My office is only 15 minutes away from my apartment. To get there, I take the road through Rock Creek Park, a 1700 acre swath of green that bisects this part of DC. In the summer, I drive slowly where the road is curved and shady, because there are always bicyclists pedaling furiously to get up the hill. Now that it’s dark when I leave work, I drive slowly because I see deer almost every night. In my hometown deer are everywhere, but I live in the middle of a city now, where rats outnumber the people and the people certainly outnumber the deer. But there they are, several each day, leaping gracefully out of the autumn woods and across the dark road, stalling traffic.
This summer, in July, I was driving that same road when something inside me suddenly dropped. I felt a sick bump of adrenaline, like when your feet unexpectedly slip on black ice, and that’s an appropriate metaphor because I was slipping, suddenly. Almost overnight, I slid into a dark mental hole. At the very bottom, I thought for a while I would never make it out. I couldn’t see the light at the top any more; I couldn’t remember that I’d ever seen it. Curled up there on the floor of my despair, I stopped caring if I ever would again.
And then, in mid-October, just as suddenly as I had slipped down that hole, I popped up out of it. I had a major event at work that left me sick and exhausted, and when it was over I spent four days at home sleeping and eating soup. When I started to feel better on the fifth day, I just felt…better. And then better still. I was making dinner one night for the first time in months — roasted broccoli and a baked potato — when I realized that I hadn’t cried in days. Maybe, I thought, I will live through this after all.
This is meant to be a story about good news, and it is. I feel better, and I’m so grateful. But I will say that having that shadow retreat so quickly is almost as scary as having it fall on me out of the sunny July sky, with no warning whatsoever.
I decided, on one of the first days I felt like myself again, to go to Camp Mighty in Palm Springs. It’s all about life lists, and how to achieve the goals you set for yourself. That makes it sound like group therapy or a drum circle, but I think it’s actually more about poolside cocktails with smart, creative people, strategizing about how we can all help each other be smarter and more creative. I’m pretty sure I will be utterly outclassed and intimidated, and also pretty sure I’ll be glad I went.
When I look at the life list I compiled for camp, I see so clearly what’s important to me. My goals split neatly into three categories; I want to pursue a creative life, spending energy writing and performing and not being shy or self-effacing about the fact that I want to be really successful at those things. I want to see all I can of the big, big world, enough to get lost in it sometimes, and learn to speak French and scuba dive. I want a family, and I want us to live in a house that has a porch swing and a little yard where we grow fruit trees.
I feel a clearheaded right now. Part of it is relief, no doubt, that I survived this summer’s psychic flu, but I’ll take clarity where I find it. I bought a dress with birds on it to wear in California. I make myself dinner. I get up every morning and try to squeeze some joy out of my job, and every night on the way home I look for the deer bounding across the street and into the woods. They remind me of where I came from, and of what surprising things can take shape in the darkness.