I wrote this almost ten years ago, when my first major depression was starting to subside. I say subside because depression never leaves for me. It ebbs and flows and migrates to different parts of my mind, but it does not leave. I was reading over my old blog, and I found this post. It talks, quite rightly, about the shock of waking up in a changed body and world. Excuse the sloppy terminology of my age.
Do you know the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving? It’s about a fellow who wanders off into the mountains and when he wanders back down, twenty years have passed. He does not know his village; in fact, it is now in the United States rather than a colony of England. His wife has died, his house has fallen in and his children are grown. His body has changed and aged. His dog, or perhaps one of its descendants, has become feral and approaches him growling.
If you are familiar with the story, then perhaps you will understand me when I say that recovering from mental illness feels like stepping out of a perverted, unearthly trance into a world that bares little resemblance to the one left behind. When I became ill, I was physically fit, energetic, socially aware and mentally proficient. Then mental illness struck and all of this was left behind for sheer survival. My mind became cluttered – a physical metaphor, but I think it works. My body stopped working properly. My energy deserted me.
I fell asleep young and fit and woke up overweight, tired and feeling ancient. The new world was not the same as the one I left. I did not feel the burning need to write, something that had never altered since grade school. Instead I felt almost nothing. I was becoming well, to some degree, but instead of feeling good, I felt (and still feel, to be honest) bored. Listless. Unkempt. Broken.
I think I honestly believed that there would be a sense of wellness, of satisfaction at my own resilience. Instead, I have realized that I have spent a lifetime reacting to my hardships and have been, on occasion, brilliant because of it. Now, with nothing to react to, I find trouble being proactive. I can’t recover lost time. I wonder whether it is worth the work to try to return to some semblance of what I was before this. I wonder what I might have gained, then become frustrated with myself for playing the victim’s game of finding the good in something that is horrible, just to justify my own suffering. I will never say that I am glad I experienced what I did, because it made me who I am. It stinks of a lie, told to oneself to maintain a belief in the greater good of anything.
Old Rip Van was happy to do nothing with the remainder of his life having, in his absence, reached an age where inactivity is considered right. He was not twenty-seven, as I am. He did not have old dreams to try to recover. I beg the universe to be patient with me, but I am not ready to be patient with myself. My sleep did not benefit me, and still, I want to create something good for myself. Where can I find the strength? Hopefully I will figure that out.
With ten years perspective, I can say that I never did get my old self back. I never was able to reverse time and find the old Rip. Still, I hope I’ve made good of my “old age”. sometimes I still find myself fighting to get back to before. I want what I lost, to this day. Ten years of regretting what I lost has got to be enough. Maybe this memory, this solid note, can teach me to let it go. To say goodbye to what was and embrace what is. Or maybe I’ll be like Rip and retire. I hear that can be fun.