I’ve spent much of the last few weeks working in my garden. The timing for hard labor and solitary weeding and planting is perfect. I’ve been fending off a depression that has lingered on longer than usual- perhaps the remainder of an impotent winter – little snow and mild temperatures. It feels more like mid-summer rather than spring and I lack a sense of time or purpose.
By happenstance I began to read The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets by Bill Moyers. The book is based on a PBS series of interviews Mr. Moyers did with well-known poets. When I skimmed through his conversation with the poet Jane Kenyon, her words immediately resonated with me. She suffered from depression and spoke of how gardening and being outdoors helped. Aha. This I can understand. She went on to say “When you get to be my age and you’ve lived with depression for a number of years, you begin to have a context for believing that you will feel better at some point.” I have a context for my depression and I know that I come out of it eventually, so advice from well-meaning friends falls flat and serves to isolate me further. I feel like I have to state categorically that they do not need to call a crisis line on my behalf. I’ve lived with it for so long that I no longer view it as a natural enemy, an illness to be cured. On the spectrum of mental disorders in my family, I inherited the sugarless, low fat, decaffeinated, gluten free variety. It’s bland and serves a purpose in my life now.
For me, depression is a signpost to review where I’m at and to acknowledge that I may have gotten off track a bit. It warns me that I need time to take myself out of my life and mull it over. It’s an indicator that I’ve allowed my internal reserves to become depleted. It means I’ve talked too much, helped too much, and said “yes” too often. It also means that I’ve allowed my unrealistic expectations for myself and others to run rampant throughout my psyche. It’s the indicator to hit the “Pause” button and that’s the challenge. In a world where kids need to be dropped off at school, legal tender must be earned and people and cats must be toted to vet, dentist or doctor appointments, there is no “Pause” button. I become increasingly hostile and maybe a little desperate to step away for a moment or two or three.
And that brings me back to my garden. I get sweaty and covered in dirt, hum manically to myself, occasionally forget and talk out loud to my plants. My knees ache and I can feel the sun searing the back of my neck to medium rare. A smell of thyme or lilacs drifts by and the robins chirp excitedly as I clear the weeds and expose dirt with easy access to worms. Bumblebees dart and hover over bright purple flowers, butterflies flutter surprisingly close and an occasional dragonfly darts by on its commando mission. A whispered, fleeting thought occurs to me.”This is happiness”. If I say it out loud, will someone tell me that I should make a career of it? If I say it out loud, will someone tell me how they can’t stand getting dirty or the heat or the bugs? If I say it out loud, will I be giving away my not-so-secret hideout, my rehab center, my psychotropic drug? How I wish I could capture those feelings for times when I cannot be digging in the dirt, for those moments when I’ve driving from one errand to the next and feel trapped and frustrated and melancholic. If only to have the “inward eye” of William Wordsworth in the poem, “I wandered lonely as cloud”:
I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Only time will evaporate the dark cloud in my head and bring me willingly back into the world. Until then, I must be patient, work the soil and see what grows.