February 01, 2005

Blue

February is the month for the blues. I use the word blue instead of depressed because I have friends who struggle with depression and I don't want to trivialize what they go through by pretending I know what it's like. My blue moods arrive when the season cracks a memory open, but they can be soothed away by a good cry while listening to Joni Mitchell and a long phone call with a friend. It's not the same as depression caused by chemicals in the brain. (I get migraines and I don't like it when people casually refer to any kind of bad headache as a migraine because really, it's not the same thing at all, and a regular bad headache is nothing compared to how incredibly debilitating a migraine can be.)

I used to think I was crazy because I would get sad on anniversaries of bad stuff that had happened to me until once I heard Adrienne Rich talking about how certain scars re-open each year. Time is like a Slinky, with seasons lined up on top of each other over the coil of each year. Right now the cold snowy February of 15 years ago is much closer to me than August of last year, when I was camping in the sand dunes with my family in the heat of Virginia. And much closer than August of this year, when I'll be heading down the Colorado on a raft for a two-week camping trip.

Past Februaries haunt me.

In February when I was in college, away from home in the coldest part of this state, I got the phone call that my sister's fiance had just died when his car went off an embankment. Another February, I looked down to see bright spots of blood on the sheets and realized that what I thought was a healthy pregnancy would end in a miscarriage. Another February, just months after a traumatic car accident, I started waking with nightmares about the accident and begin feeling panicked about driving on icy roads, anxiety attacks that were eventually diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Another February, I realized that my brother was refusing to talk to me, a silence that lasted for eight painful years. Another February, I visited my sister-in-law in the hospital in Snowstorm City, the last time I saw her before she died of breast cancer. Oh, there are other things too - some too complex to explain here - but all associated with February.

Other months of the year are filled with all kinds of happy memories. I have had an easy life compared to most people and most of the time I remember to be thankful for that. But in February, these personal scars open and suddenly, I feel flooded with all the pain and suffering in the world. I'll be standing at the grocery store, piling food into the cart, during the kind of quick run Spouse and I often do on our way home from a Saturday night date, and suddenly, I won't be able to stop myself. I'll think about children who live in fear, soldiers coming home with missing limbs, women who will have children with birth defects because of toxins in the environment, teenagers who get gunned down because of the color of their skin, animal species going extinct, lost to us forever, marshes teeming with frogs and song filled in with dirt and turned into parking lots, women who are afraid in their own homes, and leaders like our own who are filled with hate and self-righteousness.

So I'll be standing in the grocery store, in the frozen food section perhaps, and that numbness I can usually rely on to ignore all that is happening in the world will melt away, and I'll feel that tightening in my throat that makes me look to make sure no one is watching. I'll shake my hair in front of my face as I bend over to pick out frozen juice for my kids -- my own kids, warm, well-fed, healthy, safe, sleeping on the living room floor in front of the fireplace.

I've always had long hair and sometime I hide behind it. I hate for anyone to see me cry.

14 comments:

PPB said...

I hear you. I hate those anniversaries; everytime I think it's been too long to remember them a date pops up and pokes me in the heart. I can't imagine having all of them in month. Have you heard the Dar Williams song, "February"?
Worth a listen.

Dr. H said...

Interesting post, jo(e). I get the blues in January, actually. That made my long winter break with the unstructured time harder to take -- less distractions, I'm left to my own head because I had head-y work to do.

I hadn't thought about not having the right to claim the term depression. I'm careful not to claim the term migraine. I have a history of headaches that keep me down for half of the day (last semester, I had quite a few of them), but my friend / colleague gets migraines that keep her down for multiple days. I wouldn't want to say I have what she has. As far as depression, I assumed there were degrees of depression, and it wouldn't be inappropriate to say that I was feeling depressed, even if it wasn't clinical depression. Perhaps the word is just used too much colloquially. I see what you mean, though, and I think it makes sense to go for another term.

Your upcoming trip along the Colorado River sounds fabulous. I don't like camping, but I grew up in the southwest, and I love that part of the coutry.

