My continuing appreciation to Advantages of Age for their kindness to my postcards and riffs.
My continuing appreciation to Advantages of Age for their kindness to my postcards and riffs.
Oh my, I am depressed
You might well say, what’s new
I might well say that too
I’ve supersized up, I’ve got
depressed with extra fries
I’m looking for a love song
Depressed has got my tongue
my eyelids can’t go on
I am on a respirator
though you might not see that
at first glance
Just a crooked woman
with a beautiful dog
Searching her muffled heart
for a way to thank him
The thing about depression as I know it, is that even though it’s baseline, home address stuff, there is also a spectrum of depressed. The heaviest of heavy is when I’m furthest away from the Fields of Kindness.
I seem to be caught in this distance and weight. I know the fields have got me, but I don’t feel the Grace. That’s weird conceptually, because it’s a blessing to know I am held in this cradle of Grace, even if I don’t feel anything. Without this knowledge, even if academic, it’s a whole different story.
When I say, don’t feel anything, I mean anything tender. The light doesn’t slip through the cracks and I am trapped in Sylvia’s Bell Jar, like a half dead insect.
On this end of the spectrum, I murder every opportunity to find my ravaged heart again. I don’t listen to music or raise my face towards the sun. I keep my head down and the shutters closed. Even though I am longing for a beat of tender, I won’t let anything touch me.
This morning, whilst getting out of bed and into another day, instead of listening to the woes of the world on Radio4, I turned on my IPod. The complete body of Leonard Cohen’s work, on shuffle, while Leonard the Dog watches me get dressed.
Joan of Arc comes riding through the dark. The young Leonard is singing in my bedroom, forty-seven years on from when I first heard this song. The Bell Jar cracks and the light comes in.
Then the old man Leonard is singing, Light as the Breeze. Thank you, I mumble, to the angels that shuffle the songs. This is one you won’t know if you don’t know Mr. Cohen well. It wasn’t a big hit, and no one is ever going to cover it on a singing show.
I especially love it for the collision of sacred erotic and dark human, comedy. Only Leonard could write a song like this. A devotional hymn to giving oral sex to a lover, woven into the ways we can lose, and maybe find one another again in long relationships.
She stands before you naked
you can see it, you can taste it,
and she comes to you light as the breeze.
Now you can drink it or you can nurse it,
it don’t matter how you worship
as long as you’re
down on your knees.
So I knelt there at the delta,
at the alpha and the omega,
at the cradle of the river and the seas.
O baby I waited
so long for your kiss
for something to happen, oh something like this.
And you’re weak and you’re harmless
and you’re sleeping in your harness
and the wind going wild
in the trees,
and it ain’t exactly prison
but you’ll never be forgiven
for whatever you’ve done
with the keys.
As well as the sheer pleasure of Leonard, the personal gift in this song, today in my bedroom, too far from the Field’s of Kindness, is this. To be reminded that for something like a second, I’m healed and my heart is at ease.
So I knelt there at the delta,
at the alpha and the omega,
I knelt there like one who believes.
And the blessings come from heaven
and for something like a second
I’m healed and my heart
is at ease
Last week I made a small exception to my socially reclusive ways. My dear and patient friend, Rose, got me out of my house and into another friend’s house. A gathering to celebrate two birthdays, and Life itself. Women who laugh and cry about it all, with great gusto. There was food and drink, and the hot tub in the garden for after dinner.
I wasn’t in the mood. I wasn’t going to stay long. It’s been a few gatherings since I was able to get my failing body into Suzanne’s hot tub. Though it is perhaps worth mentioning, that the last time I did, it was for a live streamed, Facebook discussion about death.
By the time evening comes, any capacity I have for sitting is done. I’ve made it through another day by 5pm. Mostly I say no to invitations out. I know how to take care of myself in this condition. It just isn’t very relational, unless you’re the dog or cat of the house. I have a whole world on my lovely bed. Project BedWorld. It has taken some efforts, but I have to say I’ve done a marvellous job. It is the place I can get as comfortable as is possible in this body. I have cushions, pillows, linen and velvets (yes, I am a sensualist).
This is the place I am yearning to be returned to, as I lurch around the festive table, casting (in my worst case paranoia) a shadow across proceedings. These women, who forgive me and care for me, spontaneously start a riff about food I have cooked in the past.
Do you remember the little tarts for Rose’s book launch?
The tiny cheesecakes?
The raspberry and vodka truffles…
Unexpected grief stabs me in the heart. I have so utterly lost my kitchen mojo that I’ve spent the last year eating ready meals for dinner. And, after what felt like a revelation that this body is never going to be able to manage big food gigs again, I gave two boxes of baking paraphernalia away on a neighbourhood forum.
