Saturday, July 16, 2005

Up Late

I started a long list of things I am grateful for, but it did not have the magic I wanted it to have. Its true, what I love is mundane: the beauty of the physical world, the way my body functions as it was intended to, the fact that all my basic needs are taken care of, the fact that I have a wife who loves me, a perfect daughter, a great job, art, poetry, friends, a keen mind, a strong body, a fearless heart full of love for the world in all of its broken grandure...

the regular stuff.

For years I struggled with depression. I did not know how to cope with it, and it dragged me down pretty reliably. It hardly ever kept me from going to work, but it wore on my family and on me. For weeks at a time all I would want to do is sleep, or drink until I passed out. Everything was bland and ugly and meaningless, and getting out of the deal was the only thing that made any sense to me. Luckily I was never so overwhelmed that I lost site of the love of my family, but it was the sense of obligation to them that kept me breathing, not any desire of my own.

But for the past couple of years I've been free of the debilitating effects that depression used to have on me. I saw someone for a couple of months who kind of turned my head and helped me step onto this path I've been on, and I decided to take the reins of my life into my own hands in a way that I had never done before. At first it seemed like the worst kind of fakery:
making all these lists, monitoring my self-talk, meditating, understanding my feelings, dealing with my rage, etc. Whoo-hoo. I felt like an idiot.

But I was so miserable that I was willing to do anything. And that is what pain does at its best. It helps to dislodge you from your current place and nudge you toward the light.

So now I find myself a changed man. Sure, the weather still blows in from time to time, and I feel the old soul-numbing gloom sweep over me, but it no longer has any power over me. Like a cloud that obstructs the sun for a moment, but does not touch the sun. The light dims, but the wind shifts soon enough and the light returns as bright as ever.

What I have learned is that I am responsible for my own happiness. What a trite little lesson, but a hard won one. How freeing this knowledge is. It is not my wife's duty to make me happy, or the President's, or vodka's, or God's.

It's just mine.

So now I make sure that I do this most important job every day. I wake up, and I make a deal with myself to have a great fucking day. I promise myself to see the beauty in the simple things. I look at the sky. I watch the ocean. My heart lifts along with the birds as they take wing in masses from the eucalyptus trees that edge the highway. I treasure the aroma of the morning coffee, the sounds of my wife and daughter still sleeping as I get ready for work, the joyful presence of the dogs as they slap their tails on the floor or nudge the back door to be let out....I make a point to really see the people I work with, to really listen to them, to find a moment or two every day to just be with them and let my own preconceptions go....this is an amazing exercise- you should try it. How full of ourselves we always are! These people are always surprising me with their humanity, their dramas, stresses, joys....

I play hooky. I treat myself to ice cream, or a beer, or a long, long run....whatever I want, I give to myself. As a gift. In the spirit of loving kindness, and in the certain knowledge that my days are numbered.

If you are your own best friend, you will never be alone again.

And I have learned that compassion, once awakened, is the most powerful force you can know. I found it easier at first to have compassion for those I loved...compassion for myself was such a foreign concept that it took a long time for me to accept it as a valid stance. But once I did, the whole world changed.

I'm still learning. I am still too quick to judge, too quick to dismiss, especially the people on the fringe of society, the homeless and lost...its easier for me to imagine I am compassionate toward them that it is to actually feel compassion for them when I am confronted with them in person...but I'm getting better all the time.

I love this life. I am grateful for it all.


Blogger boredphuck said...

that was inspirational. hope i can learn from your accounts.

12:00 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

thanks, boredphuck.

I hope you can, too.

One of the keys is to let yourself really feel what you feel- the good and the bad. You've got a good jump
on that already, I bet.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post gives me hope. This post is the light I've been struggling towards my whole life. I've been deeply suspicious and distrustful of happiness apparently since the day I was born. Even as a child, I recall being aware of how unreliable, how tenuous, how ineffable happiness seemed. Like one of those beautiful bubbles blown from the magic wand dipped into the soapy solution. Blown, it grows and grows, shimmers like an angel, like hope itself. Then that beautiful bubble lets go of the wand or the wand lets go of it, and it rises up, catches a draft and is gone. Or it slowly drifts down to the ground and pops.
But reading your post makes me reconsider my distrust. I've made huge strides in my struggle with lifelong despair. I have, thanks to regular exercise, crawled out from under the rock, the boulder, the mountain of chronic depression. But happiness, admitting that I feel it, acknowledging that I actually want it, makes me uneasy. Happiness is alot like love for me. I've never been convinced that I deserved it, that I was worthy of it. But your post is a light, a ray in my dimness. Thank you for this, Scott. It feels like a gift. Like one of those messages the world put out there solely for me. Like the mourning cloaks I saw this morning, flapping around, close to the house, while I read the paper on the porch. Those butterflies were there, in the air, just for me.

The last paragraph really hit home for me. I'm too aware of my shortcomings. I am cruel. I have such a lack of compassion for my fellow human beings, regardless of their relationship to me, or strangeness to me. I can be as mean and cold to a family member, as instantly and completely dismissive as I can to a stranger. Which reminds me of the other day when a man, a relatively young, relatively healthy, able-bodied man, walked up to my car as I was seated in it after shopping for groceries, door still open as I arranged the bags on the seat, and asked me if I had any spare change. I still had the dollars and receipt clenched in my hand, so yes I had change right there where he could see it. But, god forgive me, I felt this wave of irritation sweep over me, and I'm sure it showed in my face as I paused and looked at him, really looked at him then looked at the money in my hand. Then, curtly, I said yes and handed him a single dollar. To make him go away. And I felt as guilty as I felt angry as he walked away. I didn't know and didn't bother to ask his circumstance. I don't know and didn't want to know what led him to a place in which he was begging for money. My lack of compassion in that moment just about wrecked me. For the rest of the day, and in the days since, I've been trying to forgive myself. And hoping that my irritation in his request wasn't as blatant on my face, that he couldn't see it, as I know it was.

Kindness. Gentleness. Compassion. Happiness. Love. They all seem, they have all always seemed so elusive to me. So beyond my reach.

Again, my thanks to you, Scott, for this gift. You make me want to be a better person. Maybe I ought to stop merely wanting that, and actually try.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, hey. I'm hijacking my comment and posting it on my blog as today's entry---or one of today's entries since I do tend to go on and on and on.

Again....thank you so much for this.

8:20 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

Hey, Laurel.

Glad you got something from this post, gladder still that you took it into your heart as intended for you.

I'm sure it was.

I sat down last night and what came out was the last thing I had intended. But it bubbled up, and I just let it flow. And it found its destination in you.

That's cool.

We really are all interconnected. What we need flows to us, and sometimes what others need flows through us to them...who can untangle a single thread from the tapestry and say 'this is me, this is mine?'

We are the other, and the other is us.

Your lesson for today.



11:32 AM  
Blogger Monkey said...

it is so awesome that you were able to turn your life around and see that you are really worth something...and that the things around you are beautiful...



5:33 PM  
Blogger Photocat said...

"What I have learned is that I am responsible for my own happiness. What a trite little lesson"

I would say the most important lesson a person can learn... You've got it babe! Now try to live up to it.
It's not the easiest way, but its the right one.
Happiness is a state of mind, any time you want, you can cross that state line... more or less! - Easier said then done, but knowing about it helps!

3:14 PM  

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