It's interesting to me when some people cry in front of others and some people cry privately. Crying can be cathartic or painful or both. I always cry in front of others. Some people never do.

Your writing is so beautiful and reminds me of Anne Lamott's writing. I love Anne Lamott.

Dr. H said...

Oh, and I didn't say this in my previous comment, but I'm sorry to hear that you feel down.

What Now? said...

jo(e), Does it help or hurt to know ahead of time that February will always be an emotionally tough month? I ak because my mother always gets very down around the anniversary of her mother's death in fall and then again in spring around the anniversary of her sister's death. But it often seems to take her by surprise, and she'll feel down for a few days without knowing why, and then suddenly realize that it's around the time of that painful anniversary. On the other hand, a dear friend of mine knows that late Nov.-early Dec. is always hard for her because it's the anniversary of her father's death, and she seems (to my mind) to spend a few weeks gearing up for that depression (and she does have a history of depression).

In your case, February is clearly the cruelest month, and I'm sorry that this "blue season" is just beginning for you.

jo(e) said...

What Now? -- For me, I think it helps to know that February is a tough month. I think I used to just get really down in the winter months and not know why and it seemed endless. And I'd get mad at myself for feeling down, when really, I have so much to be thankful for. But now that I've figured out what's going on, I'm much easier on myself. I deliberately plan stuff in February that will make me feel better: skiing on Sundays, lunch dates with friends, stuff like that. And if I do feel down, I just say to myself, "Oh, well, it's the February blues" and I can shrug them off because I know that once we hit that first sunny spring day in March, the blues will be gone. I reward myself in early March with a three-night retreat at a monastery with two close friends, and it's nice to have that to look forward to. So, yes, in my situation, awareness has helped a whole lot.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

As I read your post, my iTunes was singing these lines to me: "This is the first day of my life. I swear I was born right in the doorway. I went out in the rain and suddenly everything changed there [. . .] I don't know where I am I don't know where I've been but I know where I want to go."

After reading your post, I was sort of zoned out, staring at my screen and unable to respond. I think it was the rawness of your feelings, the rawness of your words, the rawness of your insight. But then I realized that everything changed when you claimed ownership of that rawness. You go, jo(e).

Ocean said...

I find that my bluesest month is january, all my old memories pop-up and my life just becomes harder. Gray skies seem to follow me everywhere. Maybe that's the Northwest. I find February being a recovery month, still a little blue but I see the greens,red, and purples coming. Maybe because I'm a spring baby(april) and know it's just around the corner. My shedding will be all off and I'm free to prance around, not feeling the cold inside of me anymore. I am warm and life has begun again!

Ocean said...

I'm sorry you feel down, remember spring is just around the corner. Smile :)

AAYOR said...

One day down, only 27 to go. Wrap yourself up in that family....

Laura said...

February is hard for me too. Every boyfriend I had in college broke up with me in February. My first boyfriend and I used to support each other through the month. We felt if we could make it through without being too depressed, we'd be okay. I know you have a lot of support around you. I hope things start to look up soon.

Psycho Kitty said...

Aw, Jo(e).

lucyrain said...

I find that "owning" my sadness helps. (And I think you're doing this in writing your post.) Whenever I try to resist it, or compensate for it, or ignore it, the sadness usually bites back with a vengeance. I suppose it's that whole repression thing.

But owning the sadness--this is my sadness, my time and reasons to be sad--makes me feel better somehow. It's hard to explain, and I'm tired, and I shouldn't write poorly-formed thoughts. Nevertheless, I think owning and expressing our feelings is a survival strategy that we all employ so well.

Feel what you feel, jo(e). Cry when your body wants to. Remember that the sensations you feel are life. Patiently await the triumph of spring.

Mel said...

this is a beautiful post -- and I don't mean by saying that to minimize your feelings in any way. just that it's great writing and a wonderful example of what kinds of human connection are available to us in writing/reading each other.

BlackenedBoy said...

This is beautiful and actually made me want to cry a little bit, sitting here in the middle of this computer lab in a very public place.