But Is It Worth It?

Last night, my husband and I were driving along, and he started to tell me something about the weather. What he actually said was “Today broke all kinds of records—” but I cut him off. I just lost my house to global climate change. I don’t need to be reminded that it’s real, that it’s bad, that it’s getting worse.

Right after the fire, everyone asked me whether we were afraid of rebuilding, and I glibly told them “I’m not worried about fire. There’s nothing left to burn.” At the time, I believed that. My brain needed something hopeful, something optimistic to hang onto. I don’t know if I believe that now.

Politics is getting ugly. The Republican party in California has admitted to putting up fake “ballot drop off” boxes, an attempt at election fraud. The man who sits in the White House is on television calling for racist militias to ensure that he doesn’t have to leave the White House, regardless of the election’s outcome. And that man has not just abandoned environmental regulation, he’s rewarded companies for exploiting what few resources the planet has left (including human beings). The planet is dying.

It will take years to rebuild our house, and in order to get the money to rebuild it, I have to list every single thing that was in the house that burned down. As I list, I can’t help but feel judged. I have too much of too many things. Why did I need sixty assorted candles? Or fifteen decks of tarot cards? Or a dozen music boxes? How could I conscience having all those things when so many people have so little? I will likely not replace those things, but why did I have them in the first place?

I suspect part of my despair is the fact that we’re renting a house is Saratoga, a wealthy Silicon Valley suburb. And when I say “wealthy,” I mean that the house we’re staying in is worth about $3.5 million, and is far from being the largest or nicest house in the neighborhood. As with most suburbs, there are two kinds of real estate: buildings where one buys things, and buildings where one stores and displays the things one has bought. The grounds of every house are manicured, managed, sculpted into a look that is “natural,” with very necessary quotation marks. I haven’t seen a dead animal, a fallen tree, an inconvenient rock formation anywhere. The people are lovely, but it’s like tv. It doesn’t feel real to me.

I’m starting to doubt the wisdom of rebuilding. I’m starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable, not just about rebuilding, but about life. I’m finding it difficult to find a way forward. I’m looking for reasons for, if not optimism, then at least some mental ease.

Was, Is, Shall Ever Be

There’s a part of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that rings very true for anyone who’s ever struggled with mental illness. Jonathan Strange has just drunk a tincture intended to make him insane, and wonders if he’ll know when it has taken effect.

After a few minutes he looked out of the window and into the Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo. People were walking up and down. The backs of their heads were hollowed out; their faces were nothing but thin masks at the front. Within each hollow a candle was burning. This was so plain to him now, that he wondered he had never noticed it before. 

Mental illness mocks time, making it impossible to remember what things were like before, or understand how to make things different in the future. Mental illness can feel like epiphany – like you’re only just figuring out the truth. It’s worse when it feels like a truth that everyone else has known all along. “Why didn’t I notice this before? How could I have missed this?”

I’m at the beginning of another depressive episode, and I can tell, not because I’m sad, but because I just don’t care about anything. But the worst part is that I can’t remember why certain things should be important, or what it felt like when they were important. And yet, I know that’s a bad sign. One of those things I’m supposed to look out for. The kind of thinking that, unaddressed, could lead to much, much worse down the road.

My newest doctor asked me why, with my history of illness, I didn’t get help long before. The question surprised me, because it seems so obvious. When you’re depressed, you can barely summon the energy to get out of bed, shower and get dressed – how would you possibly gather the strength to research a doctor, make an appointment and then go? And when you’re not depressed…well, there’s nothing to cure, is there?

Time will tell how this new doctor chooses to tackle the challenges that my last doctor wasn’t exactly up to. Funny, it’s hard to remember how things were when I was seeing that other doctor.