The Dangers of Riding Roller-coasters and Listening to Sad Music … Not Necessarily at the Same Time.

Yes, yes, I know. A blog is usually meant to be kept up on a more frequent basis. I am slacking. I’m a slacker. Guilty as pegged. I offer no excuses. None are required. It happens. That’s it. Downish week = no bloggishness. (..yeah, I don’t think those words are in the dictionary either and no, they’re not grammatically correct, so those of you with little inner Grammar Nazis can just cool down).

It’s been a low week. By that, I don’t mean I’ve been sitting on the floor, or that the weather air pressure is unpleasant, or that we’ve had tire problems with our van, or that my blood pressure is down, …. although it is, actually, but that’s normal for me. I rather enjoy it sometimes when it scares the bejeezoos out of nurses and new interns who have never met me before. I have to fight to keep a straight face while they try to take a reading and their expressions go from “Gee, that’s funny, this pressure cuff must be acting up” to “Something must be wrong with my stethoscope”, until they begin to worry and ask me if I feel alright, do I want to lay down and the look of panic creeps into their eyes. That’s when I feel sorry for them and admit that I usually have a very low BP reading and they shouldn’t be concerned. My all-time favorite response was from a family doctor who tried to take my pressure and when she had a hard time finding my wrist pulse, simply looked up at me and calmly said, “My God, …you’re dead.” But enough of that, getting back on track about being low…..

A large part of being an artist, a musician, a writer, or anyone who ‘creates’ is going through their days, their weeks and months, in cycles of ups and downs, not unlike being on a roller-coaster. For many creative folks, life is full of periods where they just seem to have energy to spare: their inner fire is blazing and their minds are firing on all thrusters, they can hardly contain their creative outflow, there’s just so much inside them bursting them at the seams. Then, for some reason completely unknown to men of science and spiritualism, the fires slowly die down to embers, the thrusters cool off, the outflow slows to a trickle and they just become empty inside. There’s no one singular reason for the change. It can happen over the span of a few days or  it can happen suddenly. Just like being on a roller-coaster: you get in at the gate, sit back and start out slowly up the long first hill until you reach what seems like the highest point you could ever get to. Then, before you can have a real good chance to look at all you can see from up there, *WHOOOOOOO NELLY!*, down you go, zooming to the bottom and caroming around the bend in a twist-turn-barrel-roll that you never saw coming, all of which lasts only a fraction of time compared to the first nice smooth long hill that took you to that great view and… oh hey.. you just realized you’ve slowed down and have started up another nice little hill again! *Whew!* Now you can relax and enjoy the next view from the toooOOOOPP!! *AAAHHHH!!!* and down you go again. Yup. Roller-coasters are great fun, aren’t they? I used to love going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and our city’s local summer fair, riding the crazy carnival rides and getting my bones jarred nicely. Canada’s Wonderland was the best place for roller-coasters too. At one time they had the record for the longest wooden coaster in North America – the “Mind Buster”. Ah yes, those were the days, when roller-coasters were a great way to enjoy a fun day in the summer, not something used to describe your life. But there’s a big difference between the two, and it’s not just in the literal sense.

The ups and downs on a roller-coaster usually go like this: the Slow Ride Up comes first, where it’s the nice pleasant “catch your breath and relax” time to get ready for the next crazy toss-you-around-in-your-seat down time coming. Then you reach the top, balance precariously for a few seconds as you look your doom in the eye before you take the Fast Ride Down, plummeting into the next dimension screaming your head off, followed by the welcome sudden slow-down to let you get your lungs back inside your ribs before you go off again.  On a rollercoaster people usually enjoy the slow up times as the quiet times before the chaos. On the other hand, the ups and down of a creative person’s life usually go the exact opposite way: the Fast Ride Down is first, when you’re frantically creating everything you can get your mind/hands/head on, around, or into as fast as you can, churning ideas out like a meat grinder on speed, filling up your workshop/desk/studio with projects until it’s like a minefield and you can’t move without hopscotching over things. Then you reach the bottom of the can of RedBull and your wings fall off and then you find yourself at the lowest point of the roller-coaster and you’re waiting to take the Slow Ride Up, where you slump like a blob on the sofa, drained of energy, listless and demotivated for days, until you near the top and something you see/ hear/ smell/ taste/ touch/ etc., suddenly lights a tiny spark inside you, setting off a chain reaction like a long line of fuse on a keg of dynamite, and then you’ve reached the top of that big hill and *boom*! You’re set on fire again and off you go. For creative people, it’s the fast ride down that they wait for, bouncing in their seat like over-eager kids when they see that peak at the top coming towards them. And when they hit the bottom and the brakes kick in and slow them down they sink down in their seats and get impatient and grumbly.

