Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yin, Yang & Other Necessities

Happiness. Glee. Gosh, I could drone on for hours about the thousands of simple joys in my life that truly make me giddy. Narrowing down to one, consistent thought proved challenging for me.

But, I did it.

But, before I go there, I must go here.

I believe, that in order to appreciate the full beauty of the oak tree, I must experience its dichotomies and sweeping opposites. In winter, the brazen, dark, hard edges of its leafless branches, boldly reach to the charcoal-infused sky. In late spring, its leaf-laden branches create poetic stanzas with their natural rustling and shaking. Yin and Yang.

I believe the same principal applies to happiness. Sadness, the polar opposite, provides a launch pad from which to experience joy. Boy Howdy do I have a launch pad.

Depression descended into my life years ago. Looking back, my struggle probably started in my late teens. Those first years of flailing, crushing sadness walloped me. I didn't know what was wrong or how to make it stop. I cried. I believe anxiety replaced the blood that was supposed to course through my body. Depression ate away at me, replacing vigor and strength with fragility and a belief that I was not worthy. I devastated so easily; the doubt and dark sadness became pinnacle to many episodes of my life. Self confidence? NONE. And the people in my life? Well, many had no idea. I was a master of disguise, secretly battling the demons. Thankfully, I realized my problem and sought help. Thankfully, good therapists and wonderful antidepressants exist in this world.

It is through THAT experience which I experience joy. And of the myriad of events, people and natural beauties that bring me pure, explicit happiness, perhaps one of my paramount happy-makers is the northern beaches of Lake Michigan.

Soulful, raw, beautiful and epic in its ability to calm me, charge my battery, make me happy and whole, even when I'm empty. A constant companion through my years, always holding onto happiness, especially when I could not. Even in the deepest despondence of depression, like a true friend, Lake Michigan soothed. And smiled. Or threw a crashing temper tantrum on my behalf. Simultaneously mimicking my internal struggle and showing me it was ok. And then I'd smile.

I vividly remember one particular August visit. My dear, dear friend and I went for a weekend. Upon arrival, I dashed from the car and ran to the lake. "Hello, Lake! How are you?" I screamed to the vibrant blues, turquoises tipped with white. "Have you missed me?!?!?!?"

I'm sure I saw her nod in reply.

And then I wrote this:

That day was chilly, even by Up North standards. Gray clouds and 66 degrees. The children still swam, their heads bobbing in the turbulent waves. Swimming on a cold summer day is a hardy, essential, Yankee right-of-passage (one in which I proudly partook repeatedly). The scene, ensconced in my memories, is so familiar: white sand, an occasional sea gull, bent dune grass and the geographical slant of the dry land slowly converting to water. Broken pieces of children's laughter bouncing to shore over the waves. Flags taught, saluting the wind. People in the distance, through the grasses, headed into homes. Natural, native, primitive. I was full. And happy.

Then, I walked back to our bed and breakfast. Moments later, I sat on the cozy front porch, removed from the raw song of Lake Michigan. Cars, stores, shops, voices all creating a sweet, syncopated commotion. Just one half mile from the tranquil, natural cocoon of the beach. A jarring juxtaposition of sounds. Not unlike most of life, very unique things occurring simultaneously, in stride and right next door.

Those unique dichotomies exist within me, always. Happy precedes sad and sad precedes happy. Both necessary pieces coexisting to create the full, raw, weighted, joyful picture. Yin and Yang.

Momalom's FiveforTen Part 2: Happiness. (To find out more about this great movement, go here.)


MaFerron said...

there is SO much that I love about this piece. I love how Lake Michigan threw tantrums for you :)
what an image! How amazing that you captured the feeling of happiness...that is a tough thing to do. I loved reading this piece and will return to it often. thank you

Amber said...

Wow. Powerful.

I, too, am a survivor of depression. (That's how I like to look at it.) And, like you, I feel even better about life because of it.

Cheryl said...

You just brought back a great memory of a time I spent a week on Cape Cod, when I was in my early 20s. When, yes, I was really happy..

Thank you for sharing your time w/ depression and how it's allowed you to appreciate the happy times even more.

Shameless Agitator said...

A few years ago, I did a personal, intensive study of the shadow, as described by Carl Jung. One of the things that stuck with me was the concept of paradox and the tension of the opposites. It's about moving from "either/or" to "and."

Thank you for sharing your story. I love the way you joyfully greeted the lake, and how she greeted you back!

You are right. Without the darkness, how can we truly appreciate the light...

duffdan said...

Denise you have a gift. Never stop writing. Ever.

Anonymous said...

What a great piece. I have struggled with depression for most of my life and for me the happiness was rather manic so for me the Yin and Yang....didn't really work out. But I still appreciate what you are saying.

I love your description of Lake Michigan. Through my twenties I also had a place I went and it always brought me piece. There is one section of the Seawall in Vancouver, BC, a place called Siwash Rock. It was my perfect place. I used to walk there most nights and recharge.

Think I should take a walk there this weekend!

Theta Mom said...

Powerful words - powerful piece. You are such an amazing writer!

So glad that you have found that feeling of happiness - and now you can truly appreciate "the light."

Kristen @ Motherese said...

Hi Denise - This is my first visit here and I am thrilled to have found you, your voice, and this piece. The details you chose to describe your depression - especially the verbs - personalized your experience for me, and made your description of your relationship to the lake all the more powerful. This may have been your Five for Ten entry for happiness, but it resonated with courage as well. Thank you for sharing this essay!