Make Tiny Changes

Ever since Friday, I’ve been enveloped in this strange blanket of tender, complicated emotions.

With my own bittersweet memories of pain and loss washing over me in waves, coupled with the tragic loss of a favorite musician to an all-too-predictable (and all-too-preventable) suicide, I’ve been taken over by some force of tragic optimism. I spent Friday night crying into my boyfriend’s shoulder in the dark of my bedroom, as I’d come to a point of being unable to hold the tears back anymore. By the end of the night, I was laughing again, with reserve.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. Of course I do: it’s me we’re talking about, here. I can’t help but have a long string of thoughts about why this wave is hitting me this way now, as compared to the wave I struggled against last year, and the year before that.

The crux of it all is something I’ve struggled with for some time. That is, finding a sense of purpose, reason, and meaning behind anything at all that I do in this life. I’ve often wrestled with my own mind when it comes to justifying any of the struggles I put myself through in order to “be better” or go somewhere in my life, to the point of being straight-up nihilistic. At best, I realize that life only has the meaning that I give it, and that gives me the optimism to make it something good; at worst, I feel utterly dyspeptic and resign myself to self-deprecation and pessimism.

I think a big part of it is my desire to do more. I want to be more, help more, do more, do better, be better, be the best at what and who I am. You know, typical perfectionist thinking that often guts me. I get lost in feeling a little hopeless at times – not just about myself, but about the world and all the hurt contained within.

I’ve written before about how depression shows up in my life–how it doesn’t follow a straight line (depression never really does) and how it makes me feel like I’ve got nothing worth saying. Though I don’t think I fit any actual diagnosis for Major Depressive Disorder or any of the other DSM-V/ICD-10 mood disorders, I do know that my entire adult life has come equipped with an undercurrent of depressive thoughts and feelings that make themselves known whenever they damn well please.

Like now, today and this past week. I have been swinging between an overwhelming sense of hope and an overwhelming sense of sadness for days, with bouts of flatness in-between. I’ve found that my depressed feelings are more pronounced in sobriety, perhaps because I’m more capable and willing to pay attention to them than I was before. They arrive with feelings of emptiness, sore shoulders, lethargy, disinterest, irritation and pensiveness. It stops me from reaching out to friends and family. It makes me feel like I’m doing a whole lot of pity-partying for someone whose life is, by-and-large, pretty darn good.

But being a mental health worker in training, I know that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of it works. Sometimes there are things we can do to stave off these feelings, and sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes we’re just given the gift of a better, more harmonious existence, and sometimes we’re given the gift of extra-sensitive-why-am-I-crying feelings. Sometimes the world feels like a bleak grey cloud lined with tragic, silvery optimism–no matter how thin that line may be, it keeps us going. Sometimes our hearts burst with joy and adoration for life, and sometimes it feels like we’d be better off in bed ’til the seasons change. Sometimes we know what tips off these feelings and we can stop it–sometimes we do everything “right” and still, they come.

I think I’ve gotten to a point where I feel comfortable enough with the ebb and flow of my sadness that I can withstand a day of being on the verge of tears by knowing a sunnier day will come ’round the corner soon enough. I try to limit the amount of ruminating I do, opting for a more forward-facing perspective. I try to acknowledge and honor the complexity of my emotions as they manifest into a million things–including my depression–as they’re wrapped up in an intricate web of nostalgia, fear, loneliness, fondness, and love.

When I woke to news of Scott Hutchison’s death I was surprised by how powerfully and wholly I felt grief for losing him, a man I never knew personally. I’ve since come to understand that though it’s painful to lose Scott as a musical force in this world, it’s more painful to lose the symbol of humility he represented: that voice of someone who was able to so poetically encapsulate the gentle humanity of a life darkened by depression.

That his suicide coincided with the upcoming anniversaries of some of my biggest losses in life, and that his songs were so poignant and important to me during those difficult times, has multiplied and amplified these feelings of grasping at straws for meaning and purpose in my life. It’s why I cried for hours on Friday and felt confused by my own heavy heart. It’s why I still feel the need to cry sometimes. It’s why I feel so urgent about the need to humble myself in the face of depression and allow myself the same grace of forgiveness and compassion that I would give to any other person who felt the same way.

Depression is not “fair”, but it does not discriminate. It flattens you, empties you. I have it better than many–I can often climb away from my darkness in a matter of days. But it has brought me to lean over the edge of tall bridges with tears in my eyes; it has isolated me when I needed others most. In Scott’s story, I see glints of my own reflection. I see the reflections of millions whose pain has gone unrecognized by the masses.

In these past few days, I’ve been comforted by a verse of Scott’s that has been floating around since he went missing Wednesday morning. Not just because of the anthemic nature of the song that contains it, but because it seems to be one of many answers to the question of purpose and meaning in my life:

And you know when it’s all gone, something carries on
And it’s not morbid at all just when nature’s had enough of you
When my blood stops, someone else’s will not
When my head rolls off, someone else’s will turn
You can mark my words, I’ll make tiny changes to earth
And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth

Scott, while he was here, promised he’d make tiny changes on this earth before his time was up. And if you read through any of the commentary on his passing, you’d realize the tiny changes he made culminated into something rather huge. Though cut short, his life made an impact on others and his efforts are not unrecognized. Hundreds have come forward lamenting him as though he were a friend, even though none had ever met him. His choice to vocalize his inner-most pain helped others feel less alone. Every word sung was a tiny change that uplifted thousands.

There’s a simple beauty to that message of making tiny changes. The goal is not large, but it is measurable and can be contained within a personal promise to do what you can, when you can, in order to make this world a better place.

This is something I can do, even on my darkest days. I can make tiny changes to me and to this earth. I can choose to reach out, and I can choose to be there when others need someone to simply listen. I can smile more, cultivate friendships I’ve neglected through a simple “hello,” honor my own sensitivity without criticism, open myself to the joy & sorrow of others. I can offer my heart. I can honor other’s stories with reverence and respect. I can continue to write here and share my own struggles, even if anonymously for now, to hopefully catch the eye or ear of someone struggling.

The road of mental health is long, nebulous, and ever-changing. New roads appear constantly, while others seem to disappear into the nether. Sobriety helps, but isn’t a cure-all. Now it’s time to really listen with open hearts, ears, and minds. Now it’s time to make these tiny changes to earth, every day, over and over again.

❤ Em

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