I also knew it would just come about, however it was meant to come about because that’s what brains and hearts do. You put them on auto-pilot and send them out into the abyss and the weirdness, and see what they boomerang back to you with.
This morning when I was feeding the cat in all my bleary-eyed glory – and I CAN’T DO rainy mornings – I stumbled upon boxes and bags with pieces of my old life. I was looking in particular for these tiny photo albums that have all my prom pictures, and I so can’t tell my prom story without pictures. Really. I keep building up that story and not telling it, but it’s only because I can’t find my visual aids! I really love visual aids. So I was looking for my tiny photo albums that make up my teens and 20’s.
I found a bag of mix cds. Many of you don’t know the music situation around here, but my minivan can only play the radio and CDs. And I only have CDs with skips and scratches. I’m also quite sick of the arsenal of songs I have – no doubt all from my 30’s – and not always from great places. This bag has my mix cds from my mid-20’s. I’m talking “Hands Clean” by Alanis Morissette, “Windmills” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, and the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack. I just want to be alone with this:
Before that, though, I heard my power song. “Cloud On My Tongue” by Tori Amos. I played it 20 years ago – in the summer of 1996 – while I visited my grandparents in New Hampshire, turned Sweet 16, and then went on a 10-day trip to Canada.
I can’t believe I’ve only written about this time in my life three times on my blog, and once only vaguely. It needs a Friday refresher. It boomeranged back to me. You may have read this a few years ago, and you may have seen the Des pictures. I’m doing the full copy and paste and I’m not even cringing at what I wrote back then. I just know my boomerang brain wanted you to know it. And Beyonce. And egg and cheese sandwiches. Puppies. Kittens. San Francisco. CHOCOLATE. Wireless bras.
Not a lot of people know much about this, and that’s mainly because I’m still learning how and when to slap words around it, but when I was 16, I got randomly depressed one day. Now I get situationally anxious, and of course situationally sad, but this was different. I don’t think it was really as random as I once thought it to be. I think it had to do with my sister going to college, my friends drifting away, and the fact that I was about to embark on my longest trip ever without my family.
I was in a relationship with someone, in title only, and I wasn’t ready for anything like it. I mean that on an honest and innocent level. I could not conceive of, or share that level of emotion. Not yet, anyway. It was too much. I didn’t have the tools for it. So I got sick – suddenly nauseous. Every time he came over. For days. At first I thought it was bad Burger King (which seems likely, right?) but it happened every time he came to pick me up for a date. As the days winded down from a trip to New Hampshire to see my grandparents, through these nauseous days, and towards my big Canadian trip, hurtling towards a new autumn with my sister in college and me having to work harder to get into my first choice college, I buckled.
It wasn’t feeling too much, which is usually the case. It was an absence of feelings. It was like being in a black and empty room with no senses. It was dark without light, and life without dreaming. It was the sickening feeling in my stomach that everything was dead wrong, or lost forever. It was a dizzying, shifting sensation. It wasn’t growing pains, but growing torture.
I would never dream of downplaying what happened, because it was excruciating, but it did not last long. It was debilitating and torturous. It was made up of more facts than feelings. The only food that sounded good to me was apples. The only companionship I craved was with dogs or even a stray cat I met in upstate New York. I could barely drink any water, but I still set forth on my long trip and I was able to climb the Watkins Glen Gorge in this strange, hungry, thirsty, exhausted state.
At night, on that first or second night, they had a laser light show on the walls of the gorge. It was all about the history of the world and dinosaurs and humans. The light from the walls of the gorge shone a bit into my soul, little by little, and for sure.
I took that little light with me to Niagara Falls, where I was drenched on “Maid of the Mist”, charmed by happy face french fries at our hotel, and asked by smiling tourists from all over the world if I would take their photos in front of the falls.
Then we delved a little deeper into Canada. Toronto. I remember the first sight of the CN Tower, which back then was the tallest freestanding structure on land in the world. I know it was reflected in my wide eyes for miles as we got closer. I stayed up late those nights, writing postcards in a windowsill that overlooked the tower from our hostel. I won a free breakfast from the college kids who ran the hostel and I know they pulled my name on purpose. I was letting more light in, maybe more than ever before. Shaking off the darkness made me stand taller, reach higher and smile wider. It was a thing.
Then we went deeper yet, into Canada and into my heart. Gananoque first. Land of 1,000 islands, three hour boat cruises, and stories of heart-shaped islands built and given out of love. There were small cafes and mystical stores along the seaway. When I was 16, I didn’t know anxiety like I do now. All of the life – good and bad – was still bubbling over the surface. Finally, it was breaking wide open and spilling out. While I’m in my 30’s, I don’t know depression like I did for those four or five days when I was 16. That’s right. That’s all it was. It wasn’t chemical or chronic or long-lasting. It WAS brutal and life-altering.
Then we found ourselves in Montreal. I searched in vain for something I had been looking for since Watkins Glen, NY – raspberry ice cream. I found it in Lake George, at the tail end of our trip. On a boardwalk with rainbow sprinkles. I was ready to go home. Little did I know, that it would take me about a decade to even start to talk about what had happened. It has no words. There was a song I listened to on my walkman during the roadtrip. It’s called “Cloud on my Tongue.” I couldn’t even listen to it for years without getting full body chills. I did it anyway. It was a good full body chills, if that makes sense.
When I got home, I was taller and skinnier than before. I could see brighter. I started getting high on life, all of the time. Many things could trigger it. It was about connection, love, spirituality and most of all – survival. It felt/feels like nothing I’ve ever imagined. Lightheaded, but amazing. I had felt it before, as a kid, simply from a good book, a spring day, or a cookie.
When you walk away from that kind of battle in that kind of war, no matter how long or short, staggering or mild, you want to thank someone. You want to credit someone. For some, it’s God. Or Gods and Goddesses. For some, it’s other people. And I have never figured out where I stand on that, I admit, but what I really want to do in retrospect is to thank myself.
I found the courage and strength I needed within myself. It’s not always the way and it’s not often the way and maybe it’s not even the best way, but it’s how I approach my adulthood situational anxiety. This set the stage for how I would begin to deal with trauma within my life. Splitting apart to let the light in, no matter how much it hurts, or seems unbearable.
Every day I’m still learning. Every day I’m still finding new ways to talk about August of 1996, even though it’s all been much higher, lower and more intense since then. It all had to start some time, didn’t it? And I’m so very grateful that it did.
These days I’m learning to talk about it more, and write about it, and even shout about it, rather than fight my own battles only. That’s my next step on this journey. Reaching in. Then reaching out.