For months I’ve been in a state of August. It’s the same way every year, a rolling boil of positivity and doing-better in January, running over the line of summer in hopes that what came before won’t catch up to me again. But it does. And it happens in August. August is when my New Year’s Resolutions seem like a futile mask of the deep dark in me. The heat, no matter how far north we travel, pushes it right out of my pores, and I am left with risidual discomfort and the sweltering belief that there will never be a break– there will be no more chill in the air, no breeze, no joy to pull me from eternal August.
Then in September, though later and later each year, it breaks. I laugh it off as the cooler air. I roll my eyes at pumpkin spice lattes and order them anyway, smothering my secret wants with irony. But August will linger until October in some cases. Around the time that I am unable to attribute my depression to the weather, something breaks again, and I’ll be in the clear until the Christmas Sadness takes its turn on December 22nd. That stretches through the New Year, and then I make a running start toward summer in hopes to beat out August again.
Last August was worse than most. We were in Rock Springs, Wyoming when my body came to a halt. The depression settled on me thicker than the wildfire smoke that hovered above. I coughed sporadically, my voice burning when we sang, my ribs aching when I breathed. I pushed harder, I worked out more, I scrolled on my phone more, I ignored the urgent and obvious signs that August was here. Until I collapsed, unmoving, unfeeling in our little camper.
“I can’t, anymore,” I said.
“It’s August,” my Someone said.
“But we quit drinking, it’s supposed to be different,” I said, arguing with the unreasonable void. My Someone shrugged.
I let myself go, then, into the red and white Wyoming sands of sinking sadness. I fought to eat breakfast. I fought to feel hunger. I fought to lift myself out of bed and answer texts. I fought to remain normal. I fought with mantras from Eckhart Tolle and Rilke and the Bible and some drunk lady I met in a bar once. It’s only right now. No feeling is forever. It’ll pass. Just take a deep breath, honey.
“Well, maybe you should just embrace it then?” Rupert said the following night. In a rare episode, our fellow road dog folk singer had a route that intersected with our own. He called the night before, and we shielded ourselves from the hard, sand spitting wind of Rock Springs, WY crowded in our tiny camper at a KOA. In spite of the high price and the looming silos across the street that locals joked “could blow at any minute,” we took a chance to console me with electricity, hot showers, and the sanity of stillness. And now, with a friend. In my typically August way, my sorrow bubbled at the sight of a familiar face, and I was framing my depression in terms of “the artist types” with Rupert. It was a magnificently awful ploy he swatted aside in favor of forthrightness. So we skipped the hypotheticals of medication and therapy and he landed squarely on the obvious.
“The way I see it,” he continued, “it’s part of the same thing. It’s only the downside of your creativity. You’re just looking at it from the other side. You can’t write and make as much as you do and not expect this part. I say, embrace the damn thing.”
I nodded. I felt silly. I felt seen. I felt too seen. I felt relieved.
The next morning, I started talking to myself. Or rather, to my Depression.
“Good morning,” I said. “I’m glad you are here. What would you like to do today?”
This is how I found out that my Depression wanted more than anything to stare out the window vacantly with a cup of coffee. Instead of arguing with him– “No! That’s what you wanted to do yesterday, too!” I told him okay.
We watched the too-close fifth wheel RV next to us dump the shit from their tanks, pack up their hoses, and roll out, leaving only the arid brown hills behind. I let my Depression finish a second cup of coffee, careful not to rush him. When I felt stuck, completely glued to the couch, I remembered my guest again.
“Um, Depression? Is there anything else you would like to do today?”
This is how I found out that my Depression wished to take a walk in the arid brown hills. With dogs. And my Someone.
“That’s a very good idea,” I complimented. The Depression seemed surprised, and maybe a little pleased, so I added “Very smart of you to think of that.” That gave us just the right amount of energy to put on our socks and shoes and step outside.
