When I was a girl I wanted a balloon, shiny and blue, bobbing at the end of a string. Other people had them, so why not me?
Someone gave me a box of bright colours and said sure you can, choose one.
I didn’t realise how hard it would be to turn that scrap of latex into a balloon. I huffed and puffed and blew till I almost turned blue. It didn’t work. I was ready to give up.
Someone took pity on me. They showed me another way. I narrowed my focus, took careful aim, and blew.
And blew and blew, and held on tight, so none of that precious breath escaped. And my balloon grew big and round. Carefully I tied the neck tight and added a string.
Here’s my blue balloon. It makes me smile. And it brings challenges.
A storm will come, whether tomorrow or another day.
Envious people will come, to persuade you to let go so you will be like them. Malicious people will come, hiding sharp weapons to pierce and destroy.
Anxiety will come, asking whether pink, or yellow, or green aren’t really a better choice.
Devious people will come, coveting your possession.
My answer is no.
No, the wind may not take it. I will wind the string tight in my grasp until the sun returns.
No, I have the right to my balloon and you will not deny me.
No, I will guard my balloon and defend it against attack.
No, I will stand by my choice of balloon. Other colours exist, but this one is mine.
No, I will not give you my balloon by fair means or foul. Go find your own.
Maybe your balloon isn’t blue. Maybe it’s not even a balloon. But I say, choose your dream, focus and work hard, hold on tight and defend it from all threats. Starting is hard, but the reward is worth it as long as you just keep going.
Why do we talk of feeling blue? Depression is not blue. It is impenetrable fog grey, the ghosts of ships unseen on a black tide, the lighthouse beam obscured by solid clouds that touch an angry sea. It is thick and puckered scars that yield only to the sharpest, deepest cut. A slash of knives draws no pain from this unfeeling carapace. Far below, if you bridge that distance, oily dark blood oozes, curdled with loss and longing.
None of it is blue.
Walk on muffled leaden boots, here in the below. Strain my ears, hear no sound. Eardrums burst from the pressure, under the sea, bottom of the Marianas trench. Deeper yet, in the Laurentian abyss of my soul. I gazed into the void, but it did not gaze back. It too has forsaken me. Weighted like an old style diver, I wade through the sea of futility. Up above, water sparkles Caribbean blue, gold sun shines in a brilliant azure sky, birds sing. Down below, impenetrable dark and blind monsters. Nothing to see.
It feels like home.
Push past doubt, anxiety, fear. Now we reach the bone, skin nibbled and hanging in tatters, only a flash of white beneath grey and rotting flesh. Eaten alive but already dead, the marrow leached away, colours bleached away. What’s on the other side none know but me. My pulse thickens and slows, matching the absent drumbeat of null.
It is calling me.
I have forgotten my life topside, in this my true reality. When will my heart beat its last, when will I join? Let the nothing take me, let the absence consume me, let me be assimilated and so vanish, zero sum.
As pink shades to red, so the tightly furled bud swells and becomes more of itself. Forever growing more alluring, velvet petals invite a touch, sensuous perfume beguiles the nose. Scent blown on a lover’s breath cascades down inmost folds, finally drowning in a gentle waterfall.
Carried over the edge into tempestuous torrents, blooming, opening wider and more, into enthralling depths of sweetness. Yes, sighs and gasps and the music of the spheres, all is here, tasting of honey, pulsing with life and heat, ripe and heavy.
Red deepens to imperial purples, blue of night, midnight indigo and sparkling starred ebony. It matures but does not end, fading once more purple, red, pink, sleepy pale at last it rests.
What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t always make you stronger.
Sometimes God or the universe sends you more than you can bear, piling one pain atop another. It doesn’t kill you, but you want it to end. Your spirit bends, quivers, threatens to shatter under an immense load of bad thoughts, feelings, or events. The room is locked from the outside, and you can’t even find a door because the light flickers and fades. It’s dark and frightening.
Your strength is gone. What to do now?
This mind, with all its anguish and desire for oblivion, is housed in a body that only knows one thing. Even when broken, at the extremes of pain and suffering, the body strives to go on.
No matter how many people surround you, depression is a lonely, solitary place filled with funhouse mirrors. Your world is twisted and distorted, pain reflected back from every direction.
The body can help.
While the mind searches for solutions, focus on your body for a while. Often we neglect it, for various reasons. We lack motivation, we are at war with a body that does not work or look how we want it to. We’re preoccupied with fighting whatever battle is consuming our lives. Acknowledge that and set it aside. This is not the time to address those issues.
First we must survive, body and mind together. And it is strange but true; the mind comes to rest in a body that is usefully occupied.
