• Steph Shuff

Notes from the bottom

I've been absent for a while. Have you noticed? If not, that's ok. I probably wouldn't either. We are always busy, always distracted, always diverting our eyes from here to there. Until we're not.


It is hard for me to write about pain when I am in it. I have written about depression before, but never from inside the fog of it. Instead, I write about these things from a place of distance, and perspective. It is a scholarly appreciation, like I am turning a gemstone over in my hand. Years must go by before I can put the hard things into words and structure, before I can correct the grammar of a feeling.


But that's not now. Now, I am in it. Suffocating in despair, and even this comparison is hyperbole. It makes it sound romantic or grand. I can assure you it is not. Mostly, it is dull. A throb at most. A vacancy at best.


It is a particular kind of triplet to lose your job, your faith, and someone that you love all within a week of one another. It is like swimming in the ocean and being hit by a wave while you're still sputtering up water from the first one that knocked you down. I grew up near the ocean. I remember the first time I ever got knocked over by a wave, my small body unable to brace against the energy of the sea. Everything went black in a tumble of sand and white foam and I didn't know which way was up or down until I washed up on the beach, out of breath and terrified. I found grains of sand in my hair for what felt like weeks thereafter.


I'm here again. Picking sand out of my hair, wondering what other waves in my life might break. I pray that my health holds, that my family stays safe, that my dog doesn't get hit by a car. Morbidity comes easily to those who are already suffering, and these days I am full of worst case scenarios. I look for them around every corner.


I guess this means I have lost faith. I am learning to be careful of people who spend more time talking about their values than living them. I guess it is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Goodbyes always sting, even when they free us from people who used our devotion to quell a sadness or feed a falsehood they may not even know is there. The year was a hard year for me, one in which I killed off all my idols. Things like love and faith and devotion lay slaughtered on the ground in front of me. I hate to kill these things that used to guide me, but it was either me or them.


I am not distant from this melancholy. I am not scholarly about it. The grammar of it will be imperfect because I am in it, tumbling about in a mix of sand and water and foam. I do little more with my days than write and ask myself what it all means. I turn to astrology and tarot and reiki and God and I don't find any answers. Just a lot more questions.


I watched a comedy special on Netflix the other day by a guy named Mike Birbiglia. He was vulnerable and funny and poignant and exactly the type of artist I hope to one day be. He discusses his role as a new father and how hard it is and in a moment of striking honesty, he says he understands why dads leave. The crowd is silent, and he holds their stunned attention with skilled precision. Being a dad can be hard and helpless and thankless, and he knows why dads leave. He won't leave, but he gets it. We all want to walk away sometimes. And sometimes, when the darkness really takes over, I think to myself, I understand why people take their own lives. And perhaps you are holding your breath right now, or perhaps you are finally breathing because you get it, too. We won't take our own lives, but we get it. The older I get the more I realize life is just a lot of really hard and painful times and if we're lucky we get sparkling moments. Some of us aren't so lucky. All we can hope for is that for a moment we will forget the pain.


The worst part is, I have so much to be happy for. Isn't that ironic? Depression is when joy becomes the worst part. In depression, joy makes me feel guilty and ashamed of all the pain. I have an amazing family and a safe home and friends that love me. I have a life that grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me and demands belly laughter even when I am feeling stingy with it. But depression doesn't discriminate. It grabs ahold of our throats and squeezes and suddenly we can't see color and the whole world goes gray. Pain is too unbearable to see in full spectrum lighting, so we dim it all. We dim the world to survive the pain and the beauty goes dark, too. Even the moments in which we feel loved and seen and held are sepia. We're too scared to feel joy because we know how far the fall to sadness is. It is endless. We are still falling.


I am still falling. I know it because I'm not making eye contact, I'm not making art, I'm not making love. I am not connecting because the connections I made before are what hurt me in the first place, and it is all my fault. For now, I am holding my breath and surviving and tumbling in the ocean, waiting for the moment when I will wash up on the sand.


This is not a cry for help. This is me reaching out my hand. I do not know if it is to pull someone else up or be pulled up myself but maybe the right answer for all of us is that it can be both. I am in the dark and I am tumbling and maybe you are there, too, in your own way. Maybe we are all tumbling because life is an ocean full of breaking waves. We can all reach out our hands to pull and be pulled. Joan Didion once said, "I don't know what I feel until I write it down." The quote is pretty close to perfect, but I might add to it. What I feel means nothing if I am not sharing it with you.

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