“So how’s it going?” asked my doctor. I explained that I was having a major relapse of depression and nothing seemed to work to conquer it. “And if you could do something to change things, what would it be?” I talked about moving to Mexico, where I would live in my boat close to rural seaside villages and assimilate the minimalist ways of the locals. I explained about their clear uncomplicated values, their richness despite not even owning shoes at times, their ability to find joy in the moment so long as they can feed their children for the day and how I could still live there for less than it cost here. It is an environment where I know I can do some good serious writing. “And what’s holding you back?”
“Money” I replied. We both laughed. “Well maybe this will help.” He smiled and handed me the prescription in the following photo. Not only do I have a doctor with a sense of humour, but you can actually read his writing. Now there’s a keeper!
Lately I’ve had some well-meaning advise from friends on dealing with my clinical blues. I appreciate their concern but is not an affliction I choose nor one I embrace. I don’t want it. Get it? Misery is not something anyone reaches out for. And it is just not bad attitude. Nor is it an addiction that one clings to like a bottle or a needle. It is a chemical/electrical dysfunction of the brain. It can be a short-term episode or last a lifetime.
Some days, an hour can be an eternity and no-one willingly embraces the darkness, loneliness and hopelessness of uncontrollable, bottomless gloom. One friend accuses me of “having no balls.” But in fact, after enduring this affliction for most of my sixty-plus years without French-kissing a 12 gauge or stretching a rope, I’d like to think my fortitude is pretty damned good. If you won’t understand the courage it takes to openly write and talk about this very tangible yet heavily stigmatized affliction, I should simply tell you where to go; but I won’t. When I was a child, people who were diagnosed with cancer were often stigmatized and ostracized. They frequently lived out their days, or years, sequestered away. We finally decided that cancer was not contagious and perhaps that’s the problem. We all have our mental and emotional flaws and we fear how they may bob visibly to the surface. Hopefully we can grow beyond the fear of our own human frailties, accept each other for who we are and all work toward a higher self.
Another friend suggests keeping busy. Right. Good advice. No-one can match my frenzied creative bursts which have often earned me a reputation for being able to outwork anyone. I’ve written several books, including one about growing up with the nurture and nature factors of chronic depression. And I’ve got a whole damned boat to busy myself on, if there’s enough money for supplies. One tube of marine sealant now costs $30. and the price of things like a small plank of marine-grade wood nearly requires a third mortgage. Boatt is now spelled with two t’s: Break Out Another Ten Thousand. Fortunately elbow grease is still free.
One of the best descriptions of clinical depression is a lack of vitality. Truly, even a simple act can be challenging during an episode of depression. To motivate yourself to do anything requires a focus of willpower, while other inner demons are telling you what a useless, lazy bastard you’ve become. “Pull your socks up,” my old English dad used to demand. He was the one I inherited this horrid disposition from (He never did well with his own socks) and I’m content to have no children of my own to risk passing this on. I’m not complaining, just explaining.
I have taken up the challenge of being open about what is called manic depression or bi-polar disorder. If this good old blue-collared, thick-fingered dufus can overcome the stigma and talk openly then perhaps a fellow sufferer will find a bit of solace and others a little enlightenment. Modern medicine, as with most health issues, seems largely content to treat the symptoms with various prescriptions. No symptom, no problem right? Despite this being a major health issue in our culture it is often dismissively brushed under the carpet. There are other more trendy health issues to focus on. Plenty of creative people through history have had to endure this curse and what we wouldn’t give just to have a regular sine wave. It seems, all too often, to be the price of having a gift worth sharing. “Geez, you seem sensitive about this issue.” Yep! enough said.
This past weekend was hot and dry and lovely. A summer high weather system had moved on to the BC Coast and the Northwest wind blew steady and warm. It piped up during the night. I loved it but Jack seems to have lost his sea legs. Taking spray over the boat while it heeled and plunged is no longer his cup of tea and so we explored local haunts we’ve spent decades passing by. It was wonderful. I am assuming that my readers have access to Google Earth and can look up place names so I won’t elaborate on geography. The inside waters of the Southern West Coast are blessed with an archipelago of islands. In Canadian waters they are known as The Gulf Islands and in the US as The San Juans. Although many of these islands have fallen into private ownership, there are also many parks and it’s still anyone’s world up to the high tide mark.
The scenery is breath-taking, soothing, inspiring and enticing all at once.
