For days I haven’t left the house. The world out there has nothing for me. The world in here has its claws digging into my flesh, each chakra pierced with obsidian-black talons that tug, slowly but insistently, back toward the bed. The bed is safe. The bed is warm. It makes no demands, it gives no excuses. My bed wants only the best rest it can give me, amid the soft flannel sheets and dark red comforter, the riot of pillows fashioned into a nest, the gauze curtain that works as a semi-canopy in my Desi Meltdown Decor.
There I stay, for days, sleeping and waking, sleeping and waking, sometimes crying, mostly just sleeping and staring off at nothing. Listening to the cars roll by down on the ground level, cars taking people to their lives, their jobs, their purpose. I, without purpose, have only to sleep.
About once a day I get out of bed and take a shower. I don’t mind wearing my pajamas all day, I don’t mind looking like hell, but I refuse to be dirty. I can feel myself shutting down. First, the world loses its color. Then sound begins to muffle. Time changes–it slows to a crawl and then speeds up to a gallop at random intervals, leaving me with no idea what day or time it is.
I try to meditate, or get up and move, or do any of the things that are supposed to help. I have studied and worked relentlessly for years to amass an arsenal of tools for just this sort of thing…but the fact is, the sad fact, is that sometimes, nothing works. Sometimes you just have to curl up and enter the Cave of Fire and let yourself burn for a while.
It’s not as dramatic as all that, though. Mostly it’s very quiet, the room dark and cool; the bedside is littered with tissues and perhaps an empty Pop Tart box and several stacks of books. Is it a hospice room, or a convalescent ward? Perhaps both.
God and I begin to discuss the situation.
“If this is as good as it’s gonna get,” say I, “I don’t think I can do it. If I get a few good days followed by this…I don’t know if those days are worth it, Lord.”
And God says, “Go to sleep.”
Things go on like that for a while. I lament, and I doubt, and I sob, and I stare into space, and God says, “Go to sleep.”
One night, I feel a crack in the shell around the room. I’m rereading an old favorite self-help book that’s always given me remarkable inspiration* and something in one of the exercises causes a subtle vibration in the walls, just the tiniest change. I begin to process some things that had been weighing me down, using the ideas in the book, although really, any book or system would have helped, as long as it gave me a way to organize my emotions and look at them with a writer’s eye, seeing them as part of a story I have written around myself…a story that isn’t really me. It is a sad tale full of heartbreak and pain, but my writer’s eyes can see where the author has taken a few liberties, drawn out poetic license until healthy, reasonable grief became the End of the World Forever, and a bad day became the story of how God Loves Me Not, And Neither Shall He Bring Me Cookies.
So much of our stories is fiction rather than memoir. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading memoirs more than novels.
By the next day, the light has begun to creep in. Sounds are penetrating the gloom. I hear myself singing in the shower. I consider, with genuine desire, leaving the house. A to-do list forms: pay the rent, check the mail, take out the trash, go to the bank.
It doesn’t just go away – it never goes away. That dark room isn’t just my bedroom: it’s a room in my heart, and it has sturdy walls and a comfortable bed that asks nothing of me except that I do nothing, see nothing, feel nothing. It’s a room made of fictions. The walls are built of not-good-enough; the floor is carpeted with fat-and-ugly; the ceiling is tiled with you’ll-never-be-successful-enough. The doors are solid oak, carved with “You are unworthy of love,” and “You are damaged goods,” and “You’re going to die alone” and “You are a liar and a hypocrite” in a splendid variety of fonts. And when I am locked in that room, those are the voices that shut the doors and ram home the deadbolts, draw the curtains and dim the lights.
But after a while, when I have succumbed to that room, Leonard Cohen’s “crack in everything” begins to appear, and the light gets in a little here and a little there, a few wild wisps of clarity lighting up the shadows, tapping my shoulder, waking me up. “Come outside,” they say. “Don’t you have stuff to do out there?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say automatically. The robotic voice of depression knows its lines well by now. “Nobody cares.”
“You’ve slept long enough,” they say, and I realize who is really talking. “It’s time to try again.”
“Five more minutes?” I ask.
God pats me on the head and pulls back the curtains. I see the world again, and for a moment it terrifies me…but I also want to touch it, to reach out and fluff the top of a tree, or scratch the neighbor’s dog behind the ears. I know that God is right. Whatever the meaning of this darkness, whatever I’m supposed to be learning from it, this session is over, and it’s time to go back to work.
Knowing I will be back here fills me with momentary despair. It never ends. I’ve spent time in this room since I was a teenager–maybe even longer. I’ve built it fiction by fiction, with my own self-condemnation and the plentiful scorn of others. I’ve tried tearing it down with medication, I’ve tried redecorating with various therapies medicinal and alternative. But it still serves a purpose, this room, and until it’s served, I will never be free of it.
But the door is standing open now – if I linger, it’s by my own choice now.
So I venture out, sniffing the air like a deer, keeping my hands around the doorframe to reassure myself that the ground won’t hurt my feet, the air won’t burn my lungs, the light won’t blind me. I hear wind chimes. Wind chimes are the sound of freedom to me. Holding myself up with the tentative strength of a baby animal, only not half as cute and far more likely to bite. I hear the chimes, feel my bare feet on grass, and at least, for a while, I am myself again.
Maybe this time I can stay out for more than a week. The air is warm, and though the weather is unsettling in its unseasonable behavior, something in me has always responded to the season of renewal–even a prematurely born season like this makes me want to believe, desperately, in Spring.
* – the book in question is Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight.Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!