I have a good life, a privileged life versus a full 2/3 of the world's population and most of the population in this country. Things could be a whole hell of a lot worse. I guess this is the guilt portion of our show. I have it good, but I'm so preoccupied with worry about so many people in my life, including myself, that I'm not even enjoying the gifts I've been given (or have earned by way of elbow grease, belt-tightening, and lifting up my mythical bootstraps, depending on your ideological perspective). Any way you slice it, I'm feeling pretty guilty about feeling angsty, and what the hell is that about? I suspect it's my unproven theory that the people around me will be better off if I appear to be keeping it all together.

Somewhere around age 9, I concluded that it was somehow wrong to ever feel anger, sadness, self-worth, or to express any emotion that wasn't 100% positive, or at least carefully measured. Why that is, I don't know. I blame hormones, or possibly Madonna's seminal Live a Virgin LP. I'm sure a shrink would pinpoint some noteworthy experience like getting boobs too early, or a stressed home life, or my dog dying at Christmas when I was 6, or that one time I sipped from a glass of water and discovered it was Sprite. That will leave a scar. The fact is, I don't know and I'm not sure it matters. I only know that it sucks and as I veer dangerously close to 40, I'm pretty weary of feeling that way.

I used to have a big problem with people who make it a point to live their lives in vibrant color, throwing caution to the wind, making an ass out of themselves in the loudest, most public ways they can muster, calling people out on inauthentic BS, all in the name of honoring themselves above all else, at least some of the time. These days, I envy them for holding a spark of something I seem to have lost along the way. I get why the "old people" seem so embarrassing to younger generations. It can be off-putting to share time with someone who has looked at all the social conventions for several decades and concluded too many of those conventions were utter conformist bullshit.

I'm not sure where that leaves me. This isn't Dead Poet's Society up in here. This is my blessedly ordinary life, in which I'm blessed with beautiful children and a doting, brilliant husband. What talents I have, I'm squandering. I'm harder on myself than anyone else ever could be, and that's not a badge I wear with pride. I prize kindness above all other human traits, but I can't seem to muster any for me. I'm pretty sure I deserve a little kindness. I made eye contact with a homeless man the other day when I gave him the 38 cents I had in my pocket, so...

Maybe what I really need is a vacation/whisky bender. Who's in? I'm sure I'd be a wonderful travel companion, what with my penchant for bursting into tears over magazine ads for wholesome snacks your family deserves and my well-honed ability to quietly avoid anything smacking of honest emotion. Road trip!

In truth, I'm probably coming down the other side of my latest exercise in emotional mountain climbing. I'm pretty sure the peak was the day I spent rewriting humorous essays into dark parables about "the collective hopelessness." I suppose it's time to take another stab at the world of antidepressants, but the thought alone exhausts me. I may actually prefer the peaks and valleys to the flat line of meh. I prefer the occasional Earth-rocking thunderstorm to month after month of fog. That said, I'm bone-weary from all the mountain climbing, too. I'd greatly appreciate any insight, dear readers. The options in my comments section will always include Anonymous. So, really, feel free to vent about your own struggle with the mountain, or tell me to suck it up, or tell me how you found balance. I'm listening.


Katie Ford Hall said...

You definitely deserve the kindness, the whiskey bender, the anti depressants, the space to write, the freedom to feel what you feel and whatever the hell else you need. You definitely don't deserve the guilt.


This is my blessedly ordinary life.


MizGreenJeans said...

Having done both the mountains and valleys, and the Fogs of Meh, I chose the mountains and valleys.

Some days the best cure is just to get out of the house (without the kids!) Go for a walk somewhere green. Climb an actual hill (as opposed to a metaphorical mountain.) Just lie flat in a meadow and let the earth seep up into you for a while.

You're not alone dearie. We luvs ya.

Other Jen said...

I think you and I have walked a similar path for most of our lives. Showing anger or sadness was always (in my mind, at least) a sign of weakness. I was never the boldest person in my family, so I often faded into the shadows. Being emotional on top of that would have drawn unwanted attention from the bold ones who would taunt and ridicule me. The only people in my life that see the "real me", are Jeff and Will because I can only wear the "strong woman" mask for so many hours in a day.

I have been on anti-depressants several times and tried several different medications. I have taken the meh-drugs when I needed it to save my life. (Severe post-partem depression that left me feeling extremely suicidal.) I have also found meds that clear away the black cloud that follows me around, without leaving me in a fog. Each body is different, so work with your medical professional to find the right one for you. Do NOT be afraid to tell your doc, "This medication is not giving me the desired result."

Finally, I want to let you know that I am here for you. When you are ready to reach out we can get together, pull off the "strong woman" masks we both wear so well and knock back a few shots.


Sandra J said...

I believe this experience is shared by most of us at some point or another. Modern life is completely overwhelming at times. I was there for my favorite month of the year last year - Thanksgiving to Christmas. I could hardly drag myself out of bed on Christmas Eve!

I started sharing with my Inner Circle by text, and eventually I stopped feeling so alone and isolated, as a result.

Hang in there.

Hugs, Sandra

Susan said...