Riding roller-coasters (or whatever your favorite ride might be) can be pretty fun. The great thing about them is that when you feel your teeth starting to get a bit loose in your head you can just get off. The not-so-great thing about roller-coasterish life cycles is you can’t get off. You have to learn how to cope with those times when the ride isn’t fun anymore. You have to hang on and ride them out until the worst part of the ride is past and it gets better again, even though you know it may eventually come back around to that same point again later. The trick is to remind yourself that you can get through it. And after you’ve done it once, it gets a little easier the next time, and the next, and the next, when you can look back and say to yourself, “Now I remember what worked last time and what didn’t. I know what to do this time, and I know what to try differently next time”.

Dealing with depression is very much the same as riding that roller-coaster, and everyone’s coaster is different: some are longer and straighter than others, some have more high hills and clean straight ups and downs, some have lots of twists and barrel turns, some go through tunnels, some hang upside down for a while. Everyone has a different designer for their own personal Not-So-Fun Park. For some people who face battles in this war of the mind, the cycles of their roller-coaster take longer to go through, for others it’s a quick trip from start to repeat. Sometimes medication makes a difference, sometimes therapy does, and sometimes both make things easier. Everyone copes in their own way. I’m still working on finding out the best way for me to cope with my own little “Mind Buster”. Like most of the working parts in my life, it has a few bugs to work out of the system, there’s loose wheels, bolts that need tightening, worn brakes and rusty rails, but it’s a work in progress and I know it will take time.

So this week was one of those ‘down’ runs.  I hit the lowest point on the track and it was a rough go. I seemed to have lost my knack, my inner spark, my gumption, for writing. The words were just gone from my head. I couldn’t find them. I don’t know where they disappear to when they go away like that. They somehow manage to open a little crack up somewhere and sneak out, flying off to hide someplace, probably no too far away, where they can still watch me as I search for them, no doubt snickering to themselves about how clever they are and how simple I am that I’d never think of looking for them in their brilliant hidey hole. While I was stumbling around wordless, it just so happened that my old archenemy Self-loathing came to visit and brought her cousin Despondency with her, and in the course of their barging in, my Joy slipped out the door and left. So the two crones and I spent the better part of the week sitting in the living room doing online jigsaw puzzles, eating ice cream (which is all gone now, by the way… all of it… all three kinds that used to be in my freezer) and listening to sad music that made us sob continually for three days straight. (Ah, there it is. I bet you were just waiting to see where that ‘Listening to Sad Music’ was going to come into the blog, weren’t you?)

This whole pity-party scenario is probably the absolute worst thing to do when you’re on the down run of the depression roller-coaster. I know it, and yet I do it all the time. Every time I hit one of these low points.  Every time.  I can almost recognize them when they start to loom up ahead now. I’m getting better at seeing further down the track. Yet I still give in, still give up and allow the negative thoughts, the mean voices in my head, to bully and beat me up, knock me down and trample on me. I let it happen. I do it to myself. It’s the hardest thing to explain to anyone who’s never experienced it. I mean, how do you explain that your brain is trying to kill you but you don’t want to let it? Man, that sounds so crazy, doesn’t it? Yeah. That’s why we don’t talk about it much… or at all. We’re afraid of being considered ‘crazy’, of being locked up ‘for our own safety’, and being judged ‘insane’ or ‘weird’ because some days we struggle against inner demons that are bullies. It’s no different than how others struggle against their own inner demons of alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, gaming, spending, or whatever addiction a person might have. Depression may not be an addiction, but it’s certainly a demon that lives inside our head. It torments and taunts, it jabs and pokes and prods, whispers and screams, lies and deceives. And when it rears its ugly head, the last thing I should be doing is sitting down in the roller-coaster seat beside it and running my Youtube “World’s Saddest Piano/Violin Songs” playlist. That is just a really bad choice of action. Unfortunately I seemed to have been making a week out of bad choices of action. The playlist has doubled in size and I think my demon threw up in my shoe.

But hey! The sunny side of the street is that after two days of good crying jags, two migraines, a bag of cookies, and the remainders of three cartons of ice cream, I’ve at least found those damn words again and duct taped the crack they used to make their great escape. I finally wrote some more today, for the first time in three days, and although the words may have been grim and forlorn, they were at least still works of art to me. They flowed, I felt them, like a bloodletting to ease the pressure, like a wound that needed to be flushed out. I’ve got some of the hurt out of my heart, I’ve wrung some of the ache out of my soul and it feels lighter now. There’s still ache left in there, still hurt lurking in the depths, but I know it will ebb in time. I’m slowly climbing up that hill and the top will come into sight soon. When it does, and I known it will, I’ll be ready for the rush of exhilaration that will be mine to revel in. Best of all, I know I’ll find my Joy waiting for me again.

“…and I know sometimes you cannot breathe deeply, and the night sky is no home, and that you are down to your last two percent, but nothing is infinite, not even loss. You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day, you are going to find yourself again.” – Finn Butler

PS. Yes, those naughty pesky words got rounded up and you’ll find some of them in six new poems under the poetry pages, including “Days of Sorrow” as posted below. 🙂


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