Most of the people I know who struggle with depression usually experience their darkest days in winter when the weather is cold, the days are short and social activities are limited. Add in the holidays, and people are left to contend with all sorts of memories and emotions. It’s different for me, though.
I breezed through this fall and winter like a champ. Happy Heather. I was feeling the best –the most content– I’d felt in years. The kids were settled in school. I was in a groove with my work at the college. Joe was happy at his job. It was our second year in Poplar Bluff, and we had friends and furniture. Life was great.
But then, as often happens, the weather warmed, the sun climbed higher in the sky, and I started to feel lonely.
These warm, long days conjure up involuntary memories of cookouts, outdoor concerts, baseball games and beach parties with family. Family whom I no longer live nearby. Memories that I am no longer making.
I never know when I’ll be overtaken. One minute I could be in my front yard, walking the dog across a prickly patch of yellow, dried-out grass and the next minute I could be sitting at a long picnic table covered by a funky-patterned tablecloth in my brother and sister-in-law’s backyard in Massachusetts. A large pot of fresh, hot clams sits on the table in front of me, the salty steam rising to my nose and eyes. The jiggly, buttery creatures slide easily down my throat, chased by gulps of Ipswich Ale, straight out of the bottle. After dinner we laugh and talk, and watch as the kids, the cousins, play bare-chested tackle football on the soft, green grass.
Another day I might be transported to my parents’ house in Virginia. Instead of looking at the parking lot and dentist office behind my house, I’m looking straight out at the Blue Ridge Mountains. My waist and legs are submerged in clear, cool water. Christian and Henry are jumping and playing. The mondo grass is swaying. Later, all wet, the boys and I wrap ourselves in towels and warm ourselves by a pool-side fire that I have built myself. Grandma and Grandpa join us, and we roast hot dogs and marshmallows, mesmerized by the fizzing and popping and the smell of burning wood. We watch the sky darken in the pool’s reflection, bellies full and bodies tired from a full day of swimming and sun.
Making matters worse is that this is also the time of year that Joe is on the road a lot more. Games, camps and recruiting take up much of his time. I am left alone, with all of these memories, to wonder, Why am I here? What the HECK am I doing in Poplar Bluff?
Poplar Bluff is a lovely place. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Poplar Bluff is not MY place. It is unfamiliar territory. Instead of the sea, there are rivers. Instead of the Red Sox, there are the Cardinals. Instead of Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Papa and Auntie Brooke and Uncle Darrell and Auntie Christina and Uncle Mark and Auntie Katie and Uncle Ben and Auntie Marissa and Uncle Adam and …. is … nobody.
Before long the memories and questions lead me to a journal entry like yesterday’s:
I feel like I’m slipping down the edge of a slick, steep, cone-shaped funnel. Like there’s nothing I can do. Like when I get to the bottom, I’ll never be able to climb out again. There’s nothing I can grab. No one can save me. My mind is slipping to a place I don’t want it to go, and yet I feel powerless to stop it…
Of course, it’s not just the homesickness. There are other circumstances, disappointments, and longings that have led me here.
But it will get better. I know it will.
Winter will come. The memories will fade. And I will feel happy again.