Life in grayscale

I open my eyes to the light of a new day, blinking at the aspens and background of sky outside my window. Gray.

I stand on the shore at the edge of Superior’s waters, eyes blurring at the miles and miles of steely waves. Gray.

I drive home in a sort of absence, mind numbed by a wintry earth and sky that blend into a monochromatic blankness. Gray.

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I’ve been avoiding writing this post—or any post—for quite a while. Perhaps I’ve been waiting for something better, something more exciting to jump out of the recesses of my mind and onto my waiting page. Some way to impressively start another year of blog writing. But days turn to weeks, and nothing happens. I watch the slow drip of honey fall from my spoon to the bottom of my teacup, willing some sort of idea, some feeling to come. Nothing. I walk through a hoarfrosted world, breathing the damp air and watching the mist wisp by trees, willing that flicker of inspiration to appear. Nothing. Not even a cohesive thought. I sit down to write, staring at a blank page that I feel I no longer have the words to fill. Nothing.

Gray. And nothing. Not the way I would have hoped to start a new year.

Somewhere between New Year’s and today the colors went muted, and my world has been playing in grayscale. It’s not a strange sensation to me, not really. I’ve had some form of mental health issues for probably most of my life, changing forms from year to year, from my childhood ‘shyness’ in groups to last year’s panic attacks and onto this year’s gray. Sometimes the flip-flopping seems logical: the anxiety reaches such heights my body begins to numb itself in protest, or I start a medication that can make things worse for a while. But a lot of the time, mental illness isn’t logical. There aren’t specific causes you can ascribe to an episode. It just comes and goes like the morning mist. It is what it is.

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But this time, things are a little better. Even in the gray, there’s an outline of sun behind the clouds. Call it reconciliation, call it acceptance. It’s the voice that tells me that in this moment, this is how things are, and this moment is desolately beautiful.

My word for last year was see, a nod to awareness and mindfulness. I’m not fully enlightened on the concept, but last year’s journey did breathe into me this sense of acceptance that has made life–even the grayest moments–just a little easier. Like when I got out of bed at some strange hour of the night last week, restless with the weird thoughts anxiety gives you, and really noticed for the first time just how wonderful soft carpet feels under sore feet. Sure, it was a small thing. Just carpet. The anxious thoughts didn’t evaporate. But still, in that moment, feeling the weight of my feet pressing down on the floor, I felt grateful. No huge breakthrough. Just grateful. It was a muted form of gratefulness, sure, but grateful nonetheless. And for that night, thinking about how grateful I was for our house, for its soft, cozy carpet, I was finally able to fall asleep.

In writing this, I’m not saying that mental illness is okay or I’m accepting it as how my life is supposed to be; it isn’t. However, for many years I was plagued by this sort of guilt that accompanied every episode, like I couldn’t believe this was happening again and was ready to exhaust myself trying everything I could to make it go away as quickly as I could. Needless to say, that worked really well at making things worse.

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However, it was through my word see that I began to see the value in embracing the present moment, however lackluster it may be. It was through my word that I began to understand that grasping for improvement isn’t always the best thing. It was through my word that I learned the value in less. Less striving, less lamenting, less wishing things could get better immediately, less try-these-five-tactics-for-a-happier-you-in-thirty-days. It was through my word that I began more of the right things: more stillness, more presence, more grace, more patience, more hugs, more jokes.

And so here I am in winter’s familiar gray, only this time with a little less worry and a little more acceptance. A little less impatience and a little more observance. A little less guilt over feeling this way and a little more grace to give myself the time and things I need to make it through. Perhaps I don’t know where my life is going, whether I should go back to school, how I’m going to continue writing with no inspiration, if I’ll be free from this anxiety someday, if this darn sun is ever going to show its face. Perhaps it’s all muddled in a sea of gray. But I’m still here. I’m alive, safe in the quiet woods, and have even written something that sort of looks like a blog post. It could be worse.

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In case you were wondering, my new word for the year is unconventional, certainly breaking the rule of picking a quality you’d like to grow in. But in a sense it’s the logical conclusion of last year’s word, for instead of picking something I already have pre-conceived ideas about, this year’s theme is one of observation and discovery. I chose the word wolves for this year partly because of one of my favorite songs and partly because of a recurring dream I’ve been having.

In the dream, I’m walking along a wintry scene, sometimes a curving road and sometimes the forest, and there in the outer edges of my sight is a gray wolf, standing peacefully. Watching me. I go to follow it, each time getting a little closer, but the dream ends before I can discover where it’s leading me.

It’s a little more mystical than I usually get, but ever since doing a Word of the Year I’ve liked the idea of choosing a word that’s a mystery, and embarking on a year of discovery where I have pretty much no idea where it will take me. I have no end goal: I’ll watch and learn whatever it is I need to.

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And so I begin 2018, with no breakthroughs or fireworks or fanfare, just a wanderer traveling through a sometimes-bleak world and onto an unknown destination. And I accept that.

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