Reflections on an Okay, Terrible Month

So if you remember towards the end of January, I wrote about how February is the bane of my existence each year. Maybe that was the opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy — a jinx, if you will. Because this February has flown by, so quickly the usual misery didn’t have time to latch onto me.

I have several theories for why. Firstly, not exactly a jinx, but writing about it, being honest rather than hiding my fears, liberated me to face February in a way I haven’t been able to before. In a way, the demons were warned: I’ve sounded the alarm, and others are watching for the attack.

Partially, in an attempt to reaffirm to readers that I am okay, I’ve been better about writing and posting this month. It’s kept me distracted with a creative outlet to reenergize me every few days. Also, little things like my style challenge increased the distractions — keeping me focused on little, life things so the dull, boring February days couldn’t leave room for despair to fester.

I’ve been taking a bit better care of myself this year. Things like going for walks, hikes, and doing yoga with both more regularity and less rigidity than I would have in the past. And, without going into *too* much detail, this month for medical reasons I was taken off the oral contraceptives I’ve been on for the past thirteen years, and I think the lack of synthetic hormones has helped mellow out at least some of my more temperamental moods. Also, eating more vegetarian meals (and a lot less red meat especially) all probably helps in a healthy-body, healthy-mind kind of way. You know, because science.

And of course, I have to give credit to my current situation. My husband warns we’re still in the honeymoon phase of living in this new city, but after seven months I am still so in love with Saint Louis. More than the physical city, the feeling I have here — like I belong in a way I never felt in the DC area — is beyond comforting. Gone is the tension and stress of a life measured against every designer handbag and luxury vehicle rolling down the street. There are lovely, wonderful people in DC, but the people of the midwest have been so welcoming, I truly believe it’s a little bit magical. It’s soothed my soul in a way that has certainly helped me approach this season with a calmer spirit.

The struggle continues, but it’s becoming easier to cling to the edge of the precipice rather than give up and tumble into darkness.

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Just a Postful of Sunsets

Because today is a gray day that could use some beauty…



One More Light

This song by Linkin Park quietly destroys me every time.

February has been the worst month for as long as I can remember. It makes no sense that the shortest month would take the longest to pass by. It isn’t the beginning of the cold, dreary weather, and it isn’t the tail end either. It just sits in the middle of gray and crushes me every year.

Part of it may be due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but while all of winter is generally more of a struggle than the rest of the year, in February in particular, I’m a shell of a person. Everything is hollow and cold and faded inside. It has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or any particular trauma — trust me, I’ve tried to trace this weirdness to some tangible explanation. My husband says it’s self-fulfilling prophecy: I expect February to suck, so it does. He (thankfully) can’t understand the depth of it — or sudden lack of any depth of emotion at all. Every year I hope it’s better — I hope I’m better, healthier, happier. And when it turns out I’m not, there’s still a tiny sort of comfort in knowing I just have to make it to March.

March is nothing special. In fact, I’d say it’s my second-least favorite month. March is when the cold and the damp and the wind wear me down, but at least it’s in a more normal way that nearly everyone is getting worn down. I know I’m more alive in March.

Recently, January has added a day or two of February-level angst. It happened today, which got me thinking about this time of year. At least with the January days, I know exactly where it comes from. Three years ago, I lost someone to suicide.

I felt strange at first, claiming the loss as my own. It’s his family I’m closer too. But he was a light; even in the snippets of time I shared with him, I could see that. Sometimes I could recognize his darkness, too. Along with his death, I lost my old friends. They are the same and yet wholly new people. How could they not be, after clawing their way back to the living, forever watching where they step around the gaping hole that will never fill?

Suicide brings loss in many ways, not all of them expected. That’s something I learned three years ago.

The January punch-in-the-gut doesn’t always happen on “the day.” But in each of the past three Januaries, I have woken up feeling hollow. My mind replays little details from that time, as vividly as if it were happening all over again. I feel the carpet fibers under my fingers as I lay on the floor beside my bed, tears leaking into my ears. My throat catches, remembering how I called my mom and said “what do I do?” because moms are supposed to have all the answers, but what mother can fathom losing a child until it happens?

