I spent the other morning holding the lead line of my largest horse, an off the track thoroughbred named Vinny, while our vet quietly sedated him and stitched a gaping dermal laceration on his neck. It was ugly, probably four inches long, and bloody, a surprise when I went out to check the horses. It’s his second emergency vet visit this month; a few weeks ago he tore open his shoulder open just about six inches below his current tear. That, plus another “stitch” visit (for one of my ponies, Slash) has made our vet such a common sight for us this month that I’m beginning to feel like he lives here.
I’m still not entirely sure how he hurt himself. Sometimes with horses it’s like that. You just have to concentrate on fixing the issues even if you don’t understand why there was an issue in the first place.
I watched the vet stretch the broken skin back over the tissue on Vin’s neck. Vin, whose sedation had him happily enjoying the sound of the color orange, barely seemed to notice the curved needle slowly, methodically, putting him back together where he had torn himself apart.
There’s been a lot of stitching around the farm lately: literal and metaphoric.
I’ve not made a secret of the fact that this last year and a half have been among the most difficult of my life. I haven’t been entirely open about the fact that this year threw me into the sort of depression I haven’t seen since college and had hoped to never see again.
The last eighteen months have been difficult for me for a lot of reasons, many of them stories that aren’t entirely mine to tell. I’ve lost creatures who were dear to me. I’ve had relationships that I believed to be as steady and dependable as the hills turn upside down. I’ve lost people I cared for. And, for a little while, it began to feel like I would lose myself.
Depression is a strange thing, and a lot of people just don’t understand it. It isn’t just “sad.” We all get sad, and we all feel depressed sometimes. But honest to goodness depression takes up residence, moving in as a second occupant in your life, one that zaps you of all the joy you would normally feel. Days that should be good feel indifferent, and days that would normally be difficult feel impossible. It leaves you nearly numb to the best of life while simultaneously leaving you raw and exposed to the worst of it, like nerves that have been left open to the air.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I haven’t had a good day for over a year, but all of the good seemed to belong to a sort of fog that wouldn’t entirely lift. I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of time talking with friends (while crying), and a really healthy chunk of time talking to a therapist (still crying).
But then, last week, the fog lifted.
I want to be careful here, because a lot of people who are depressed are told to just “get over it” or “think positive,” and I don’t want to contribute to the belief that it’s that simple. Trust me when I tell you that if a depressed person could just “happy thoughts” their way out of depression, they would. But I will say that the end of my depression seemed to come from a new understanding of my emotions and thoughts. I began to understand how to not be a slave to them, how to take the negative thoughts off of the endless loop that had been created in my head before they could direct my emotions and thereby control my worldview. I decided not to give those thoughts the time of day-dismissing them, not repressing them-and with them left the fog.
I cannot explain why it worked this time and didn’t the thousand other times I tried to “be more positive.” I don’t have a formula. Despite my Midwestern upbringing with it’s emphasis on hard work and bootstrap success, I would not say that I pulled myself out of this by force of will.
I have never had depression flip like a switch before. In the past, climbing out of it was slow and difficult, a trail you blaze uphill in a Midwestern heat wave.
I just know that I was depressed for a really long time and now I’m not. I know because the numbness is gone. Food tastes better (or, really, just tastes). I can see the beauty in small things. And I can feel things fully, all the way down to my soul.
Guys, today I found myself reflecting on just how stunningly beautiful the color green is and just how delicious raspberry jelly tastes. It seems ridiculous, but when you’ve been deprived of feeling deeply for this long, when you’ve been numb, you appreciate things that most people would overlook a million times.
This last week has been like waking up, shaking off the dust of a sleep that lasted far too long.
So why am I telling you this?
We live in an age of Instagram and WordPress and Facebook. And, because of that, we think we see each other, but most of the time we don’t. We see the lives of everyone else through a filter, and we see our own lives without one, and we start to think that maybe we are the only ones who don’t have our shit together. And I don’t want this blog, this space, to be one more place to see through that sort of filter. Yes, I have a thousand pictures of adorable, fluffy animals. Yes, I adore this place and this opportunity. Yes, it’s serene and beautiful and lovely…and a complete and total mess.
I’ve tried to write about all of this a dozen times in the last eighteen months, and I think I’ve touched on it here and there, but I couldn’t really find the words. Maybe because of the numbness, maybe because of fear. (If I’m being honest, this is a scary thing to hit the publish button on…) Likely because it came hand-in-hand with a hefty dose of writer’s block.
But here it is: If you feel like your life is in chaos, I can promise you that you aren’t alone. If you’re depressed, you’re not alone. If every single day feels like walking through quicksand, I’ve been there. If you’re looking at your life in disbelief, wondering how on earth you got here, I understand.
You are not alone, and it gets better.
I remember having lunch with a dear friend a few months ago and learning about some of the struggles she faced in high school. I was stunned by what she told me. Flabbergasted by what she had suffered through alone. She didn’t have to be alone. I was only a phone call away the whole time, but she didn’t pick up the phone.
Depression is bad enough all by itself. It can be isolating, and it does a really good job of making you feel unworthy of love and light. And the more you pull into yourself, the worse it gets. It’s not a mood. It’s a disease. And isolation and loneliness are symptoms.
If I learned nothing else in the last year and a half, I learned this: Reach out.
Glennon Melton of Momastery.com (one of my Yodas these days) says this:
“Sometimes life’s load gets too heavy and hard for us to carry alone. I don’t think the hard is a mistake. I don’t think the hard means we’ve done anything wrong. I think the hard is purposeful, so that we’ll need our sisters.”
Sisters, brothers, friends…we need our people. None of us are without struggle. None of us can do it alone. We all need each other. Especially when it feels like the best course of action is to shut down into yourself.
Vin’s stiches came together beautifully. Then he came out of the sedation slowly. Today, my herd check revealed that his neck is healing well; I’m not sure there will even be a scar from this wound.
It’s amazing, the things that can be stitched back together.