This time of year, I sometimes feel as though I am swimming through peanut butter to survive. I try to move forward, but every stroke takes tremendous, exhausting effort. I wear myself out, and then look back to see how far I have come, and I can’t help but feel frustrated and disappointed by how much effort it took to move forward so little.
I suffer from low grade depression that ebbs and flows. This dark time of year, it tends to rear its ugly, ambivalent head. I suspect it has something to do with the lack of sunlight, and being holed up all hours of the day, and the fact that this time of year is hard on darn near everyone. I have a bad habit of taking the bad moods of others as a personal insult. Most of the time people are in bad moods simply because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or perhaps they are feeling small inside for their own reasons, and that is why they might treat the people around them poorly and dismissively. At any rate, it rarely has much to do with me, and I need to remind myself of that repeatedly.
This November, my bout was particularly bad. Worse than I remember it ever being, aside from the weeks following Maggie’s birth. For a few weeks there, I walked around and sighed, and stared off into space, and picked at my food, and stayed up til all hours worrying about things I had practically no control over. I was anxious and I couldn’t stop being anxious. I was like a record stuck on a skip, and I needed a good smack to set the needle straight again, but the smack never came. So there I sat, skipping over and over the same lyrics in my mind. It was, well.. depressing. And repetitive. I felt incredibly ineffective and helpless to do anything about any of it.
Desperate to shake myself out of it, I decided to try something new. Acupuncture. I had heard good things about it, and figured it couldn’t hurt. I am not what you might consider to be new-agey, or more accurately, I am not what you might consider to be Ancient Chinese-agey. But I was willing to try just about anything by that point. I just wanted to feel normal again.
I made the appointment and showed up feeling a little nervous. It was, in my mind, the most depressing time of day, the most depressing time of year. Dusk in early December. It was cold, and the gray light was turning to black. The building was on a dingy busy street. The office was dark, and the door was locked. I knocked and waited and knocked and waited and went downstairs to check the marquee to make sure I was at the right place and I was, so I went back and knocked and waited some more. I paced, and my footsteps echoed from the stone floor down the empty hallway. It was a desolate, creepy, dingy dark kind of an evening.
Finally a diminutive woman with warm brown skin and shiny black hair opened the door. She reached to shake my hand, and her small, warm grasp felt as though it contained tiny, delicate bird-bones. She led me to a dim room and sat me on a table. Windham Hill piano music played softly in the background, and the streetlights gradually grew brighter outside as the final rays of weak sunlight surrendered to blackness.
She asked a lot of questions. What did I eat? What was my energy level like? Why was I there? Did I have digestive problems? Circulation problems? Skin problems? She looked at my tongue, and told me it looked pretty good, but the center was swollen (what that means is beyond me). She took my pulse in three places. She told me my liver and spleen pulses were weak, but that could be because I had a baby a little over a year ago. She told me I should take fish oil supplements and vitamins.
Eventually she brought me to a warm, dark room, and told me to take off my shoes and socks and lie down. I shut my eyes, and she massaged some kind of oil into my calves and feet. I don’t know what it was, but it felt nice. She waved some kind of essential orange oil under my nose, and began placing the tiny little needles. They didn’t really hurt. They felt strangely good. For some reason, I especially liked the one she stuck at the top of my scalp. She placed a couple on each hand, each wrist, and each ankle and foot. I think she put one near both knees too. She did this thing where she barely touched my head. I could feel her hands moving ever so slowly towards my hair. Then she left the room and I laid on the table, alone in the dark, all stuck with acupuncture needles.
I have to admit, I felt a little odd. I tried to relax my mind, but in typical fashion, I began worrying about whether I was relaxing enough. I tried to prevent myself from peeking at the needles, but my curiosity eventually won that wrestling match and pinned my resolve to the mat. I opened my eyes. Yep, little needles stuck in my hands. There they were. I looked at the clock and worried about how long it was taking, and that we needed to be at a family function, and what if my husband was mad? Then I just sat there.
It is nice to just sit there. People don’t just sit there enough. I have tried meditating, and stopped trying, because I always felt like a loser busybody because I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. I felt like a meditating failure, and then instead of trying to relax, I worried that there was something wrong with me. Why can’t I just relax? Why can’t I slow down my thoughts? Why do I always feel like there is something wrong with me? But I think, the point is, to at least try to be quiet. So I tried to be quiet, and it felt nice.
The small, warm bird-hand lady came back into the room, and removed the needles from my flesh. She told me to lie down for 5 minutes to prevent lightheadedness. I laid there impatiently for about 90 seconds and then got up. I felt fine. I walked out to the lobby, and paid the bill.
I tried to decide if I felt any different. Maybe it’s like when you start to get over a bad cold. You don’t really notice when you start to feel better, until one day you realize that you don’t have a cold anymore. When I walked out to my car, the darkness seemed to have lost its oppressive quality. It seemed less scary. The lights were a little more welcoming. I wondered if the difference was the acupuncture, or the fact that I tend to fear the onset of darkness more than the actual darkness itself. I have an irrational and immense dislike for dusk in the fall and winter. I am not sure why, but the aversion is a powerful one. I feel the onset of darkness in the pit of my stomach, and it doesn’t go away until I acclimate to night-time.
I am not sure what to attribute it to, but I have to say I am feeling better. More like my old self. And that is a good thing. I stopped sighing so much. I am eating and sleeping again. My husband Jim stopped tiptoeing around me, and is back on my case for leaving towels on the floor, and I can’t say that I mind. I think I will give acupuncture another try, for good measure. If I get sick of slapping down my heard earned money for quiet time, I might try to figure out how to get more of it. And when I do, I will try to remember the answer might just lie more in providing myself the opportunity to quiet my mind, than in whether or not I succeed in silencing it. It’s not a lost cause if I fail to self-levitate for the love of Pete. I just want to feel better is all. And I think it worked.