First things first
Get clean; shower, wash hair, brush teeth. Make your bed. These will give you a sense of achievement, early in the day.
Fresh clothes, something soft against the skin, according to the temperature. Socks if it is cold.
Drink water. Cold, hot with lemon, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, whatever appeals. Then, drink more water through the day.
Eat something. Toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, noodles, whatever is available and easy.
Put on some music to distract you from the internal thoughts that constantly whisper negative things. Turn up the volume if it helps.
Some, or maybe all of your environment is out of control, mirroring your internal state. Pick a room where you spend a lot of time. Start in one corner, and begin clearing up. Wash dirty dishes, put on laundry, fill bags with trash and take them out.
When feelings arise about the process, note them and keep going. Remember this is practical, not emotional.
If someone has offered their support and you feel able, ask them to keep you company and/or help you. Sometimes we don’t need someone to hold our hand, as much as we need someone to tidy the kitchen we can’t face any more.
Go outside. Breathe fresh air, turn your face to the sun, stand barefoot on the grass and connect. If weather or other issues prevent this, open a window for a few minutes. Bodies need oxygen and sunlight.
If you are able, a simple repetitive task will further occupy your body. Cleaning windows, ironing, digging a garden, painting a fence, mopping floors, pulling weeds, walking. Sing along with your music. Count your steps, left, right, left.
You will be distracted by the pain. Tell yourself you will come back to it later, and concentrate on the task at hand. (You know it will still be there.) Mindfulness is not emptying your mind of thoughts, that’s impossible. It is about noting the thoughts, letting them go, and returning to the one point of focus. Counting breaths or steps, reciting prayers or mantras, all help to occupy the body and still the mind.
Helping others can be very therapeutic. But we cannot give what we don’t have. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Remember we are all different, and YMMV. Try different things and see what works for you. Return to it when life gets tough, before things spiral too far downwards. Sometimes we sink deeper, and it takes more effort to climb out of the hole. Get to know your early warning signs, and act on them.
Ideal outcome: your body is comforted and nourished; your environment improved; your sense of control enhanced; your mind rested. A break from pain frees up mental energy that can now be used to address the underlying issues, with professional help if needed.
I hope you find something here that helps you feel better. But if you don’t, if you really feel you can’t go on and ceasing to exist seems like the only way out, please stop and reach out. Help is available here (in many countries) and there is always another solution.
The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.
Sometimes, just surviving another day is the victory. Let your body carry your mind until it feels better.
(first published in Invisible Illness on Medium, 18th June 2017)
It’s Friday, finally.
The end of the week for me, and what a week it was. A week of turbulent news, both in the world at large and my little corner of it. Unwelcome developments, painful separations, and unexpected changes came thick and fast.
It’s been a hell of a week, actually.
So now I can relax, yes? Not really. My brain feels stuffed full and yet strangely empty at the same time. I cannot be mindful with a full mind. Little fragments of song play over and over. Weariness tugs at my limbs, and the to-do list dances in front of exhausted eyes.
It’s time to slow down.
So, I go out into the garden and sit. Just sit, nothing more. The sun is pleasantly warm on my skin, and the distant roar of traffic fades as I listen to birds chirping, and wind sighing in the trees. There are so many shades of green, if you only look. More birdsong, and if I am really still a brave robin approaches, his proud orange chest bright.
If I sit still enough, long enough, maybe I could become invisible. I pull my feet from sandals and curl my toes around cool grass, and watch cheerful daisies turn their faces to the sun. A blackbird hops by. The breeze brings a memory of roses.
Breathe, slow down, unwind. I drop my knapsack of cares so I can stretch shoulders bent under heavy burdens too long. I am Atlas released, Sisyphus freed, and for this and every moment that follows I will drink in the green refreshment of earth.
Sit still enough, long enough. Here tall trees give shade, blue sky exists, and thrushes sing in the warm sun because they must. I can be grounded and yet soaring, separate and yet whole.
Green will nourish and revive, and the earth will heal my torn and quivering heart. After a time, I will go on. But for now I let everything go.
These entries were made by Bard Loren, and discovered after her disappearance. In addition to the journal, she uploaded over 15 dozettabytes of data, which will greatly offset her tragic loss on this unsuccessful mission. This is her legacy. May she walk with two shadows.
Journal entry: 147.15.1
This is a place more wondrous than I ever thought to see with my own eyes. Everywhere is green.
Bright colours flash and call above me, I think they are called ‘birds’. All around are things I cannot name. But I must try to name them, for that is why I was chosen. I am the foremost Bard of Novaterra, and I swear on the twin suns this is no idle boast. I store the images in my digicodex for later analysis back on board. All those nights in the archives, imprinting lost languages and reading the history of the Founders have come to this.
