Saturday, October 16, 2010


I know I'm different from the average bear, but sometimes it's hard to tell in what ways and to what extent. I've never fallen asleep quickly. For example, I gave up napping at 7 months.  I remember staying awake pretty much the entire night as a kindergartener, just me and the stories in my head. I can recall going to sleepovers and being annoyed because everyone would just fall asleep. At some point in my life, I learned that most people in the world fall asleep within 10-15 minutes of going to bed. My jaw dropped. Totally unbelievable. It had never occurred to me that such a thing was a possibility, let alone a norm.

So when I say I know I'm different, I don't just mean in that meaningless, bland way that we're all 'special' and 'unique.' I mean that my body and brain do some strange things that other people's bodies don't (apparently) do. And when I say that I don't always understand how that works, I mean in that way that if you only have one point of reference, it is nearly impossible to realize that there are other perspectives, let alone imagine what they might be like--you are blind to your blindspots.

I'm always tired. I'm always in pain. The extent of either varies from day to day, hour to hour. My desire always overreaches my capacity, and I push and collapse, push and collapse.  If I could be perfect--perfectly organized, perfectly disciplined, I would feel better and be able to do so much more. But I'm far from perfect, and getting there requires that I overcome what the perfection would solve--in order to acquire my panacea, I must solve all the problems it will fix. If I didn't feel like my bones were filled with lead or like I had just been beaten with a rubber mallet and my muscles were covered in mini vice grips, hey I could probably get more sleep and not skip the gym and have more stamina and be able to plan meals, study productively, and stick to a rigorous schedule that allowed me to both accomplish my obligations and enjoy my leisure time, rather than feeling like I'm in an endless loop of ripping off Peter to pay Paul. I seethe with frustration and self-hatred, neither of which reduces my pain, improves my sleep, nor helps me achieve anything. For all my loathing and misery, I'm no thinner, more organized, nor more compassionate; my house isn't cleaner, and no items get checked off of my to-do list. Then I hate myself for not being able to lay down the hate, anger, and frustration, and isolate myself from people because I believe they'll be as appalled as I am should they peer inside. But it is people that I need.

My life feels empty. People advise that you should be happy alone, blah blah blah. It's not as though I don't have friends, because I do, however, actually seeing them with any regularity is another story. It used to be, back in the day, people just hung out.  There were always people at my house, I had friends at work and at school.  There was a tribe of us who loosely hung together, not always all at once, but some of us were always together. Now it takes a lot of effort and scheduling. Everyone (including me) is consumed with their own lives--work, school, kids, houses, hobbies, whatever it may be, so it is just much harder to make things happen, to have those regular interactions that allow relationships to deepen. I do like to be alone. I am, most definitely, a woman who likes her solitude. I like quiet. I like sitting alone in the woods, breathing cool, sweet air, with none but the birds and squirrels for company. I have never felt lonely in the forest. And I do plenty of things alone because otherwise I would just sit in my house for eternity. I go to movies alone, I go take pictures alone, I go to yoga class alone, I go for walks alone, I go to Phipps, museums, events, lectures, and drink tea alone. I even enjoy much of what I do by myself, even if I would prefer to share the experience with someone else.
But everything has its limits, and we are social creatures, pack animals, by nature. If a baby is given all its physical needs, but no affection and attention, it will die. People can, in fact, die of a broken heart. Sometimes I feel mute, as though I'm trapped behind bulletproof glass--my words hit and lodge in the wall, never making it out. I try to explain what things are like for me, but at times it feels like I'm speaking a dead language. Sometimes I feel like there is a rotting wound in the middle of my chest, emptiness gnawing through flesh. Almost every day, I wake up and wish I didn't, wish that I never would. Everything just gets so exhausting. My world becomes so heavy. Every movement, every word, every action. Every. Thing. My relationships with others suffer because I lack the energy to "rise to the occasion," because I forget to lie when I'm asked how I am.

I'm out of gas. I run on fumes. I try to pretend like I'm not different. I try to pretend that everything works just fine. I try to pretend that, if I just act like it's true, it will be. That my legs won't give and that I'll be able to run the race, that I can win. But there is no race, no winning.

Just an endless trudge up the hill, pushing a rock.


  1. you've pretty much written a classic description of clinical depression ...

  2. I only know you from facebook but I always look forward to your posts. They are intellegent, compassionate and well informed. I feel sad that you are so hard on yourself, been there, done that. I hope you feel better, Hugs, Carol

  3. I will give back to you the advise you have given me in the past - have compassion for yourself, where you are. You don't need to be perfect or even close. Hugs

  4. I said that?? ;-D

    Thanks, e. I'm getting better at it bit by bit. Keeping the sleep under control makes soooo much difference!

    It's hard to admit that I have to do things to take care of myself that other people don't, like take sick days when I don't have the flu, like I'm going to do tomorrow. I figure one day to get 7 of full functionality is better than 7 days at 15%.

  5. As for clinical depression: 3+ years of shrinks, counselors and playing Russian roulette with my neurochemistry did dick for me.

    Addressing my sleep and pain = happier kxm, but doing that is more complicated and expensive. (And, no, I'm not denying that a therapist could be helpful to me in general--just have to find one, which takes time and money too...) Addressing my sleep issues and pain is much harder given the current conditions of my life with work, school, and general isolation from friends and support. It is what it is. This too shall pass, and I am getting better at keeping things together.

    Some days are like this one was. Some days are not. The better I sleep, the better I manage my pain, the fewer days I have like this. My life circumstances will change and I'll reconnect with friends. Until then, it's a little lonely, but I keep coming back to the people who do boost my spirits, even if they're folks I only know online.


Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.