A very busy year at work, combined with adjusting to a diagnosis of bipolar II — and all the medication trials and errors, and the side effects that come with each tweak and change — wore me down: physically, mentally and cognitively.
Brain fog made sorting through my thoughts and articulating them difficult, to say the least. Exhaustion didn’t help. The longer I went without writing (even journalling), the more daunting the prospect became.
I was frustrated: frustrated with what I saw as slow, excruciatingly slow, progress. I waited to write when I felt better, when I had something more positive, more hopeful, to share. I waited and waited.
As these thoughts bounced around in my mind again today, a snippet of a song popped into my head: “the waiting is the hardest part.” It’s from a song by Tom Petty — a singer/songwriter/musician who passed away earlier this week.
I saw him in concert in July. I’d wanted to see him perform live for close to three decades. When the tickets went on sale a few months before, I grabbed them, even though I knew I might not be in a good place yet by then.
Music, especially live performances, is part of my mental health toolbox. When in the midst of depression or burnout, it can be hard to muster the enthusiasm and energy to open the box, let alone use the tools in it. But when I do, it almost always helps to lift me up — for a little while at least.
Tom’s performance that night certainly did. His songs (often routed in journeys, both uplifting and poignant), his passion for doing something he loved, the excitement in the crowd … was infectious. I felt that lift for days.
When I learn of a concert coming up, I buy tickets right away, even knowing that when the hour comes to attend, I may very well not want to go. But having the tickets, and not wanting to let the person I’m going with down, makes me drag myself there even if all I want to do is cocoon. It’s always worth it.
Sometimes, though, it takes a while to work. I attended another concert in August (Guns N’ Roses). I’d seen them before, in their heyday. This time it was the nostalgia factor that drew me. But, as the hour approached, I began to dread the outing. It had been an especially hard day in a difficult week. The thought of being in a crowd, putting on the happy face, making conversation, seemed overwhelming. But I went. I didn’t want to bail on my friend, even though she’d have understood.
As the concert started, I waited for that good feeling to emerge. Three songs in, I still felt numb, still disconnected. Then, the thoughts started: Has even this tool become useless? Will I always feel like this?
I looked around at the fans, caught up in the music, the smiles on their faces, their joy in being there. I wanted to feel that so desperately. So I pulled out another tool: fake it until you make it.
I’ve seen five amazing concerts this summer (add Bob Dylan, Margo Price and Rodriguez to the list). I’m learning to pull out those memories — the feeling of being in that moment when everything settles into place and I recognize myself again — when I need a lift.
It's no cure, but it helps.
It reminds me that the darkness does lift.
And, when it does, revel in that moment (whether it lasts for hours or weeks or years). Feel it with every fibre of your being.
To borrow a phrase from Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess), in those moments don’t just be happy, be “furiously happy”.
Then keep that feeling, that memory, in your toolbox to remind yourself that you will feel that way again.