Cody and I spent more than fifteen years in Missoula shipbuilding. We crafted for ourselves an ocean liner, a support vessel comprised of great friends and known passageways. With each passing year the big storms were easier to weather because of how sturdy our craft had become. We did not have to think about navigating the day to day because everything was known.
In 2014 everything we knew was put to the test when I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Our support system, our battleship, kept us afloat. We are forever grateful beyond words to our dear friends and family who lifted us up during that particular storm and kept us above the swirling morass of those black seas.
What most people do not know is that there was a darker, more insidious beast lying in wait, just beneath the surface. In the past I have been pretty open about my depression. What I have hidden away, glossed over, is exactly how bad it got before Cody and I made the choice to abandon ship. I reached a point where what I needed most was not a battleship but rather a life raft.
I was reading a thriller novel the moment I realized I was in real trouble. The signs had been there for some time. I did not put the pieces together clearly before the book. I had reached a point where I was tired of being tired. I was sick of being sick. I had lost interest in my house and yard. I stopped creating anything, no crafts, no stories, no jars of jam. My anxiety about returning to work on Mondays was crippling me by Saturday afternoons.
I could not sleep. I just read and read and read. I tried to escape into books. I was willing time to pass, but to what end? The book I was reading when I realized that I was in crisis was a thriller by Lee Child, an author I had long considered one of my favorites. In this book the hero (almost an anti-hero really but that is neither here nor there) uncovers an assisted suicide scam. The clue that is the crux of this discovery is this nefarious company’s description of one of their “options.”
The bad guys describe a means of death wherein the client will be placed in a very specific car in a sealed garage, and with the car running, asphyxiate. Our hero foils the plot by knowing that the car mentioned, and all modern cars, have a failsafe type of engine system whereby it is impossible to commit suicide via the previously tried and true car/garage/asphyxiation system.
As the book I was reading culminated in the requisite battle of good versus evil I grew increasingly distressed. I realized pretty quickly that this new anxiety was coming from what I had just read. I took to the internet and swam the vast sea of information. I dove and dove for more data. When I finally surfaced the pearl of knowledge that I came up with was this . . .the book was right. It is impossible to kill yourself by running your modern car in a garage.
Imagine my surprise to find that I was devastated. I was left without a plan. Without really ever making an active decision I had floated so far away from center that I was now not just waiting for an end, but planning for it. With this new realization about what I had long assumed would be my own endgame removed from the options list, I was without recourse or relief. My depression that had been a storm cloud, grew into a wild torrent.
I could not breathe. There was no air in my space. Something had to give and that something needed to be big. The thing I needed was, as I said before, a life boat. Fortunately for me, and I do recognize how unbelievably lucky I am in this, when I began building my support system, back when I was engaged in that kind of active ship building, I stared with the strongest and most incredible materials. Cody, the heart and spine of my battleship was there to support me.
I have an unending appreciation for the horrors of mental illness. There are so many people who suffer alone without access to real help. I was one of the very lucky ones. Cody and I were able to work together to navigate a very rocky shore. This is a long road but for my purposes here I am streamlining our process and jumping ahead here toward the finale. Among the big decisions that we needed to make, was what action we wanted to take to combat this increasingly tumultuous situation.
To begin with, there had to be careful consideration of what we wanted to do with ourselves, long term. Where did we want to be? This was at the heart of the extended and arduous decision to jump ship. You know what happened at the end of that process. We sold our house and headed out on our own journey of discovery to find ourselves and make a new home and life. One that we craft with an eye toward longevity and sustainability.
Our success at this venture remains to be seen. I am so very grateful for the continued support of our friends and family. As difficult as this has been I can tell that the winds are changing though. Yesterday was Halloween. This, in the past, has been a big deal for us. It was not a good day.
2017 is the first year in twenty-eight years that I have not made anyone a Halloween costume. After some research, I discovered that our community should not expect any trick or treaters. This year we were also without our stalwart group of Halloween friends to help us hand out candy and make fun of terrible films (missing Salina, Jay, John and James terribly). And to add just the worst kind of button on the day, Cody and I went to a new place for lunch and there was an actual large moth in my food . . . we walked out.
Sounds depressing, right? Well, it was. This is like twenty thousand leagues under depressing. It was an epic low to be sure. Interestingly though, at no point in the entire day did I ever consider any sort of drastic self-harm. The ugly dark chasm that had been my go to for so long never even came into view. At no point in this just crap storm of a day was I completely overcome by the red tide.
Equally interesting to me was the observation that I never once thought that we should not have left. I did not have a second of regret for having embarked on our current adventure. That has to be a channel marker, a sign that we are in the right lane. Our new ship is much smaller than the old one. We have freed ourselves from the Lusitania and all its trappings in return for the Kon-Tiki, a balsa wood raft. We are going back to the plans and reconsidering a simpler, easier to navigate vessel. It is not yet under its own power, frankly, it is still (and will be for some time) under construction. It’s good here though. We are newly buoyant.