I have my epicsongs composed and ready, to share with the good people here. This is the greatest honour, to see our origin planet, and save any who wish to leave it.
I confess I hardly recognised this place from the files. The Founders recorded how their home stagnated, torn apart by war that followed desperation when the skies turned grey, the waters rose and land became scarce. That is why they turned to space. We have made the journey of these few light years much quicker than they.
But I did not say it was easy. It is cold in the space between stars, and no place for humankind. We were relieved when the planetary beacon guided us safely to the docking station. Although it was entirely unmanned, this did not surprise us. It is hardly necessary to waste human toil on such a routine task.
I must rest. Solar days are shorter here, and there is only 0.2095 oxygen in the air. No doubt a good 18 hours of true sleep will help wash away the lingering effects of hypersleep.
Journal entry: 147.15.2
This place is magical. Despite the warnings of the cyberdoc, I removed my helmet today. The air is quite breathable although I am gasping and sweating as I press on through green vegetation, towards the last recorded location of a sizeable humankind settlement. I am both excited and apprehensive. Will they understand me, and I them? Do they have their own, ancient culture to share with me? Will they understand the concept of a Bard?
I carry our history, our thoughts and ideas coded in organic memory storage. Perhaps they do not have the necessary interface and holo-display, but we carry these on the ship. The rest of the crew have stayed on board, broadcasting on all frequencies, but I wanted to experience this world first hand. Darkness caught me unawares and I had to return to the ship. More tomorrow.
Journal entry: 147.15.3
I asked the cyberdoc to enhance my performance, and grudgingly it performed a small gene splice. Now my oxycytes are more suited to the stronger, bluer sunlight here. Sol is much closer to Earth than our twins Novasol 1+2, and we have adapted over the generations. Oxygen is abundant at 0.2547 on Novaterra, and I really feel the difference. It was predicted of course, but to actually feel it- that is another thing altogether.
Captain Marish does not like my wandering. She only tolerates it because I am a Bard, and therefore expendable. But I am bringing back valuable data, and I upload my digicodex each night before sleep.
Journal entry: 147.15.9
I discovered today that my blood is dark red now. Maybe this is unwise, but I have discarded my Exosuit. I found liquid water running on the surface! This I know is a key characteristic of Earth, but to see it, feel it, taste it. I walked into the water to understand it better, but slipped and fell. I cut my hand on a mineral formation beside the water, and watched in wonder as dark drops welled from the cut and dispersed into the liquid water. I keep saying this, but you have to see it to believe it. No mining, people can actually live on the surface here! Amazing.
Journal entry: 147.16.3
I have not encountered any humans, but have recorded many types of lower animals. Marish tells me that all is in the archives, but what does she know? The Academy does not encourage questioning, and after all I am the one who has spent more than fifteen twin-sols studying Earth.
I find myself out of step with the crew. They refuse to come out of the ship, and my sleep cycle seems to be related to Sol’s movements.
But the things that are not in the archives are marvellous. Where the trees thin out, Sol’s yellow rays are warm on my skin. My breathing is easier now, and I carry skinbond for minor injuries. At night, I see unfamiliar stars that do not appear on my maps, and there is a single moon.
How could the Founders have considered this place so terrible that they journeyed across the stars to find Novaterra? It seems utterly beautiful to me. Oh, the epicsongs I will compose when I return! They will be the stuff of legend.
Journal entry: Sol 16
I have decided to use solar dates from now on. It makes more sense, and when I stay out overnight in a pod I get a little disoriented keeping to Standard Time. I came across the strangest thing today. (Image attached). I will research these metallic structures in the database.
Journal entry: Sol 21
There has been no response to broadcast and the Captain wants to move on. The metallic structures are manmade, and they were some kind of primitive transportation. They all point away from the settlement co-ordinates in a long, unbroken procession. There are no humans, anywhere. Are they hiding? Did they flee, and if so from what?
Journal entry: Sol 35
I have uploaded all my data. I cannot find the settlement; it is as though the earth has swallowed it in green. But I have Sol warm on my skin, rich scents as yet unnamed and the taste of liquid water on my lips. My skin grows pinker each day, and the only grey is beneath my unisuit. I feel strong and I am happy. I cannot convey to you the joy I feel when I hear the birds sing, and I leave that to another, better Bard than I.
Meantime, I have taken the interface and holodisplay, and some supplies. When I succeed I will activate my beacon. I am sure that no one would willingly leave a place like this, that the Founders would surely have called “Eden”. My search for humans goes on, for I must find them.