My Winter Demon
For those I keep on the outside, I am a fairly private person. For those few I let in close, I don’t shut up. I’ve been hurt by vulnerability, so that’s my excuse. But it’s not healthy, so here I share,
I have a winter demon.
(click on the image to see a larger size)
I battle depression and have for around 9 years, and most of the time I have it checked, tucked away in a little box I carry along with me, hopefully hidden behind smiles and blue eyes so that most remain unknowing.
But then winter comes, and I lose control of it. Everything is grey, bleak, unrelenting. Miserable.
You see, in the spring wildlife reappears, twitterpated and in love. Summer brings the buzzing bugs and blooming flowers, and abundant sunshine. Fall ferries in change, reflection and a quieting of the spirit. There is always something to photograph, something to chase, something to connect with. Something to be inspired by…
But winter? I lose all inspiration and hope. Bleakness sets in. It’s a chore to go outside. And after the first few snows, I even lose inspiration in what to photograph (the same ice-covered tree again? AGAIN??).
“It is not pleasant to experience decay, to find yourself exposed to the ravages of an almost daily rain, and to know that you are turning into something feeble, that more and more of you will blow off with the first strong wind, making you less and less. Some people accumulate more emotional rust than others. Depression starts out insipid, fogs the days into a dull color, weakens ordinary actions until their clear shapes are obscured by the effort they require, leaves you tired and bored and self-obsessed- but you can get through all that. No happily, perhaps, but you can get through. No one has ever been able to define the collapse point that marks major depression, but when you get there, there’s not much mistaking it.”
(Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression)
Throughout the last several years I have tried to talk to a few close people about my depression, but I found for the most part that it was like speaking a foreign language to them. If you have never been to that place, I don’t think you really understand it. When I was in college, I babysat for a professor whose wife was battling depression. I hadn’t experienced depression at that point yet, and really didn’t understand what she was going through until years later when I was able to feel it myself. Now I know the heaviness, the feeling of not being able to get out of bed, the chore of going outside, not knowing how you will indeed make it through the day. And what’s worse, having to muster up the energy to put on the front so that those you encounter don’t see it in you. I understand what she was going through, now.
So I do what my mom taught me best, I got some books.
During the height of one of my depression cycles last year I decided to buy a couple books on the subject. I don’t like to read. I hate it in fact, and when I was younger my parents used to bribe me with bags of M&Ms to get me to read (my mom on the other hand, she loves reading so much she will even read the random stuff written on canned food labels). Anyway, one of the books I picked up was “The Noonday Demon” by Andrew Solomon. Finally, someone spoke the same language. It’s a good book (says the girl who hates reading). So, seriously, pick it up if you are looking for someone who speaks your language. Or if you just love to read, like my mom.
“Major depression is far too stern a teacher: you needn’t go to the Sahara to avoid frostbite. Most of the psychological pain in the world is unnecessary; and certainly people with major depression experience pain that would be better kept in check. I believe, however, that there is an answer to the question of whether we want total control over our emotional state, a perfect emotional painkiller that would make sorrow as unnecessary as a headache…To give up the essential conflict between what we feel like doing and what we do, to end the dark moods that reflect and its difficulties—this is to give up what it is to be human, of what is good in being human.” (A. Solomon, The Noonday Demon)
“The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality, and my life, as I write this, is vital, even when sad…Almost every day I feel momentary flashes of hopelessness and wonder every time whether I am slipping…I cannot find it in me to regret entirely the course my life has taken. Every day, I choose, sometimes gamely and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to be alive. Is that not a rare joy?”
(A. Solomon, The Noonday Demon)
Yesterday I had grand notions of photographing frozen waterfalls and bald eagles. I was so excited that I managed to mustered up some internal inspiration during winter’s height that I ran out of the house with camera gear, but no hat or jacket. While being sick. Proving all the degrees in the world don’t make you smart.
The excitement built as I got closer to the falls and the sun fought through those masses of grey clouds that have been over New York since October.
I forgot the falls were on a seasonal road. An un-plowed seasonal road. Three miles up that un-plowed seasonal road. And not only do I not have my normal outdoor gear, let alone a simple coat, but I’m sick.
Then more disappointment. No eagles to be found. I checked their usual spot at one of the locks, at the dam, and along the reservoir. Nothing, go figure.
I still took some pictures, but definitely with less enthusiasm and really didn’t feel like I got my pictures for the week. With the disappointment (from a failed assignment I gave myself) I could feel the sunshine disappear and the grey set back in. When I got back home I didn’t even have the energy to download the pictures and look at them. I sulked on the couch with the dogs and watched Swiss Family Robinson and wished that I too could choose the reclusive island life instead of the hustle and bustle of society. At the end of the movie, Roberta (I think, I was kind of out of it) says to Fritz “Two people, if they have each other, what more could they want?”
“Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair.” (A. Solomon, The Noonday Demon)
Without the bleakness and grey of winter, we wouldn’t anxiously await spring’s return and enjoy summer’s heat and the insects that bother us so. Without experiencing deep hopelessness, I think it is easy to take happiness for granted when it presents itself. And I don’t think one can know true love until you know the despair associated with losing it. Love songs and love stories don’t mean a thang until you can speak the language of the heartbroken and lonesome. Similarly, you can’t speak of the heavy, dark gloom of depression to those who live in the sunshine.
“The heroes in life are the storm-swept and battle-scarred” (L. B. Cowman, Streams In The Desert)
I downloaded the photos off my camera this morning. I didn’t expect to have anything worth sharing. If I could have made it to the waterfalls, I would have never driven past this winter desert-scape. These trees, exposed so vulnerably to the winds and elements, are on their way to being tall, straight, strong trees. They will be stronger than those saplings that find their protection in the hedge rows, because they don’t have to fight as hard for life.
I think I love these two pictures more than I would have loved a frozen waterfall because of what it represents. And what’s more is that I set out not to take another picture of an ice-covered tree, but that’s what I came home with.
I’ve read that once you’ve had depression, it never really goes away. It will be with you forever, in waiting for its moment to creep back in and take control over your mind.
I may always battle it, but I will learn to love the skies I’m under.