My cooking was an intimate business. I’d forgotten how tender that can be. My friends were showing me that even if I forget, I am still held in the narrative of what has been, and what has been so alive. I faintly recall myself saying: this is part of how I make love in the world. My mission statement for Carolina Cooks.
Today I made biscuits. A lot of biscuits. My heart shaped signature biscuits. Fig and coffee, and chocolate with chilli. I had to push myself hard to make this happen. If you asked me why, I’d be hard pushed for a coherent answer. Something to do with the grief, and something to do with a kind of discipline. Not a sadistic kind of discipline, but more as practice. Showing up on the dance floor anyway.
I didn’t get much obvious pleasure from baking my hearts. I made a rookie mistake with the glaze on the chocolate chilli. My body has forgotten some of what it knows without thinking. Now I have to scrape glaze off, tweak and reapply. I’m sure there’s a metaphor here.
I’m finding that my depression, informed by unforgiving back pain, is not a forgiving place. I know the Fields of Kindness are holding me and all of this. I know it in my bones, and my gratitude is legion. It’s just, well, I miss myself softer and less clenched.
I’m looking for a softer and less clenched way to sign off this postcard. If I listen to my teachers, I remember that I’m here already, clenched and all.
‘Hello darkness, my old friend… ‘
It is not so much that I’ve had a break from my depression. It didn’t go anywhere. It lives in the air that I push and pull through my lungs. It is weight in my bones and blood.
Rather than having a sabbatical from depression as I know it, I’ve been engaged with acute physical pain. Physical pain and emotional pain are dysfunctional bed-fellows, co-dependent even. It’s easy to not know the wood from the trees.
I’ve lived with back pain for a very long time, but depression was here first. Depression was here from the start; in the umbilical cord. In the bones and blood of my mother, and more than likely in the bones and blood of hers.
Pain in the body: it’s been so long that I only faintly remember there was a time before. My back/hip/leg pain, has been lurching and stumbling though the days of my little life. I learned to mange pain with a combination of medicine and prayer. It was something of a beast, and it was slowly but surely getting worse each year that turned.
About two years back, almost overnight it seemed, the pain jack-knifed up to acute. Unlike previous acute episodes, it never dropped back down to what I called ‘chronic severe’ and had found a way to live with.
This was another country. It took a lot out of me and from me. It brought new meaning to my experience of survival. It changed something in my relationship with my own baseline depression. Like I said, it didn’t go anywhere. Yet the pain in my body was such a constant bellowing, that I had nowhere else to be except in the bellow of it. A brutal teaching of ‘being here like this’ which as some of you know, is one of my favorite songs.
On several occasions during this period, I said that full on, unadulterated depression as my home address, would be like respite, a beach holiday… I shouldn’t have said that. On several occasions, I have been thrown face down on the ground by a tsunami of depression as I know it in my bones and blood. It breaks through the physicality of things you can see on an MRI scan and discuss with an orthopeadic surgeon. It takes the wind out of my sails. It tears the sails from the mast. It takes me right down into the darkest rock and earth, where I have forgotten that in this unremitting darkness there are silver threads of luminosity and light.
It seems to be tsunami season.
Maybe, because I have just had back surgery, and though my legs are better, my hips and groin are still bellowing. Maybe, because it took so long to get to that surgery and all sorts of magical thinking and voodoo were tangled up in my hopes and prayers. Maybe it is just tsunami season, or the great comedian in the sky is having a laugh at my beach holiday, throwaway line.
I’m simply, brutally depressed as I know it in my bones and blood. Waking up in the morning, even with Leonard to dog kiss my defeated eyes, is brutal. I remember that I’ve written a few riffs about brutal mornings, and wonder how many ways there are to write that same old song?
And, this is me writing it again. I wish I wrote more. Writing helps me remember my name, and that I have a little place in this brutal and beautiful world. It is a silver beam of light in a dark place. It is how I stay alive. It is how I find my way back to the Fields of Kindness when I forget again, that they hold me anyway.
Writing is a tonic. I wish I did it more. And, though I don’t really play the New Year Resolution, game, there is a a whisper in the bedrock, in the fields, in the stillness and the noise, in that pile of gorgeous notebooks people keep gifting me because they imagine me beavering away… a whisper I can only just hear, about writing more. This year. This life. Before I run out of breath.
I’m so grateful to my friends at https://advantagesofage.com for encouraging and chivvying my write. Special thanks to the very special Rose Rouse.
It is particularly poignant to be publishing this piece on the day another valiant friend’s funeral takes place in Paris. Another notch on the bedpost of depression, another precious person couldn’t stay in this world any longer.
I am so very grateful to
for their unstinting generosity, kindness and support to my writing. I was chivied to get on with this one, and I had to or the doorway to write it would have closed. Thank you for the chivying.
