Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Tag: depression

Fixing the Broken

I knew it would be our last Christmas here, so I pared down the decorations and mementos so that I wouldn’t have to go through them all again before we move. I dug up boxes of ornaments and lights from various disused motel rooms where they’d been put away. I tested strings of lights and donated the ones that worked, I carefully chose which decorations were meaningful to one or more of us in the family, and ruthlessly got rid of the rest. What I saved, I packed as compactly as I could, so we won’t have to move more than one bin.

Every year I make a point of storing all the Christmas things together, but somehow there are always other boxes—even some empty ones— in different places, that I find years later when I’m looking for something else. Some of my favorite ornaments I haven’t seen in so long, I wonder if I dreamed their existence. But moving time is getting closer than ever, so this week I forced myself to go into a room full of junk and take out some boxes for sorting. And there it was, underneath a couple boxes of decorations I didn’t remember we’d ever had, the lost box of tree ornaments. It was labeled, “Christmas ornaments ’06/ Don’t lose.”

box of ornaments

There was also a bundle of tissue. Whatever was inside was surely highly fragile, as it was wrapped in layer after layer which I had to unwind one at a time. It turned out to be a primitive ceramic nativity. My mother-in-law must have given it to us, as she has one like it, from one of those non-profit organizations that employ impoverished people making crafty stuff for the relatively wealthy. I’m always a bit hesitant to get too religious about Christmas, and this thing had been packed away so long that surely it has no particular meaning or sentimental value to any of us. It would be easy to get rid of.

Nestled in the hollow was another tissue bundle. When I finally got it unwrapped, it turned out it was protecting the chunks that broke off the main piece, when, presumably, somebody dropped it. It appeared fixable. Someone had wrapped all the pieces together with great care, and stored them for a day when they could be repaired.

The obvious question is, why not just glue it, instead of making all that effort to save it for later? And the reason is that I was incapable of fixing things then. Much more vividly than these objects, I remember the utter despair I felt as I dragged myself up out of postpartum depression. In winter of 2006 I had a two-year-old, and was newly pregnant and terrified that I would have to recover from a surgical birth with a newborn and a toddler to care for. I was afraid the depression would win this time around. I had no money or insurance and, outside of my immediate family, all my friends were impossibly distant. The unexpected surgical birth had shaken my confidence, and I was unable to make decisions or take on even minor responsibilities. I felt too fragile and broken to fix myself, much less anything else.

But I did fix myself. Very slowly I made connections, I found tools, I found my voice. I started doing things I knew I couldn’t, and succeeded at some of them. I learned to manage my mental state. I rebuilt my shattered self-confidence, stronger than ever. I survived.

Now the two-year-old is fourteen, and the shrimp that was floating in my belly in 2006 is taller than I am. She will soon be twelve. As we prepare to move on to our next stage, I have found and repaired other things, and made new ones out of old things. I fixed this one in about three minutes.

It was almost as if I had some tiny bit of hope, twelve years ago, in my depression: that some day I would be better. Like a letter to my future self, I saved this broken item as best I could, for the time when I would be a person who could fix it. And now I am, so I think I will keep this one as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ll find space in the bin for one more item.

Ceramic nativity-2

NaPoWriMo Day 11: Detritus of Days

When April still feels like February.
When shorter nights only mean less rest,
and the still-needed layers of winter clothes
are a hateful shroud. When your children
desperately need encouragement
and you can’t find it in yourself to lie.
You’re living in the shadow of a hill,
where the sun breaks late, glares, and
passes too soon. When the detritus of days
closes around you, try to remember
that sunlight slanting over dust on
clutter has its own beauty. It’s not enough,
but it might get you through another day.

floor

Unspoken

When the taxes hadn’t been paid
—or filed, and the accountant called
from Topeka to ask why, I didn’t tell her
about the long months after the baby
when death was my greatest longing
and deepest fear. I didn’t tell her that
when you run a motel, it’s never a question
of whether there is a leak, or a clog, but
of which room. Rooms. I didn’t tell her
how I’d come to dread the ring of the phone,
how I jumped at the sound of the
doorbell. What’s wrong now? I didn’t
tell her about the words —trapped, helpless,
powerless—
that had come to be like
fat lazy friends who crowded me
on the couch with the baby. Or that
my marriage had changed in ways that
I didn’t understand, that I couldn’t trust
my perceptions, that her understanding
of causality probably wasn’t relevant to
the question she was asking.
I’d met that slender woman before,
in person, seen how she looked at me, with her
coif and pantsuit and briefcase that
matched her shoes. I in cutoffs with
a toddler on my hip and a failing
business and a debt I could not pay.
I didn’t tell her that I’d had a good education
from a respectable liberal arts college,
could’ve done anything, and I chose this.
This was what I chose.
I told her that my husband had a job
elsewhere now and that there was more
work than could be done in the hours
available, which answer did not satisfy.

She had a girly first name but her
last name rhymed with penis,
and I did not mention that, either.

Room 8, looking east

I often dream of motel rooms.

To My Demented Friends

Sunrise Over Pond

a few seconds later

To the man who filled his basement to the ceiling
with boxes of meaningless things, because
“There’s money down there,” and
to the woman who said there had
formerly been a hill behind the house,
“. . . but it’s gone now . . .”—
I too live with unfathomable sense of loss,
a pool too deep to swim to the black depths.
Struggling to get to the bottom of things
(“Bring the darkness to light,” she said,
“not the other way around”) and desperate
to rise to the air. I’m not afraid
of the darkness down there, but I am afraid
of drowning.

Life Wins

My sister Melora Creager is doing a project about suicide and overdose, and she asked for input from friends who have been affected by these tragedies. I sent her the post I wrote last fall, Black and Blue, and You, which was a letter to a person I knew who committed suicide many years ago.

In the letter I mentioned that I needed to prep the garden for winter, and this week, as I re-read it, the garlic I planted at that time is just coming up. The ground is bare, and if you didn’t look closely, you might think it dead. We’ve had an unusually cold winter, with plenty of snow, but to the winter garden, snow is just melting water. Look closer, and you can see the deep green shoots poking their way out of the dirt.

I’ve suffered from depression all my life, and in my forties I am just beginning to manage it effectively. I’ve escaped the clutches of fear, anxiety, anger, and despair, some days by riding them out; some days by naked willpower. I’ve learned that peace, joy, and gratitude reside within me. They are always here, but I have to choose to tap into them, no matter how seductive the darkness can be.

When the days are getting shorter, and everything appears to be dying, it can be tempting to give in to the darkness, to curl up and wither with the countless fallen leaves. Planting in fall is an act of faith that the earth will continue to spin. Nothing can stop the cycle of the seasons. Even when all I can manage is to hold on and ride it out, winter eventually dissipates and life wins.

Garlic sprouting

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