And so it went this way for the following week. By the end of the second week, I realized I’d forgotten to ask Depression what he wanted for dinner. I searched around, carrying a menu of ideas and options, but there was no answer. He was gone, without ceremony. He was missed, but my dinner tasted better. We were in the South Dakota prairie, and I pretended to blame his visit on Wyoming, until an inexplicable urge to unpack my bookbinding supplies overcame me, and I was busy the rest of the evening making tiny books.
“Hello, you,” I said to Creativity. I didn’t ask her any questions. She always knows what she wants.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
My Someone laughed. When I memorized this Rumi poem a few years ago, in my difficulty reciting, I nailed the landing with that last line, extending my arms and almost shouting with a brightness that is incongruous with the remainder of the text. Now, I was incongruous with my circumstances. My favorite aunt was dead, and I was planning a memorial service in a state of shock from the state of Missouri in my state of late August. In a week, I would fly to the state of California to collect her remains and bring her home to the state of Pennsylvania, where I would shatter the blessed state of silence between my mother and I and spread ashes under the still green trees in a State Park.
I didn’t have time to ask if my Depression wanted to go for a walk, or if he wanted breakfast for dinner, or if he needed a deep breath. Instead, I typed out an overused poem for my under visited aunt’s funeral program. I let August vibrate within me. I stopped sleeping. I made phone calls, instead. I organized. I booked a flight. I checked calendar dates. I ignored August all the way through September, through October, into November.
“You’re circumstantial,” I’d told him in September.
“You’re going to take care of yourself,” I’d told him in October.
In November, he cornered me. This is the nature of leaving a guest unattended. It gets crowded, he throws his things around, and then, tiring of the inattention, he begins to throw your things out your own window in a tantrum. For the first time since August, I cried. Really cried. I had nowhere within me to sit– the furniture was gone. The shelves were empty. And I had nothing to fill them with. I hadn’t written a word since late July.
“Fine,” I said to the Depression, “take it! It’s yours! Have all of it!”
And he did.
I’ve been busying myself outside of myself since. Like a spouse kicked out of the house without a key, pretending to do yardwork so the neighbors don’t know I can’t get back in.
“Look at these roses, blooming in November, no less!” I pattered, sneaking a peak in the windows at the unrecongnizable space of my home.
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
On December 23rd, I waited on the front step of myself for her. The Christmas Sadness was late, and I was concerned. I looked inside– maybe she’d already found a way in without me. But it was only August in there, stomping around and burning the toast until the smoke detector went off. I had just finished reading Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton, wherein she describes the movement of our emotions in seasons. Just as Rupert had hinted months earlier, she confirmed– instead of fighting the damn things, welcome them. If you get sad at Christmas every year, acknowledge it as part of the season. Emotions, just like winter, are a season themselves. Be glad for their coming and their going. Because fighting their going will only fight the next one’s coming, and you’ll never find yourself in the living.
So I waited for the Christmas Sadness with a welcome banner of illustrious Italian novels, and a stack of snacks I like but won’t push August’s buttons, and comfy sweatpants freshly washed and still a little warm from the dryer. She didn’t come. I was disappointed. Then, a thought–
Maybe I’m healed!
The idea put me to my feet, spun me on my heels and nearly cured my disappointment. Until I tried the front door of my self’s home and found it still locked from August.
Of course she isn’t coming. There’s no room.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and
Invite them in.
It’s almost January, now, but August has had a lot of time to make a mess of things. So, I’m taking extraordinary measures. I’ve slipped him notes under the door, putting my writing in writing back inside. I coax him without force. I signed him up for a month of unlimited yoga, which he seemed willing enough to open the door for. But what he really seemed to appreciate was the gesture of time– of sitting with him in front of this computer screen and tending to our history. It’s a lot to unpack, August to December. But he’s at least let back me in as far as the foyer.
This morning, when I woke up, he asked for more time. So I brought him to a coffeeshop and bought him a soy cappuccino and let him stare at the leftover Nutcracker soldiers outside the window. I thought we saw the Christmas Sadness peeking from behind the fat concrete columns. l invited her to join us, but she was feeling shy. August still took up too much space, anyway. How polite they all can be when attended to.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.