A shoulder set to rock…

a shoulder set to rock

“it wasn’t just the old worry, the one he’d lived with all his life, as long as he could remember that weighed on him. It was also the dreams.”

J.M. Micro, Ordinary Monsters

Worry carries a weight. A stress. A strain. But, it’s one I’ve grown accustomed to carrying. There are worn grooves in the surface of the worry where my fingers have continually found purchase; the indentations of an on-going effort to hold it steady. It’s the devil I know, perhaps too well. The demon I meet for tea, perhaps too often.

But, there is also a kind of girth and burden built into dreams too. There is a tension to expectation; a force carried across a flexible medium. A flexible medium like hope. A hope made taut because it pulls against something seemingly immovable. Something like me. The stretching is its own kind of suffering. Its rigidity exists in the anticipation that everything tight will snap and eventually, or perhaps inevitably, go slack.

A dream cresting closer to the cusp of opacity is often more tenuous and burdensome than the downward press of our usual fears. “That’s the odd thing about depression”, says Matt Haig, “It acts like an intense fear of happiness, even as you yourself consciously want that happiness more than anything.” For those of us riddled with melancholia, the experience of happiness, or just serenity, is allusive and one not easy to understand, even, and perhaps especially, when it is present at hand. “A psychological upturn, for a person who rarely enjoys one”, says John Kaag, “can be more unsettling than the condition of perennial sadness”, because “It signals a departure from the norm, and…the possibility of an unforeseen but immanent relapse.” Calmness, of any kind, feels like the invitation of a crash, and thus, “fair weather”, Kaag goes on to say, “is viewed, and even experienced, with intense suspicion”.

Depression may be the unbearable density and mass of the world compressing down and closing in, but the unalterable sameness of depression, the predictability of its sadness, is often easier to bear than the unprecedented alleviation of a yoke made easy and a burden made light. It’s sureness and certainty can feel like safety. As Brene Brown explains, “It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed.” It’s simpler to stay in the shadow of the valley, than to feel the fear of falling back down once you’ve climbed out. And, so we cease to climb.

I’ve been vacillating between suffering and anhedonia. Between angst and apathy. Between anxiety and listlessness. But mostly I just feel tired and lost. I see through a glass more darkly than I ever have. For so long my sole focus has been on survival, subsistence, and stability. My days, as Tamsyn Muir describes, have “dissolved like ashes in front of a fan—scattered beyond any hope of retrieval—blown back into [my] face [and] fluttering upward beyond [my] grasp”. The question “what now?” is the weight of an albatross around my neck; a koan I can’t quite find an answer to. Maybe, like most koans, it’s simply unanswerable. Maybe all you can do is wait. Maybe St. Thomas Petty of the Heartbreakers was more right than I care to admit when he said that “the waiting is the hardest part“.

Patience isn’t a virtue. It’s a dog fight. A brutal melee at close range. A breathless eternity between stimulus and response, between the action and the equal or opposite reaction, between the event and the aftermath. It takes grit and courage and fragility. “It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment”, Brene Brown says, “than to just set up camp there”, because it is. It’s much easier to sip the sweet arsenic of cynicism than it is to bite into bitter truths. It’s easier to give up. To give in. To stay down. But, “The true act of resistance”, David Ulin says, “is to respond with hope.” 

Hope is recalcitrant. Gracefully poised upon the edge of strength and vulnerability, it cuts through our callousness and is insubordinate enough to believe and to keep believing. To reach. A truly rebellious hope is not a false hope. It is not a hope divorced from reality and bedded to delusion. It is a hope without guarantees. A Sisyphean hope embracing the absurd. A hope that daily sets its shoulder to the rock rolled along a worn uphill path. A hope that knows any happiness worth having is one that can only be imagined in the work.


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