Here is my intake of breath before sixty.
I post a haiku on Facebook.
Sad has descended
Melancholy body parts
drag feet on pee walk
When I come back online, I find some very kind words in response to my haiku from friends, far and wide. I am touched and grateful. And thoughtful.
I haven’t been sending many postcards from the window ledge over the last eighteen months. This isn’t a conscious thing. It crept up on me and now I notice that I’m not writing much.
I think, now I’ve noticed it, that it’s a consequence of the physical pain in my back, hips and legs. The escalating pain from my herniated discs, that I could manage and medicate, and am now just surviving until I get to my turn in the NHS queue. Waiting to be surgically decompressed is grim.
The not writing has to do with how the direct experience of living with this kind of constant pain, mirrors the narrative of living with baseline depression. When I try to write, I find myself using the same kind of language and metaphor. Both things are fierce, unforgiving and relentless. And yet, I seem to be able to write from one and not so much the other.
Struggling to escape my depression, with emphasis on the struggle part, eventually brought me home to a place I call the Fields of Kindness.
I can’t seem to stop struggling with my ravaged body. I’m trying too hard to surrender and am attached to an idea of that, even as I try not to be. As Leonard Cohen says in one of his last songs: I’m angry and I’m tired all the time. I do so ache to soften and to lay my head down… And, maybe the real difference between depression in my bones and blood, and pain in my damaged bones, is that I am invested in fixing the latter.
That is a terrifying thing.
But, what I am tugging at here, is the crazy making, heart-breaking struggle between okay and not-okay-ness. It has taken almost all of my almost sixty years, to break out of that bloody prison.
Now I know, not with my mind, but with my breath, that I am both broken and whole, that I am already here, and that there is absolutely nowhere to go. There is poetry in this simplicity, but it is not an abstraction. Welcoming This, over and over, is not easy.
Somehow though, I know it. I don’t mean I KNOW IT like I’m clever, I mean, I am blessed to have found a field of deep simplicity. It isn’t easy but it is simple. I am here, like this, moment by moment, breath by breath, until I get to the very last exhale. I keep on practicing welcoming it all, and every time I think I might have got a little bit good at it, I find out just how much there is to welcome, and just how much it isn’t about being good at anything.
I started this postcard because I wanted to say something about the freedom I earned from ditching the ‘okay, or not’ idea. I’ve ditched a few things along the road. Giving things up takes my breath away, and then it gives it back.
My haiku practice is an attempt to stay connected to the poetry in my heart, even while I’m ground down by pain, pain meds, and am angry and tired all the time. I still need to write a little. A haiku is a little.
Sadness didn’t decend and steal me away from happy. I am always with my melancholy feet. Depression is in the beat of my heart, and for now anyway, pain that makes me want to chew my arm off, is too.
As some of you know, I just took my sorry self to Hydra, and I was there in this most precious place, with all of me in attendance. I was touched, open, closed, closed, open, tired, angry, on a horse, on a white bed, in the blessing of the sea, in a storm, in a conversation, on the road to Leonard’s white house… each day I was defeated and healed and defeated. And healed.
Speaking simply, this is the way my days roll. Physical pain notwithstanding, I’m learning to live with the one I’m with, rather than making her not okay. She is somewhat grim and heavy-hearted by nature, but it seems that grim and heavy hearted were just waiting to be welcome. Welcome begets generosity. We all breathe more. There is room where there wasn’t before. It seems I’m a bit of a comedian and a tender beast, as well the one that lives on her knees.
What do I know? That this is my little life, and I’m always going to be saying thank you. Living on my knees is part despair, part devotion and surrender, and always prayer.
I’m in my sun filled bedroom in London, half laid down in a bespoke cradle of pillows, laptop perched on my chest. I pause for breath more than thought, one hand on my keyboard, the other resting on a warm dog belly that rises and falls beneath it. I am here. This is one of those moments of grace when this is easy. I wrote these words from such a place, one day on Hydra.
At last, I have slipped into the breathing of sea
I found a shady spot to call my own
inside vast and salty lungs
At various points
during the course of this day
that was all
These moments come and go. It all comes and goes. I am touched by how fleeting everything is, as one who strived to get hold of things and keep them. I love knowing I can’t keep anything, except of course when I don’t. Then I try to draw on my practice and love the unlovable: the resistance, the pain, she shut off and cut off, and the ugly refrain. From here, the poems are less beautiful, if they come at all.
