I’m writing this very personal piece because I’ve been traversing a path that has pushed me into the potential and the terror of change, and I’m talking about big climate change here.
Climate change is not something that is only happening “out there.” As the world goes, so do we because we are part of Earth, and many of you may be feeling your inner climates shift, heave, and blow. I have gone through a huge climate upheaval these past few months. My shorelines are rearranged. For awhile, there was nothing but cyclone after cyclone. I lunged across the barrier of what is socially acceptable, and am now living with days of sunlight scattered with regular ground tremors…
I want to share this story as honestly and gently as I can, in hopes that it may give you courage if your own geography buckles and breaks apart.
Those of you who have followed my writing for years know that I have struggled with MMD (major depressive disorder) for decades. Sometimes it is bearable, sometimes it takes stays in a mental hospital to keep me going.
For these past two years, MMD sent my mind into an exceptionally black hole and my body into what felt like pure paralysis. I could not eat, I could not think, I could no longer tend house, garden, or marriage. I was bedridden, with tremors, dizziness, weakness and bile-making fear.
Somewhere during this time period, I scarcely remember when anymore, John and I decided to build a small apartment on our property that we could manage to live in and tend. His son would take over the main house at MillHaven and help care for us. John has lived with a multitude of chronic health issues including chronic pain for many years. We both knew we could no longer live as we did. The tiny house still is not completed, but we trusted the plan was sound.
In early December, I took a further deep dive into into the blackness, and came to believe that suicide would be my only path forward. This is common with MDD, as depression’s goal is always to kill you. And so I checked myself into a mental hospital for the third time in ten years as a last resort—a last and final hope to get me to the finish line of the completed tiny house, and some helping hands living in MillHaven proper.
Those of you who have never had to voluntarily commit yourself to a mental unit are blessed to never have experienced trying to find hope and salvation in hell. Whatever the medical world says, mental health care is hideous unless you have lots and lots of money and can afford private care. These hospital units are understaffed, often poorly staffed. The patients are a boggling mix of addicts, psychotics and seriously mentally ill people off the streets, parole violators, and depressed people like me. All of us are tossed together there for medications, interventions of many sorts, and all of us are sent out on our way too swiftly, and with little care of where we wind up.
Perhaps because I was old and gray, and near death, the center where I would spend the next month took pity on me and extended my stay from the normal 8-10 day rollover. My prayer was that they could find a mix of antidepressants that would work for me, and give me guidance on how to best live my very marginal life.
I was quickly disabused of the idea that I would get any guidance, as the social workers were so slammed with patients that I saw mine very rarely, so I changed my prayer to one for just some good drugs.
In climate change, they speak of “tipping points.” I thought that I had already passed that indicator and was in the sea-levels-rising stage, but I was mistaken.
Three days after I landed in what I call the Looney Bin, My husband told me over a brief phone call that his son had decided for unforeseen reasons he would not be moving into MillHaven. “I don’t know what we are going to do,” John said.
It was a quiet phone call with no real indication of imminent continental colliding. But that call—that call—was my tipping point.
I hung up the phone and my life exploded into pieces. I shuffled back into my room in a crazy trance, my head deciding without my input whether to dive into a psychotic break, or throw me gasping onto some unknown shore.
By some act of grace alone, it chose the shore. I plopped down on the edge of my bed with the rubber mattress and plastic pillowss and said out loud to an empty room, “I can’t go home anymore.”
The moment those words hit the air, everything inside of me gut-clutched and spasmed into the shape of a hitherto unknown map. It felt instant, but perhaps I was spinning for hours. When the tsunami settled, my vision of how I had been living clicked into a sudden and riveting clarity: I knew in my very bones that I had long passed the place of living with the responsibility of home and garden and the daily is-ness of adult life. What had I been thinking? These things—only hours before major sources of my identity—suddenly fell away. I lost all attachment to them. “That was the past…” my mind said. “That way is gone now…”
The lava flowed when I tried to explain this to John. He was completely blindsided, as I would have been if our situation were reversed. “What are you doing?! Why??” he shouted across the phone lines.
I didn’t have good answers. All I could say at the time was, “I have to do this. If I want to live, I have to do this…” How could he possibly understand? I hardly could myself.
Meanwhile, as Christmas came and went, my inner continents sorted themselves a bit. Surprisingly, I found myself able to eat normally after four years of struggle. The new medications began kicking in and the brain fog that had engulfed me for several years began to blow slowly away as fresh breezes asserted themselves. I was still on the walker, and so dizzy I dropped to my knees often and fully passed out once. My hands shook so badly, it was hard to move spoon to my mouth without losing most of the contents along the way.
The stress of the tectonic shift was gigantic, and yet I had never been as certain about anything in my life as I was about this: I could not go home. That was all that I knew for sure. My marriage? Where to live? How to live on a tiny income alone? While my outer world flooded and metaphorical tornadoes raged all around me, I was shockingly calm on the inside.
“Put yourself into the current, and trust,” my heart murmered one rainy morning. And since there was nothing else I could do, I let go and allowed myself to make tentative plans. When I finally left the Looney Bin, my dizziness left as well and I was sure-footed stepping onto the train to head back to my town. Somehow, I had arranged two-months-worth of a roof over my head with various friends.
I hoped that I’d find something more permanent in that time period that I could afford. I imagined myself in a small trailer somewhere, or in a tiny senior apartment, or a room in a house, or in assisted living. In my less trusting moments, I imagined myself in a large cardboard box on a curb.
I’ve read about what can happen when you completely let go of something. Not just wish or think about letting go but when you take that leap and have utterly no idea if there will be a bridge beneath you, or a bottomless abyss.
The weather on the home front was cataclysmic. My psychiatrist said, “You know, not many people will understand this.” She told me that many of her clients were in very similar situations with both of them falling downhill, knowing the situation was killing them, yet they stayed until death or the hospital took them and charted their involuntary course forward.
“Do you know anyone who has done what I’ve done?” I asked.
“No. No one. What will you say to people who can’t understand this?” she queried.
“I’ll say that when the airplane is going down, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first.”
A few weeks later, my FaceBook friend, David, posted this:
“Letting people be wrong about you or a situation while keeping your peace and focus is the most misunderstood
power move you will ever make.”—Morgan Richard Olivier
If I could remember to say that I would, but the airplane quote is easier to recall, and it remains true for me.
Fast forward two months: Has my climate settled into a “new normal” or are ice storms still raging? Well, both. The strong current of life I’ve been riding took me swiftly and surprisingly into an unexpected permanent living situation with a dear friend and her husband. I have a large private room in their home, and pay a monthly fee toward food and utilities. Dinky my old cat has moved with me. It is perfect for me at this stage of my life and health. These dear friends—angels, really— have turned over a corner of their large pollinator garden to me and my bees. I also am managing a frog pond here.
This all came about with no advance planning or even hoping. It arrived in my life like a “God-plop,” leaving me stunned, humbled, and wondering how I ever fell face-first into such blessed goodness.
I also said “yes” to an opportunity to teach bee classes again this summer. Because my living quarters are small and my responsibilities few, I am able to use my still limited energy for joy and wonder again.
Much remains unsettled. Climate change takes time, and there are many earthquakes around fault lines. While I would never recommend such an abrupt course shift as I’ve taken to anyone, I would also say, if it needs to be, follow the current and trust. Trust those old adages that when you finally crack the light comes in, that when you hit bottom there is nowhere left to go but up, that only empty hands can be filled with new possibilities.
It happens! And I’m living proof.