The Winter Slipped In, The Winter Slipped Away

Oh, groan. The last year of my life. First world problems and all that, but really, I gotta tell you, it’s been a wild ride out of darkness.

I can lay it out in a line for you so you can understand where I was last December. I can tell you this, and then this, and then this, is what led to me eyeballing my quietly hoarded collection of prescription medication with the feeling of anticipation one usually acquaints with the week prior to a relished vacation. But when I say it, when I tell you those things, I find myself worrying over whether or not it will all seem like enough to warrant my reaction. And really when it comes down to it, I suppose it doesn’t matter, because it’s all in the past and here I am to tell the tale.

There was this: the pain I had been experiencing with increasing frequency and intensity over a number of years, which had been misdiagnosed as bursitis and which I now know was due to FAI. And this: my burnout from work after being the heart and soul of the organization for over six years, which hurt me deeply because I was still committed to the cause and could see that I was no longer best serving the agency I had founded. And then this: two key Board members quitting unexpectedly, within two days of each other, and finding out one had known for a month that the other was quitting yet had never said a word even though she was our interim Board chair and it was her duty to do so. And on top of that: the upcoming annual fundraiser for my organization, a rowdy bartender competition judged by local luminaries and which I, camera-shy me, was to emcee. But really, the cherry on top was all of the bits of life I had been missing and putting aside for several years as I worked my ass off to build my organization, and all of the small concerns of daily living that were snowballing completely out of proportion because I had no time, I was in pain, and I possessed zero tolerance to buffer me and help me feel that even the tiniest demand on my mental and physical resources was less than total, impending doom.

Have you ever had the feeling that life is happening all around you, despite you, and that you are a tiny dandelion fluff being buffeted about by the winds of chance and everyone else’s expectations? What about that frightening dream feeling of wanting to scream, needing to break free and run from danger, yet being held completely, helplessly immobile by unseen forces? Somehow, last year, that seemed to be what my life had become. Yet I was expected to once again pull out all the stops and be the cheerleader for my organization, enthusiastically trumpeting our cause and pulling donations out of friends, family, and strangers alike all across Portland when all I wanted to do was sit and stare at the wall for a year. Clearly, not the best scenario for a burned out executive deep in the throes of chronic pain and depression, and yet there I was. Looking up information on the internet about prescription drug interactions.

Blah blah blah, you’re saying. A lot of people have been here, right? I don’t know. Have they? Have you? I don’t talk to therapists, and I am not one to “reach out” and get all squishy with my friends. I have a (perhaps misguided) sense of pride that won’t allow me to show weakness, but instead directs me, when I am in pain, to crawl under a bush like a dying animal, snarling at anyone who gets in my way. Which, when you are married, is a difficult situation for everyone involved.

I considered driving away from Portland and doing it in a hotel so the Mr. would not have to deal with finding me. I considered just continuing to drive until I was in Mexico, where I would build myself a mud hut and figure out how to make beaded necklaces that I could sell on the side of the road to turistas. I wished I could just be committed so that I could spend some quality time being herded from place to place and being told what to do, no need to make decisions. (This is a fantasy I’ve had since I was a pre-teen, and even though I know through my work with formerly committed mentally ill people that the reality is nothing like my fantasy-sanitorium filled with softly padded walls, crayons, and hushed voices, I can still dream, right?) Instead, I had a major meltdown, followed by a series of mini meltdowns interspersed with quiet rage, and ending with another major meltdown.

All of this scared the hell out of my husband. He did not know what to do. It’s one thing to be attracted to someone who is a little dark around the edges, and another to be dropped off at work by your wife and not know if she will be there to pick you up, or be home when you finally get there. It was his misery and confusion that eventually brought me out of it. I wish I could instead say that it was me, that I learned some sort of amazing lesson or went through an internal shift and suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel, but it wasn’t like that at all. I saw what my depression was doing to my husband, who is literally one of the nicest people anyone will ever meet, and I felt bad. That was pretty terrible because I already felt awful, so of course it got worse for a while before it got better. But it did get better, mostly because of my guilt for making him feel so bad, which caused me to have to figure out a way to make myself not feel so bad. And then we just kept living, and breathing, and sleeping and eating next to one another, and one day followed the next and now we are here, one year later, and I am still alive and he still, for some crazy reason, loves me.

That’s not to say that everything is all rainbows and unicorns now. It’s not. But it’s better than it was, and Mr. and I are taking that as an encouraging sign. And certainly, I’m not here telling you that we emerged unscathed. When we went to Burning Man this year and shot some video at the Temple, I knew that I was helping him process everything that had happened last winter. It’s not for me to say what his journey was, precisely, but I think that the end result bears out the fact that he suffered just as much as I did through my darkest times. For me, working with him on the video at the Temple was my way of apologizing to him for putting him through the hell of the past year. That I could be there with him as he created something so powerful, in a place of such beauty and transformation, was my reward for not taking my life away from his last year. And it is enough. And it is art. And that is us.

The Winter Slipped In, The Winter Slipped Away from Lucas Swick on Vimeo.


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