One of the pieces of advice we often receive about being in a depressed state is to spend time outside. I find it less annoying than most advice because it is sometimes doable for me, even if it’s only relocating my dark cloud to the patio for a little while. The different visual and tactile stimuli are therapeutic, though it might not feel that way at the time. If I can force myself out somewhere it helps minimize the length of a dip or keep a heavy episode from getting worse.
What people don’t realize, though, is how much it hurts. How much beauty hurts when you’re depressed. It hurts because you’re seeing it and yet cut off from it. It hurts because the pleasurable touch of a soft breeze reminds you of how much time you spend away from it. And if you’re lucky, if being outdoors or in beautiful surroundings lifts your spirits on that day, that hurts because a part of you is reminding yourself that it won’t last.
I’m not saying it isn’t worth that pain; for me it’s worth it. Beauty in all its forms is essential to my spirit, and the pain of not being able to meet it can be transformed into a determination to hold on and work toward the days when we have our joyous reunions.
I used to live in a house with several glorious rosebushes. Now, my method of gardening consists of planting something and leaving the rest in Darwin’s hands, but I suppose the climate is so ideal for them that they survived despite my neglect. I made an effort to go and look at them even when I felt really down, because they had come to mean something to me.
You see, roses are all about process. A rose bush at any given time has buds, newly blooming flowers, full-blown roses, wilting roses, and rose-hips in the making. I used the roses to reassure myself that the world was still active and vital around me; that things would bud and bloom and die all on their own. It comforted me to know that my mental illness didn’t have the power to stop the cycle.
Visiting the roses hurt, of course. In addition to the pain of their beauty tapping dully against me, I felt pain about my own inability to appreciate them properly. Sometimes I talked to them, either silently or out loud. “I’m sorry I can only partially see you,” I would say. “You are so fantastic, you deserve to have your beauty travel straight into me. I’m sorry this gray thing is separating us for a while, but I haven’t forgotten you.” It pleased me (as much as I could be pleased) to acknowledge them; to send them a sort of postcard, and to end it with the ghost of a hopeful “I’ll see you soon.”
Apologies like this one are not about putting myself down; they are a way of expressing truth and honest regret. It’s all right for me to feel regret about the losses involved in my condition, as long as I don’t let that regret get contaminated by self-pity or shame.
Roses are symbolic of these thoughts to me now, but this idea applies to many things in my life. More than anything, it applies to you. To human beings, those known to me and those still unknown. To the possibilities of love and communion of all kinds, possibilities that get blocked by my inability to see clearly and be fully present. So in closing, let me say: I am sorry I can only partially see you. You are all fantastic, and you deserve to have your beauty be seen. I regret the separation between us, and I hope I see you soon.