Breakfast this morning consisted of a handful of foraged chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic, then scrambled into two fresh eggs from a neighbor’s chickens and sprinkled with ground Himalayan pink salt and fresh peppercorn. The mushroom eggs were paired with a slice of multi-grain sunflower seed toast from bread I had baked and then slathered with locally made cinnamon butter. A handful of blueberries recently picked on a sunny day from a nearby farm completed the meal. Oh, add a cup of Tulsi Rose tea to that too. After finishing this bounty, I topped it off with one of my addictions, a large square of sea salted dark chocolate (SO: “I can’t believe you are eating chocolate after that”. Me: “Why not? I consider it very European”). As if that was not enough, we soon found ourselves drinking our tea and coffee while tasting the remnants of my home-made blueberry pie, eating it right out of the pie plate together with one big spoon.
Partaking in this meal was a blissful (and perhaps, in the case of the pie, a bit gluttonous) experience. While breakfast was happening, emotions of gratitude, appreciation and satisfaction washed over me in great waves. And yet, at the moment, I am feeling depressed.
It is dark and rainy this morning, steamy with mid-August humidity. I’m home, with errands that are not pressing and no specific obligations today. It might be a good morning to lie in bed in front of a softly blowing fan, marathoning Netflix while crocheting a hat, with a small dog curled up by my side. How fortunate to be able to do this, to indulge in this simple but significant privilege! And still, at the moment, I am feeling quite low.
Perhaps having three old and dear friends pass away in the last two years, one of them just a few weeks ago, has helped to color this mood. Or that the worsening of my hearing, leaving me isolated, somewhat dependent and lost at times has added yet another overlay of blue. It might be the realization that we are beginning to physically break down as we age and that things are already starting to hurt. It could have to do with the state of the world, of our nation’s political situation, of the daily barrage of hate and violence that seems to spew constantly from the news that has contributed to this feeling of heaviness. It could be the fact that I just discovered and read some heart-wrenching memoirs of a Holocaust survivor that turned out to be one of my teachers in junior high school, a very kind and remarkable woman who I fondly remember, which has caused me to break down in tears. Maybe it is the wistful acknowledgement that things did not go exactly the way as once hoped or planned, or the memories of loved ones and loss that have resurfaced unexpectedly, causing a hitch in my breath. It is possible that the angle of the sun in the sky has shifted and the light is changing as we head towards autumn, the days inperceptibly growing shorter. Or maybe it is none of those things at all, but more of a chemical reaction. I know I have been eating chocolate like crazy lately.
Upon sharing this current state of being, one of my sweet sisters, in an attempt to cheer me up, gave me a laundry list of things I should be grateful for having accomplished in my life, which essentially sounded something like “You should be grateful for this. You should be grateful for that! Look at all the amazing things you’ve done, the places you’ve been! Your talents! Your children! And your grandchildren! Look at what you have! I have never experienced all of these things, but you did.”
I acknowledge her efforts at being a cheering squad and realize she is well-meaning, trying to be helpful – and perhaps she is a bit worried too. I love her dearly. But I felt the need to explain to her a little bit concerning bouts of acute depression or ongoing dysthymia; comparing one’s situation to someone less fortunate is not really going to make them feel any better about it. If anything, it can just makes things worse, as if you are ungraciously unable to appreciate what you have in the face of those who have not. That is not the case. I totally realize and appreciate what I have in my life, from the sunflower seeds in my bread to the fact that I can sit here and write about it. I acknowledge both the small and large pleasures daily, be it picking berries in an orchard with a view of the mountains, sitting on my front porch with my dog and a glass of water, having lunch with a friend, watching a bird on a branch, eating a bag of Pirate’s Booty in the car, enjoying the sunrise, seeing a video of my grandson riding his bicycle alone for the first time, or slipping into a clean and comfortable bed at night. All those things exist side by side, tangled in with the painful issues. They cannot necessarily be teased out separately.
Contrary to the opinions of some, I don’t look at the glass as half empty. My glass is definitely half filled – many times totally filled, even overflowing. But sometimes the cup seems to have a leak in it, or the contents get spilled, or it might be a very small glass to begin with. That is how it rolls for me.
Someone I know who at times suffers from terrible bouts of anxiety once told me that people who have not experienced anxiety attacks have no idea what they are talking about when they say “just snap out of it”. They could have been talking about depression as well. As an example, someone who has never raised teenagers, had a life-threatening illness, been to war, been raped, experienced a severe depressive state or even something as joyful but transformative as the experience of childbirth does not truly know what it is like and are in no position to make judgments on that experience or a person’s responses to it, much less become condescending when their advice is not taken (*of note, I am not at all talking about my sister here).
I have a few friends who tend to be “Eeyores”, or at least sometimes have an air of “Eeyore” about them. I find them to be some of the most intelligent, creative, interesting and compassionate people I know. Their dark and light is what makes them faceted and unique. I would not look down on them or judge them for their proclivity to melancholy or lack of ongoing optimism, and I would hope that in my “Eeyore” state they would reciprocate that courtesy. I think they do, because they understand.
Sorry, I don’t have the Pollyanna gene. I also do not walk around with a look of glazed bliss on my face and I will not give out saccharine smiles nor go around spewing joyful-sounding, vacant comments to alleviate the discomfort surrounding someone else’s perceptions of what is the “right” or “best” way to be. My resting face is not necessarily a smiley button, but perhaps I am smiling inside. I am a realist with a hidden but strong spark of optimism, who at times rides an unfortunate current of dysthymia by using dark humor to stay in the saddle. People who want to label that as pessimism and make judgment upon it or feel they are being “brought down” can just let the door hit them hard on the way out. Those who get it will nod knowingly or have constructive ideas from their own experience. Those who don’t but still care will get on their own horse and ride along side for a while until the terrain changes again.
Having said that, here we are, later in the afternoon. The sun has broken through and is now a golden glow, dappling through the leaves as it arcs toward the west. A bit of humid mist has risen from the road and cleared, much like my mood. I have run a few errands, brushed the dog, had a good phone call from a daughter, and am at the moment enjoying a sliced, crisp apple with some Scottish cheddar from the farmer’s market, along with a glass of iced chai which I brewed up earlier. It is very satisfying. For dinner I will cook up the rest of those chanterelles, cut up some fresh herbs and mix all into jasmine rice, to serve as a side dish to something I have not yet decided upon.
Shadow and light, Yin and Yang. Sometimes life is good.