Sunday, September 11, 2011

the blue devils

I was a very melodramatic 23-year-old.  And 27-year-old. (I skipped mentioning that I was a melodramatic teenager because what teenager isn't?)  I used to spend a lot of time obsessing about why I'm alive.  Why in the world would someone like me exist?  I'm just difficult.  It makes no sense for there to be someone like me on this planet. Then I turned 29 and had Nell and had to quit being so eternally obsessed with myself and grow up.  It became apparent exactly why I was alive:  so I could change Nell's diaper.

I haven't felt that feeling in years, but it snuck up on me todayI think it has probably been-- oh, at least a dozen years.  I remember getting stuck in a cycle of migraines way back when and on about day 10, when my head was unendingly, relentlessly pounding, thinking, Why am I even alive?

But that was a long time ago, and my headaches are much better now, and thank the lord the way I think these days doesn't even really allow for that.  It wouldn't even occur to me to think that way, because if you go too far with it, why the hell is anybody alive?  There's just no point in going there. You do what you can to be who you are and occupy your space; and who you are--all of you, good, bad, indifferent and all of the above-- affects the web of people around you, the people you've been given.  And that's about the best any of us can do.

Is this depressing?  It doesn't feel depressing, but maybe it is coming across that way.  And no, I have not had one drop of alcohol tonight.  Anyway. 

For some reason out of the blue tonight, I got nailed with it again.  But you know, I have strategies now.  A therapist told me years ago, just keep breathing.  The context was different, but it's one of the most useful things anyone's ever said to me.  It often pops into my head when things get rough, when I'm stuck in a situation that I don't want to be in-- for example, right before I had to give my first graduate presentation last year.  If you keep breathing, time passes, and you're still there, and things get better.  (And it's not like you have any choice, you're going to breathe anyway so you might as well notice it.)

And if you're noticing that you're breathing, it anchors you in your body, and you can start to notice other things, like the feeling of the air going in and out of your lungs, and then maybe you notice that there's a bit of a breeze, and then you notice the light is really lovely slanting through that tree, and then maybe you see a color-- the purple of your toenail polish-- and before you know it, you're out the other side of whatever was trying to sink you. 

So I thought of that tonight, and I walked out on the deck, and kept breathing. I saw the practically full moon and listened to distant sounds (which I wish were something cool and natural, but were really the sounds of the droning race cars at the raceway park about a mile away), and pretty soon I felt better.  It's great to be 50.  Because when this happened in my 20s, it would result in days of navel-gazing and self-obsession and pointless wool-gathering.  But now I know that feelings are not permanent; you feel them and you let them go.  The bad ones come and go, and the good ones come and go.

The Buddhists call this equanimity-- accepting whatever life sends you, good or bad, with an open heart, and maintaining your equilibrium.  I am who I am no matter what is going on around me.  (Well, a Buddhist wouldn't say it like that because of the whole no-self thing, but that's how it comes out in my head.)  And then there's St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians:  "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry..."  He's talking specifically about his financial status, but it's the same idea.

(and p.s., this was not meant to imply that other people in their 20s obsess, just that I did when I was that age.)

What do you do when the blue devils visit? 


  1. Thank goodness the "blue devils" visit less often since I:
    1. Had a total hysterectomy (there is a reason why the root of that word is hysteria)

    2. turned 50.

    That is not to say that they don't come every once in a while. When they do I try to keep moving. I clean out something, I deconstruct something, in the summer I dig a hole in the dirt. I also journal...a lot. It seems to help me to express it on paper and then let it go.

  2. THIS is yet another reason why we need to keep blogging, you write things I can't put in to words, and I write shit that (somehow) helps you too.
    (I'll have to come back to answer this, more deep thinking than I can manage at the moment. Right now, it's all about the physical.)

  3. @debbie-- everyone I know who has had a total hysterectomy is so glad they did it! A friend of mine calls it the dream surgery. Alas, I haven't been able to talk my GYN into it. But I think I'm almost done with..ummmm....cycling anyway. It certainly does seem to even things out.

    @julie-hang in there on the physical. It will get better.