OK Miss Sarah, I'm going to push you a little here. What's not working for you? Is being at home with the boys all of the time working for you? I assume you've done a Myers-Briggs type of analysis. What does that tell you? Have you taken stock?

Asked with love. :)

Susan said...

By the way, this was really well-written.

Sarah Hunt said...

Aw, thanks for the love, friends. It's always such a helpful thing to remember that I'm not alone on the island every time I find myself there.

Susan, it's not really a rut I'm in as much as anxiety about a lot of external things (see: family crises of varying levels), and our own tenuous situation with big changes looming on the horizon. I am not sitting well with the whole "where will we be this time next year," even though I am confident a change is for the better. I'm actually happiest when I'm here and fully participating, and stressed about all the factors that work together to keep me from being able to do that. I realize it's all a bit cryptic on the page. Thanks for the writing compliment; you know how to butter my roll. ;)

Jen said...

I had a feeling you might be in withdrawal mode. I checked your FB the other day and saw it had been a few days, but I left you alone for reasons that are too personal to share on your public blog.

You deserve beautiful things, Sarah. Love, kindness, forgiveness, acceptance...all of those things you give so freely.

Kathy said...

This was so well-written Sarah, as always. But since you asked for advice, I'll give you the advice I'm trying to follow myself (though it's damn hard.) SAY NO. You can't do everything, you can't fix everyone, people WANT you to because you're the person who's always done that, but you're exhausted and it's making you really unhappy. And you deserve to be happy. (Steady yourself for a Stuart Smalley moment.) You are a lovely, smart, creative and vibrant woman who happens to be dealing with a lot of hard stuff right now. You need a break. Give yourself permission to do something fun with those wonderful little boys (and Kurt, if you can drag him away from work) without feeling guilty. Give yourself credit for all of the wonderful parts of your life. It isn't happenstance that you have such great kids, and a terrific husband who dotes on you. You deserve all of that and more. You are worthy. You're just exhausted, man.

Amy said...

Okay, your blog post resonates more than I can say. The guilt & the angst are all part of the insidious disease.

Depression is not something you can simply "walk off." The right meds should not leave you in the "meh" zone. I found that antidepressants have the ability to give me myself back. If something's not working, adjustments can be made.

It has been my experience that my only regret was not seeking help sooner. (Again, part of the illness.)

I struggle with the withdrawal aspects as well. The meds help with that, but frankly, the older I get, the less people I care to spend time with. I am much more selective. (Amuse me, inform me, or BUH-bye!)

For what it's worth, your FB presence has been a highlight of my days of late.

Best wishes from a fellow Sherpa,


Anonymous said...


As a guy in this modern world, the same age...I wonder how anyone does it, I think men have it like a double-edge sword, more physical power to climb, and also, more competition, along the way. Very few men have, or at least will ever show, their altruistic virtue. It is seen as too soft, or even 'gay', for whatever this word means to those who use it insultingly. I always thought it just meant happy! But, I am a straight male who has gleaned some insight into this world,
I just had an epiphany that it is really all about taking the responsibility on yourself, to seek enlightenment, happiness, which is substantial, and enduring.
I have found (although I too struggle), that 2 virtues which have helped me are: balance, As well as its counterpart, totally spontaneous, cosmic chaos, Anarchy.
My favorite example of this is in the movie 'Terms of Endearment', I beleive it was when a little boys mother is extremely sad, of course! And everybody is 'mourning' at the funeral, and afterwards, as they are walking, passing the house, and the older character (J. Nicholson), is walking next to the boy (about age 6), and whispers both with utter care, and a conspiratorial deviant defiance to corrosive depresive, and passive conformity, says softly, and earnestly, " shall we take a swim in the pool ". Boy answers, "now". Nicholson, "When? Sure, I think now is the best time, as good as any".
*To me, this is a crucial turning point, he is reaching out to extend his deep care, but also offering a tangible solution, which at the time probably seemed like the most absurd notion...but, its like whatre you gonna do? Stay in that head space, and hold on to that mourning, that grief, untill, 'Youre' dead, of course, but, there are also practical tactics, techniques, etc. to ward off depression. As I see it these can give both immediate relief, as well as some headspace in which to grow, and even as we get older, we can continue to give ourself room in which to grow, grow light.
Just thoughts...hope they made sense to someone. Id be curious. Also, as the mountain is symbolic, and also a biological live thing, as life contains so many utterly alien, totally novel, beautiful, terrifying, and terrifyingly beautiful forms, so does our daily reality, our dreams. We know it when we are happy. And, have you ever looked into the eyes of a grasshopper? (Alien)! lol! At lichens convening with moss on a rock? (Alien)! lol and relatededly relavant, as in lucid dreaming, if you come across a crossroads, where you meet a monster, or something seemingly unsurmountable, if you can consciously - lucidly ask it, in your dream, "who are you, and what are you doing here?", many times, it is like the trixter at the crossroads, the shadows flee, night becomes light, and evil is cast away, granting something awesome.
And, perhaps, in real life, our awareness, mindfulness, and trust in our own position, (at seemingly unsurmountable odds) not to back down from our own glory can be the key to ascending descending the real and mental mountains, and valleys. Is there after all a huge chasm of difference between the two? anything? anyone????

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