I am not naturally sad. As a child, despite bad bouts of depression, I had completely clarity about what a free mind feels like. Then along came adolescence and gradually, that clarity blurred more and more with every depressive cycle. When I was in my mid 20s, I was depressed for close to a year and a half. I lost my clarity, but not the memory of it.
I get affect, I really do. I think that’s why by my thirties, I knew and developed the habit of reminding myself as often as necessary of the difference between myself and depression, myself and my voice, and, eventually, the difference between myself and mania’s bizarre effects.
By my thirties, I also had begun to remember better what a free mind feels like. But that was not clarity; and because I am not naturally a sad person, I decided to try to find out whether it was possible to regain my free mind. Sure enough, by my forties, I was able, whenever I wanted to, to time travel back to the exact moment when I was eight years old watching the sunset over the Rocky Mountains and knowing exactly what a free mind fees like.
It takes a long time – for me, apparently, about 50 years – to turn a moment of clarity into just the way you live. It takes allowing your freedom of mind to turn your insides out so that you truly experience life with presence, engagement and consciousness. And that is how I turned sad and angry for a year because I was suddenly not distracted by my struggle with myself, my environment and Society anymore. I was suddenly in the moment of being aware of the work-for-pay career that I’m sure I never would have entered if I had not lost my clarity. I was suddenly in the moment of being surrounded by people that I mostly do not understand and do not want to understand.
I was suddenly wide awake. That’s all there is to it. And it took a year for my eight year old’s clarity to grow up. It was very painful. But I am not a naturally sad person and now it is easy and simple for me to feel joy – easier than an eight year old could even imagine.
I have been trying for several months to write about an experience I had in December of going to a lab in Chinatown early in the morning for bloodwork. After almost 15 years of not having a period, I woke up with what can only be described as a menstrual migraine. If you know anything about migraine, the kind that throb all over your body and make you feel seasick, not like you’re on the sea but like you accidentally swallowed the sea, and now it’s trying to get out, surging up and down, zigzagging, rolling, jerking, pounding. If you don’t know about migraine, you might be surprised to know that once you expel the surging sea inside you, the real pain of the headache begins and that provides relief.
But first you have hold vigil on the nausea, figure out which pain reliever to take (the wrong one at the wrong moment will just make things worse), and you have to a work up the courage to vomit.
In this instance of this particular migraine, even though my instincts told me that I had a brief window in which Tylenol might make dent and would not make me sicker like it usually does, since I was having a fasting blood screen done, I was unsure whether the coating on the pill would throw off my cholesterol test. Yes, pain had made me insane and in zapping my sense of reality into surreality, made a wonderful experience possible that I did not understand and could not put into words until this morning – several months later after having to repeat the test so my doctor will know whether she wants to put me on an old lady diet.
The lab is in that part of Chinatown where I am a head taller than half the men and all of the women, and where, as I would in Paris or Mexico or India, or even Canada, I always fall back on the manners everyone learns about how to behave in a stranger’s home. This is the part of Chinatown where people take their time. This is a good place to learn the habits of an old person who has clarity.
The lab is usually not very busy and the first time I went there, the 35ish lab tech was very talkative and chattered and fussed to me like he would any of the other old aunties who come to the lab. It made me feel welcome. The second time, he seemed genuinely glad to see me and I was pretty sure why, because I could hear the man he was waiting on behind the closed door complaining about the lab, the building, the slow elevator, Chinatown, everything, the whole time. Once I was in the chair behind the closed door, the lab tech fussed and chattered to me again, but this time like he really needed someone to be nice to him and understand. And I left feeling not like I’d been listening to someone complain, but like somebody had trusted me just because he remembered he could do that.
A year ago, I would not have understood that. His trust gave me simple joy in spite of the pain of knowing I made a mistake in my career choice, of knowing I will have another horrible headache and I will be even older when it happens, of knowing my young doctor will not understand that I know what not-going-to-live-forever feels like and there are changes I will not make to try to defy that reality, of knowing that as much as I hate my career choice I will have grief and separation anxiety when I leave it, of knowing that in 130 days my weekdays will never be the same again and I will have to make the big adjustment to free time, which all the experts warn is not as easy as it sounds.