Sunday, October 26, 2014

Stay, dear heart.

Two days ago, I posted a sudden thought to an online forum that I participate in: "Today, I realize, is what I'm calling a 'stay day.' I just invented this term while cooking some broccoli and garlic. Made myself arise from the 'despair chair' (where I can get, and remain, stuck and sinking...). Looked at my two beloved cats and thought, 'Stay alive for them.' Then more stays arrived: 'Stay nourished ... Stay hydrated ... Stay on your feet ... Stay in the kitchen and cook ... Stay in touch with someone -- anyone ... Stay in tune with your music (James Taylor, Cat Stevens, etc.) ...' So. Today's a 'stay day.' One breath at a time."

Stay here ... stay now. It's a mantra that I recite when desperation urges escape. Stay here ... stay now. Stay. 

Stays are fasteners; stays bind something with something else. 

There are stays ... and there are mainstays. They're the stays that challenge us to remain in the world no matter how urgently we feel driven to leave it. I suspect that our mainstays revolve around our relations; mine certainly do. My mainstays are my cats, my cherished friends and family, the memory of my honoured ancestors and mentors ... and the young ones in my life who light up and run to me whenever we meet. I don't have children of my own, but these little ones may as well be -- It takes a village, after all, and how does my choice to stay influence their souls? How might my presence help them to stay in the world? We are irrevokably bound by every bond we create with other beings ... and eventually death will arrive in one form or another ... but our choice to remain alive helps to ensure that someone else will also choose to stay. Our love is a tangible force; our choice to be is a source of sustenance to someone -- we don't always know whom, but the force of our choice is a link in a chain, a hand reaching out, a voice urging presence, a pull toward the heart. 

There was a huge response to the "stay" post. Amazing how something so simple can galvanize other people to stay, too ... Major depression, for some reason, lures us to leave the world ... I wonder if it's the fundamental exhaustion and loss of vitality of this illness that is so deadly to our remaining present. There's a mystery at the core of major depression that began to reveal itself to me when I was sixteen and found an article written by psychologist John Welwood, called "Depression as a Loss of Heart." I'd not, up to that moment, related my own experience to depression; I just thought I was another lazy, useless teenager who was constantly being berated for being ... lazy, useless, and irresponsible; sleeping in too much and sleeping into the afternoon, sluffing through the days like so many teens do (Now we understand more about how much havoc the hormonal changes of adolescence cause to the entire person -- including that persistent need for sleep, sleep, and more sleep...).

Now I understand the persistent loss of vitality as a chief marker of major depression. Andrew Solomon, who wrote The Noonday Demon, has said that "the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality." YES! -- everything in me cried when I heard him speak those words. He nailed the core symptom of depression! Here's a link to his TED Talk, "Depression: The Secret We Share": 

Now, two days later, one of my forum-friends told me that the members of a support group for bereaved parents have adopted the stay-practice! How beautiful that one little idea, popping up from my own choice to stay for my cats, has been taken up by others. There's another stay for me ... and now, for so many more! Depression, as Andrew Solomon says, is a secret that we share ... and stays are a sacred practice that we can share too. I imagine hands reaching out and grasping one another ... taking hold ... fingers interlacing ... warmth seeping from palm to palm ... the musculature of bondedness squeezing an invitation from pulse to pulse ... 

The stays that my online friends shared range the gamut of goodness and relation. Here are some of them (and a few more of my own) ... 

Housecleaning (!)
One's children and grandchildren
Husbands, wives, beloveds
Colour and art
Creative acts like knitting and sewing
Beloved animals
Kayaking and canoeing
Being needed
Laughter, humour, jokes
Playing a musical instrument
Cookies (!)
Best friends
The scents of love
Skills and gifts shared in the world
Helping others
Honouring those whose pain left them so bereft that they couldn't stay
Literature and poetry
The knowledge of death -- being alive is so precious

Reader ... what are your stays?

Stay, dear heart. Fasten to love. Hold on.