Have you ever been depressed without realizing it? For the last six months, I’ve been telling myself that I was feeling a little low, or that I just needed more alone-time than usual. And I felt confused by the way the things that used to bring me pleasure felt hollow, and how I was irritated by the simple presence of other humans. But I didn’t believe it was a problem. It’s okay, I said to myself. Everyone has days like this. There’s no need to make a fuss.
Last week my mom asked if I’ve been writing, and I told her I haven’t been. Sure, I’d been putting in my hours at the desk, stirring sentences around like turds in a chamber pot, but I wouldn’t call that writing. It had been a while since writing felt like anything other than a slog, something I did out of sheer determination.
Thank God for moms, right? Her question made me curious, so I pulled out my paper journal and skimmed a year’s worth of entries. And what I saw surprised me.
Back in mid-November, I was participating in NaNoWriMo and having a great time working on my new novel, Power Play. By all measures, life was good! But shortly after Thanksgiving my dad died of a massive heart attack, and it kicked my legs out from under me. My book became a slab of meaningless words. My laptop screen shattered one night for no reason. And the funeral put me in contact with people I’d been estranged from, and instead of being cathartic, like I’d hoped, it fucking sucked!
Outwardly, I’ve appeared normal. But since November my journal entries have been rarer, sparser, and sadder. Since he died, I’ve been throwing myself at my book like it’s a mountain to climb, like it’s a task on my to-do list, and there’s been very little joy in it. And for months now, the part of me that feels creative and fun has been sulking in a cave somewhere, refusing to come out.
I think the last true thing I wrote was a eulogy. Since then? Mostly shallow and easy social media posts. Little travel quips. Some business stuff. Nothing that went beneath the surface of my thoughts. Nothing that felt real.
These feelings of mine are normal. What I’m talking about is grief, the terrible aftermath of losing a parent. But ever since I’ve been in the writer’s vicious cycle. You’re hurting, so you can’t write. And when you don’t write, you feel like trash. But if you’re stubborn (and I am) you keep flinging yourself at that page, unsuccessfully, wondering why the hell you can’t make any progress.
I wish I’d understood what I was going through, while it was happening. And if I could go back in time to the week my dad died, I’d tell myself to join a grief support group, journal every day, and set my work to one side until I felt ready to come back.
Mostly, I’d tell myself this: it’s okay to be “not okay.”
Into the Light
Is it weird that I’m not very good at grief? Most of us aren’t, I suppose. Thankfully, I can feel the light at the end of the tunnel. And I’m writing again, reconnecting with my emotions, remembering that my best words come from that same honest place that grief does. That sounds weird, but it’s true.
Perhaps I just had to wait it out? Grief sets it’s own timetable, and big love comes with big loss. There are no shortcuts.
Outside my window Spring is here. I’m surprised by the green canopies waving high where there were only naked branches a minute ago. The leaves came out of nowhere, bursting like fireworks while I wasn’t looking. It’s like nature waits for the longest, darkest moment of despair, and right when you believe nothing good will ever grow again, tender shoots unfurl.
Spring is sneaky like that.
Hope is too.