Twice a day the tide floods and ebbs between the Strait of Georgia and the waters inside the passages of the Gulf Islands. Porlier Pass is a violently turbulent tidal passage dividing Galiano Island on the South from Valdez Island on the top side. Galiano is sparsely populated, Valdez is essentially uninhabited. Anchored in a tiny bight out of the swirling current, I took Jack ashore on Valdez at first light to watch the world come to life in mid-summer. I sit on Vernaci Point with a view of the entire Southern Straight of Georgia, also known now as the Salish Sea. Out past the surging waves and swirling tide, a bell buoy clangs steadily, like a rural Mexican church calling the devout to morning prayer. Sea birds wheel and cry. Eight eagles screech their dominion over the world before gliding down to feast again on a seal carcass on the beach. They are joined with a dozen vultures and the ever-belligerent crows
Seals paddle effortlessly in the roaring clear water. Often Orcas hunt both seal and salmon here. I watch as the light brightens and hardens, the wind warms and increases, the air fills with the scent of dry arbutus leaves, fir cones, juniper and grass. It all mingles with the tang of the sea, an aroma therapy for any weary soul. If only it could be bottled and sold as “Gulf Island Breeze.”
I found the desiccated remains of two Bald Eagles. Both lay on their backs deep in the long dry grass as if placed there deliberately. They were a considerable distance apart and clearly their souls had flown off at much different times. After a night’s contemplation, and the good omen of eight eagles in one place, I left a treasured brass piece from the boat and burned some feathers in respectful exchange for a skull and some feathers. It is how I acknowledge my respect for this powerful gift from the maker as well as my need to live in harmony with my world. I know little of native culture and hope that my efforts are adequate. The tide was easing and beginning to shift from flood to ebb. It was time to weigh anchor and sneak out between the rocks in that short time available to transit the pass safely.
On the evening before, I watched the setting sun’s light relinquish it’s grip on the purple loom of Mount Baker across the strait. The distant shore lights and then the stars began to glitter. Now in consideration of Jack’s angst we move north to the top end of Valdez Island, coasting on the last of the favourable flood through Gabriola Pass and into Dog Fish Bay, tucked inside Kendrick Island. Here, over a beautiful sandstone reef one can see most of the Southern Strait in one single, breath-taking panoramic sweep. Due north is a view up Howe Sound. In the snow-crowned mountains beyond, a massive thunderstorm illuminates the world. Ragged clouds exchange billions of volts in flashes of orange and pink light. Arcing our view a little further south the lights of Vancouver glitter and pulse around it’s harbour and up the surrounding mountains. Then a massive fireworks display begins over there and for a few minutes, breath-taking colours and patterns boil in the sky over the heart of the twenty-three mile distant city. All the while, further to the south, as if on a continuous string, the landing lights of aircraft descend and rise from the airport. The whole view is an indelible image. Nearby the tide bubbles and murmurs in the dark as seals hauled out on a nearby reef squabble and mew. The indelible experience is preserved with the regular swilling of good rough red warm wine straight from the bottle. Sleep comes long and sweet and deep.
On the tip of Valdez behind the bay sits the remains of an abandoned homestead taken over by the province of BC as a Provincial Park. I recall a time when sheep foraged along the ocean’s edge. Now the farm, it’s orchard, garden, meadows and paddocks are slowly returning to the forest which from which all was so laboriously carved. The old farmhouse, small and stout, is beginning to show signs of it’s abandonment. Finally someone has broken in but respectfully left everything untouched and then had re-secured the locks. I follow suit. After all these years of passing by I reason there will be the ubiquitous goon who will eventually do serious and permanent damage. I see this little house as a shrine and I want a sense of how life here must have been.
Inside, the tiny building is still sound and free of moisture damage. There has been no vandalism, everything seems just as it was when the last occupant left for the last time.
The latest date on a stack of newspapers was November, 2001, fifteen years ago. I found a framed teaching certificate belonging to someone named Don Wardill. It was dated 1936, numbered 491 by the Education Department of British Columbia. There was a list of “Special Subjects, the ink now too faded to read. The walls were covered in water colours signed by the same man. They were primitive in style yet beautifully rendered and portrayed a long lust for, or perhaps experience of the South Pacific. I imagined a lonely man, painting his vibrant pictures by lantern light while a winter storm raged outside. I’ve no idea who he was, possibly he still lives and I’d love to learn anything I can. His spirit is still there and I imagined restoring the house and grounds to their former state of a working subsistence farm, where people managed to live in harmony with the world around them. I leave the house as it was found.
We need to retain some examples of how people lived contentedly without the buzz and flash of electrons and computers and glittering facades. Giga this and mega that and Armageddon is eminent every time the internet crashes. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, the planet provides our needs. The rest is up to us.
“ This country was a lot better off when the Indians were running it.”
…Vine Deloria jr.