What I want to say is that every few days, you dip into bleakness. And while the bleakness has taken various forms throughout your life, I want to applaud your ability to function. First, you have remained stunningly functional, still making lists and getting things done. We have to air out your vices in order to examine them, too. We need to be honest about your penchant, this time around, for stockpiling in small but noticeable amounts, items you think might be necessary after a societal collapse: canned goods (but not enough to actually keep a family alive for an extended period); the crank-operated radio and cell-phone charger (good, but you’re assuming there would still be a signal); cash (and as your husband wisely noted, $200 will not get you far). These are nods in the right direction and also candles of mourning.
I wanted to remind you that given the state of the nation and government, it’s totally normal to be super-depressed. The daily assaults on reason, fact, morality, and the future itself all seem to require a candle lit in the house of mourning. And you—while making your calls and going to rallies—have lit quite a few of those candles.
I mean, really, how could you not? You are technically a clinically depressed person—which always shocks those who see you as super-happy. They don’t see that happiness and joy-seeking can be athletically honed and deployed in a systematic way over years and decades until the act of enthusiasm itself—especially in public—is like an outer ear, stretched to collect and amplify joy.
So you have your public enthusiasm, which exists around you like the rings of Saturn, as much to keep people away and keep yourself hidden as anything else. You have your meds (glory be). And you’d upped them even before the election. You already know all the things: exercise, going to meetings and rallies and seeing people, taking breaks. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. So ignore that.
You have noted that these actions, as ridiculous as they are, improve your mood and overall functioning, so you do them for that very reason if nothing else. And that itself is wise. Keep making gestures toward an apocalypse you would probably not be very comfortable in because the meds would also run out. And then.
Let’s draw back from the apocalypse, even though it’s there in your mind’s eye. The other object in your house of mourning is shame over the sadness itself and a sense that if you admit it—not your general depression but the monolithic orange obelisk of this specific mourning—you would be draining the movement of energy it needs to continue. You are putting yourself in a 1960s-era Maoist self-criticism circle of one, decrying your lack of revolutionary commitment because you sometimes get sad. And that, my dear, is the wrong view.
Occasionally like a bottle cap on the ground you run into your own sense, which glints in the light of the candles of mourning. Your sense says: you have to feel the feelings, and then behind the feeling is in the intelligence and the insight. You can’t go around them.
And if you go into the pockets of dread, you see how familiar they are. In fact you laugh because the furniture is all the same furniture you remember, and you remember hanging those curtains. What is scary about the dread is that it brings up the dread-eras of your life. Yes, this little pocket of dread still has your old mix-tapes in a shoe-box near the tape player. Yes, it has your journals in it, and it has wisps of your long hair the last time you grew it as a curtain to hide behind. The apartment of dread smells like cold, but it’s the cold you know, almost metallic, and you know where the thermostat is, and you are comforted by the baseboard heaters as they tick and work.
What you find in the apartment of dread with all of your old selves is that the decades you’ve been alive, with the ear of enthusiasm and the conscious construction of days, have build a sturdier sub-floor while you’ve been away. You don’t even feel like crying much in this apartment. You’re scared to be back here, but then is not now.
What’s more—and pay attention to this—is that you know very well how to operate in this apartment, from this home base. It’s nothing surprising. You can very quickly shove a few new books onto the shelves and set up a command center. You can send out an email—yes, email exists now, though the apartment of dread pre-dates it—that says, oops, I’ll be a few days late with this reply.
In fact, you can demand that everyone give everyone else a few days’ more leeway with things. Where was that report for work? I must have left it in my dread apartment. We must all be a little more forgiving now.
Your work—and it is good work indeed—is to know that you function well in this universe. And functioning well can sometimes look like crying, and it can sometimes look like needing a night to recover. And it can sometimes look like foggy-head-What?, but you know this place.
Being sad is not a mark of radical insufficiency.
Being sad won’t bring other people down.
Being sad is one rational response to our situation.
Being sad needs to take the space it needs or it will take all the space.
Being sad is the work we need to do to get to the other work.
Around the sad is only the cold dark of space. There, behind the sad, is the next good idea.