One summer, many years ago, I was brought to my knees by a terrible depression; a phantom that came in through the window.
It swooped in, dark and heavy, and would not leave.
Until I surrendered.
I was living with my daughter, Jesse, in a little farmhouse in town. Her father had died the summer before, tragically and much too young, due to complications from alcoholism; the fall-out from his life and death didn’t really hit me until a year later.
And still the after-shocks.
I made it through the school year, then I crumbled. Food shopping was a huge effort. When the phone rang, I’d flinch.
In August, Mom came to visit and help with Jesse’s birthday party. It’s all a blur, paper cups, burgers on the grill, girls. I couldn’t stand the smell of food. I remember the day Mom was leaving. I watched her putting her bag in the car. I felt frozen inside, not able to speak, but then I said, “I need you to stay a bit longer, Mom. I’m afraid to be alone right now.” She stayed.
I was very concerned about not being able to go back to my teaching job. I had lost a lot of weight, was weak, and tired. How could I possibly handle a room full of second graders, faculty meetings, the principal.
I was always afraid.
I remember being with a friend. We were walking slowly around my neighborhood. I walked very slowly that summer, turtle-slow.
“I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know if I can go back to school. What if I can’t handle it?” I said.
“You don’t need to worry about that right now. School doesn’t start for three weeks. Right now, let’s walk. And when you have to make a decision about school, you will. Remember this, you can always change your mind. Always.”
This memory bubbled up on my morning walk with Chewy. Not in a sad way, no. More a noticing that the honest and kind things we do for one another ripple on for years, washing over us in a fresh way.
That long ago summer, I died to my old self, and rose, out of the ashes to a new one. I returned to my classroom and got stronger as the fall turned to red and gold. It took a couple of years to come back fully from that experience and there are times I fear the phantom’s return. It’s less likely to get its claws in me as long as I speak up, ask for help, and know I can always change my mind.
Go ahead, say it out loud.
I can always change my mind.