Today I feel both carved out and filled with everything. Tears coursed down my cheeks as I drove to work, and for a terrifying moment, I feared February had come early.  Then that song came on and I realized it’s my January ghost. He sits with me and reminds me to feel it all. The pain and the anger and the heartache. He reminds me of carpet fibers and clogged eardrums. Of his mom promising to shower and brush her teeth, even if she couldn’t bring herself to do anything else all day. Of his stepdad, hollow-eyed and deflated, trudging through parking lots with the dogs that kept them both breathing.

My chest cracks open and pain bleeds through my shirt and it’s all I can do to get through the day without crawling under my desk and sobbing, but I make it. I always do.

Because January is here to remind me how imperative it is that I survive February.

“Who cares if one more light goes out?”

So. Many. People.

The Dark Side of Writing

This is about to get really real. Maybe too real. “Over-sharing”. But it’s been inside me for a long time and needs to get out. And maybe someone else needs to hear it. Maybe we aren’t alone, after all.

Sometimes, my dreams of getting published seem hopeless. And not because “so many people are trying, why should I succeed?” or “I’m just not good enough.” Maybe a little of the fear comes from the second, but not for the obvious reason that I think my writing is crap. Semi-objectively, my writing is decent. I’ve written some brilliant things I’m super proud of, and some really awful things that make me cringe just thinking about, but most of my writing falls into the category of “good enough” to be published. I notice weak writing — recognize my own short-comings — in published books all the time, so why not me?

No, I’m hopeless because I hit these blocks that are so much more than “writer’s block” the way I understand it. I don’t know how other writers experience it, so maybe I’m not as alone as it feels. The term “writer’s block” seems so benign. Like “eek, I’m stuck, time to brainstorm” or “wrote myself into a corner” or “let’s take a walk to clear my mind and come back fresh.”

That’s not me.

When I hit a block, words desert me and I tumble face-first into a rock-strewn canyon. It’s dark and frigid and lonely, even walking hand-in-hand with my lover in the sunshine. A revelation smothers me, replacing the marrow in my bones with a certainty that I am nothing and will never amount to much more.

It’s not so much that no one will care what I have to say. That fear is quiet and constant, like a cat sleeping at my feet, occasionally hopping onto the table to flick my nose with its tail.

No, the writing depression is darker, more personal. It assures me that I do have a story worth telling; it encourages me that someone — maybe even just one person — needs what I have inside me, but I’ll never find the words to tell it. I am my own worst enemy and the only thing standing in the way of greatness.

If only I could shed the weaker parts of me. If only my brain could leave my damaged heart and trembling fingers for a stronger body. Or maybe it’s my heart — tender and full — that needs to escape the dictator in my brain, unfeeling and inconsiderate of the words trying to bleed freely. Maybe my skin is trapping the story, pressing it against muscle and bone instead of allowing it to burst into the world. If only I’d been born someone else, I wouldn’t have this problem. My imagination inside a stronger vessel would find its purpose.

In this dark place, I sit on the cold ground, my back pressed to the ravine wall, staring at characters I love more than life. Apologies whisper past my lips: “You should be real,” I tell them, “not me.” It isn’t fair — they have words to share, but a worthless creator who can’t hear them.

The hopeless void stretches in front of me, with no end in sight. I read other people’s words and know I could have said it better, if only my brain worked harder, if only my heart felt more (felt less?), if my hands held the pen with more authority, if my soul didn’t smother my words.

My chest aches, dull and hollow, like an empty mussel on the beach at low tide, picked over and baked. I hunker down to wait it out, desperately clinging to the fragile hope that — someday — words will return, and it will feel as if I could never fail.

I’ll ride that high as long as I can, until, inevitably, I tumble to the ground again. I could walk away from writing, but in the words of Anne Shirley: “I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset… almost pays for the thud.”