June 24, 2019

This is what Saves Me when Depression Arrives with the Morning Light.


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“I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.” ~ Helen Keller


It enters the room through my window as the sun begins to rise.

Soundless, the unholy ghost arrives.

Depression is a morning person. In night’s black, I can slip back between the sheets and into the distance of sleep. But morning’s light forces me to face the dark that beckons me; I don’t want to be.

Dogs keep me upright. If I didn’t have their clicking toes on hardwood floors and whining winsome reminders, I would stay in bed for days. Ernie’s deciding whether to pee on the beautiful 117-year-old wood floor or the $800 one-of-a-kind over-dyed wool rug. Get up soon and avoid the inevitable cleanup, or better yet, stepping in it—these things need me.

I get up.

Dogs out, grind coffee, dogs fed, drink. I have pigs too, turkeys, a pony. Some of these things are necessary, and ignoring them will have consequences. But it moves on from there to sacrifice which just means sacred and then, finally, to devotion.

What matters most, when these things are often so difficult, is that we do them. This battle is my ballet with depression. In remission, I feel a heart-in-my-throat relief that I want to do anything. At its worst, it’s a phantom inertia that’s paralyzing.

Walking helps, and so do my years working with weather’s cold, heat, wind, rain, snow, and sleet. God’s gray or green or violent earth reaches, surrounds, and grounds me.

The deep, earthy smells of a barn, of the horses delight—warm hair and hide and sweetgrass breath. To know what it means to work to the bone, in all weather, to live in tune with the seasons, and to embrace the natural circle of life, which includes death, both accidental and devastating and ultimately miraculous and healing. Life feeds death feeds life feeds death. These things save me.

I run to stay sane. Sweat and pain, the power of breath, and hills that hurt my lungs and legs. These things free me. Discipline—the warrior that slays inertia’s demon. Move, and I am alive. Move more, and I want to be.

It is alchemy. Breath meets air, body, earth, tears, water, spirit, fire. When you turn and walk toward God, God turns and runs to you.

It is grander too. The runs that turn into races, half and full marathons; painful, grateful, graces. The small farm I finally bought after twenty years of dreaming. Pigs in the barn and a sunrise that knocks me to the floor—every day. Unless it’s raining.

My mouth opening to say a prayer over the head I’ve just blessed, and the body who has come to my hands for healing. The three months of creating a beautiful offering out of suffering. A spiritual retreat: developed, written, advertised, prepared, and finally attended by no one.

A mantra, three words, made billions for Nike.

That’s nothing.

It’s saved my goddamned life.

And somehow, in the saving, meaning is not found, it is made.

So I rise and fall and rise again. Get up to walk the dogs, and the air on my face wisps away dread’s cobwebs. Breathe the hot sun or bitter cold—and oh! the lake and the shimmer of light on moving water, silver-white streams of color. Let me find a way, Holy Jesus, to stand this day.

And it comes, like a sweet dream or a lost cause found.

“God is a presence that spares us from nothing while simultaneously sustaining us in all things.” ~ James Finley

So I seek what sustains me. Like one last stretch of trees. “We are rooted deep enough to hold you.” Earth is solid, safe beneath, and a final endless resting place. Stand upon it; kneel, pray. Get up, get out, go, stay.


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