“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
I have been on my grind recently. I’m climbing at the bouldering gym three times a week. I’m in serious danger of reclaiming my Dad Bod on the way to getting fully shredded (okay not really but I am a few pounds down). I’m eating lentils, and I made a Lenten Vow to stop drinking soda and have stuck with it. I’m writing here and getting published and sleeping eight hours a night. I can’t remember the last time I missed my medication. And something really strange happened the other day.
I felt joy.
Like, honest to God joy. I was sitting on my couch under a blanket next to a fire. I was rubbing Vanessa’s feet, watching a Rockets’ game, and she was talking to the dog about something absurd, and I was laughing and smiling, and then my eyes started to water, and I said aloud to the room, “I feel joy” quietly at first and then again a bit louder. I wasn’t focused on anything in particular. No video games, no rabid refreshing of my google analytics page. Just joy. There was a lightness to it. Like a beachball thrown to the audience at a sporting event. I was smiling and fully present and even thinking about it now I cannot help but tear up a bit. Joy has been so distant from me for so long.
I often laugh or am pleased about things, but those feelings are always restrained, amputated before becoming global. There is a buzz in the back of my mind—the kind that makes you squint one eye in discomfort—stopping me short of losing myself in a loveliness. “Yes this is nice but be careful, Derek.” What am I afraid of? Is there a loss of control inherent to happiness?
And so but anyway—joy, real joy came to me, and now I want more of it all the time like a fat kid wants cake. Like me. I’m the fat kid.
And then I messed around and let myself care about the primary. And I let myself care a bit more about my job. And a couple of not perfect things happened, and I felt it slipping away. I felt the tone of my inner monologue break bad. I got a piece of (really quite reasonable) feedback at work. “I should quit.” I got fewer page views than I wanted on my published pieces. “This isn’t worth it.” I go to the gym and climb, but stop short of the top. “You wouldn’t make it.” It’s all so fucking contingent. I was driving to my counselor, and I imagined my car flipping over. Just peacefully popping off of the ground and landing on the roof, skidding sparks, blood splattered on a cracked windshield. I read an email—just some passive aggressive Minnesota Nice ass shit. And in a sort of robotic moment of clarity, I realized the bad was accumulating, becoming cumulative. It had taken months of hard work for the good to pile up enough to feel a sliver of joy in my life. And then two days—really 25 minutes across two days—to undo it. I was driving to my counselors, and it felt like a bucket of deep grey paint had been tumped over onto my world, coating everything in dread and blah and fuck this.
And then I stopped it. I willed the paint to stop dripping, and I saw what the grey was made of. I saw that it was my candidate losing in the primary and a couple work emails and someone using a friend’s legal name instead of his nickname (these things can be so fragile). It was “It Must Be Winter in my Heart” playing on the radio on repeat, and I just paused it. The song first and then the rest of it. I decided not to tie all of these disparate things together and not to craft a narrative about my remarkable unworthiness. Instead, I told my counselor about it and told him that I was going to try to stop spiraling before I drown in it. He said I should write this down, so I did.
That was two days ago, and it’s almost held. Now the pile of non-related shittiness is sort of throbbing at me, begging to be aggregated, adding a weightless lack of joy on top like a thin layer of lacquer. It’s a shiny pile. But I don’t look at it if I can help it. I’m trying, effortfully, to tie the good things together. I’m trying to have new ideas and trying to see this ceasefire from my depression as diplomatic progress. A month ago I would be in bed, soaked in grey—best case scenario. Today, I just keep going. One foot in front of the other. And then the next. Forever. If you’re going through hell, keep going.