My holiday/retreat/pilgrimage to Hydra was food for mind, body, heart and soul. It fed me up. And, yet I struggled every day with my inner and outer world. As I do. I have suffered mightily from the hopeless pursuit of good days as a pose to bad days. Or a good life, not a bad one or a wrong one. This is an impossible dilemma, I reckon for anyone, but certainly for this one. The weight of depression is ever-present, so a lifetime of making that wrong made good days or a good life, elusive to say the least.
So, of course I love the days when I am at one with the sea, either when I’m in the sea, or in my bedroom. All the other moments though, they need to be loved too, and stayed with. And if the tyranny of right and wrong days/life has been ditched, I can just keep being here however I am. Broken and whole. Human.
Two fragments of Leonard’s writing float in through the window. He’s always singing in this room.
I greet you from the other side
Of sorrow and despair
With a love so vast and shattered
It will reach you everywhere
You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had
I’m going to turn 60 in the Autumn. Last summer, when I was feeling miserable and angry about not be able to go on holiday, I talked myself down from financial acting out, partly by starting to plan this trip to Hydra, as a sixtieth birthday gift to heart and soul.
And now I’m here.
Over the last few months I’ve spent far too much time in Headfuck Central, about should I or shouldn’t I cancel the trip. My life has become increasingly reduced by escalating back/hip/leg pain. When I say pain, I mean the kind that makes me want to scream all the time. If it wasn’t for the constant love of Leonard The Dog and the love and forbearance of the ones that know and love me well, I’d have eaten my own arm off. Or killed someone. Maybe myself.
I have hunkered down. Surviving. Getting through days on dog kisses, prayer and swearing. And boxsets. I’m waiting for disc surgery in an NHS queue. I was scared to leave the comfort zone of BedWorld and home, and navigate the journey to another country. I know it isn’t so far, but when your borders have closed in, it is.
And I came, because I couldn’t not. I did kind things on route, like an airport hotel, a port stay in Athens, taking the ferry in the morning. It took three days in all. And, not shaming myself for needing that. Epic.
I’ve been here a few days, three and a half to be exact, with ten and a half more to go. The very fact I just wrote that makes me cross. I’m such a warrior for Being Here and This is It… and Welcoming IT ALL, that it’s so very painful to find myself struggling so, with this THIS. I don’t want to be counting days in an anxious tone, and worrying about whether it’s alright to lay on my beautiful white bed in my whitewashed room, this much, when I’ve come all the way to Hydra to be Here. I absolutely know it is nuts. And, it is often comedy and tenderness that get me through the days of my little life. So, none of this is driving the car, to use a favourite metaphor, but it is making a lot of noise in the damn car, and I’ve had to pull over so we can all take a few good, slow breaths.
Writing like this is part of how I get back to the earth. And in this case, the breath of the sea. I am here already. I just forgot, as I do, and then if I’m lucky I remember again without too much suffering.
I’ve discovered a few things through this bloody pain. For example, that it can sometimes make the ravaged landscape of my depression look like a walk in the park. Please forgive me, my fellow depressives, as I know it’s not any kind of park you’d want picnic in. It’s just that for me, I’ve been beaten down by this physical pain. I don’t know how to lay down with it, although I do lay down a lot. When I couldn’t escape my depression , I gave up and I fell into the fields of Kindness. I want that fall, and of course we cannot chase such things down. I know that poems, tears, orgasms, falls and fields, only get further away if chased.
I am here and it’s this, This, and I still can’t help kicking and yelling and wanting it to be like an idea I didn’t even know I had, about this trip. We are funny, us humans. I am funny and I’m always glad when I can feel connected to that. When the very serious, and not very serious business, of my little human life can make me laugh. And, I am laughing now, at how hard I try, not to try, and how I fail every time… and how the grace of that will bring me home. Everytime if I let it.
I’m signing off this postcard from Hydra. I’m in bed early after calamari and gin and tonic by the harbour. I’m in the landscape of my little dog’s namesake, Mr. Leonard Cohen. A pilgrim for my heart and soul, not to forget the broken body that keeps going, albeit more and more slowly.
Worry will probably rise and fall, as will every damned and beautiful thing. As Leonard wrote: Here It Is. Here it all is.
May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.
And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon
Gorgeous writing from dear writing Sister, Fanny Behrens.
When I haven’t written for a while, it is as if the stream dries up.
The lack of care and attention to the muse, means that the stream starts to seep quietly underground. I know it is there, it hasn’t vanished forever, but it goes very quiet and I cannot even perceive it until I stop everything else and start to listen. I need to be willing to hear nothing, just hang in the empty space. I need to wait, and I need to remember that it works by magic, and it is a precious opportunity to love.
It seems to me that all things thrive when they are given loving, spacious, attuned attention. And that in the lack of attention and interest they go dormant. Or start to run amok! What is neglected either dies, retreats or kicks up a storm.
When I stopped holding back, began writing this…
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