Summer months are always a time when I have to focus on keeping my mind clear and positive. Though it still proves to be difficult. They used to be unbearable, when June and July didn’t conjure up thoughts of barbecues and beers, beaches and warm nights out on the town — it brought forth a nostalgic abyss when the flowers wilted and mimicked the colour of death itself. When the taste disappeared from my mouth and scents soured and all feelings turned cold. Or worse, turned dark. All joy disintegrated.
Depression hits random, sometimes a wallop to the stomach, and other times like a knife to the heart. It physically hurts, and it’s emotionally crippling. When depression springs its darkness on you in a sudden and swirling maelstrom, it’s hard to stay afloat. It’s impossible to stay positive. Especially when you are traveling and depression hits — you can be on an emotional high having the adventure of a lifetime and in an instant it can feel like someone tore open your chest and ripped out your heart, then cracked open your skull and removed your brain, and threw both into a blender on purée.
That’s what it feels like, that unexplainable deep pain in your chest and stomach and head and you desperately want to know why you hurt so profoundly but can’t seem to find the answer. Your eyes well up with searing tears and you try your damnedest to hold them back. I still hold my tears back, not because I have some egotistical need to be more manly, no, it’s because the last time I cried was at my father’s funeral and my mother’s funeral.
And to cry still feels like it would bring about the end of the world again, which I’ve experienced twice in my life when I buried both of my parents.
It’s been years now since their deaths; my mother’s when I was in high school, and my father’s just after. The wound has been tended to, yet it still hasn’t mended. And I’m beginning to think it never will. After years of ignoring it, then fighting depression, then working on creating a more positive lifestyle, I still have moments when I question it all. When I have the thought creep into my head, “What is the point of this all?”
I try to shake it out of my head, those terrible thoughts, but sometimes you’re defenceless when it decides to consume you yet again. I think about my childhood and about the pain, and contrasting emotions of anger and hurt and yearning to have that piece of me back that was lost. I suddenly feel shattered into a million shards again, and though I scramble to put them back together as quick as possible before I start down the dark road again, it seems I never make myself whole each time it happens. Each time it breaks me again, I fear I lose another piece. And I fear one day I’ll lose my whole being just as my mother must have when she decided to take her own life after promising she would never leave me.
Then it wins, at least for a time, and the only thought in my head is, “What the fuck is the point in living?”
What is the damn purpose of all this pain? What is the purpose of all this struggle and stress and a life lived trying to just make it through the next day?
Mom and Pop are gone, and they’re never coming back, and as much as I live on the edge testing the limits of life-like I don’t fear death, the fact of my mortality rules me on many occasions and at times I’m tempted to just end it all. I stand on that waterfall and wonder if I should just hit the rocks instead of the water. End the pain and the fleeting memories of a loved and lost and dark childhood. I wish I could go back in time — even with all of the nights when I witnessed my drunken father beating my mother, and the times I attended drug meetings with my mother as a child, and the nights when my older brother was at friends houses and I had to listen to the screams of pain and the fury and the ever-present police lights. I’ve felt so alone for so long that I’d go back to that if I could, just to feel my fathers scruffy beard and smell of gasoline on his mechanic shirts, or watch a movie beside my mother and hear her call me “Bear” once again.
Writing that last part clouded my eyes yet again, and again I held them back because I don’t know if I can even cry anymore it’s been so long. There’s a knot currently in my throat as I write this on rough seas at the bottom of a sailboat, and it’s quite fitting to the emotions I’ve been experiencing lately. The ebb and flow of dark troughs and frothing crests of waves, the highs and lows of my emotions. Will the sea ever calm? Will I ever have smooth sailing? Will I ever be able to exists without the perilous maelstrom wanting to swallow me whole or wait for me to just let myself drown?
It’s also Father’s Day, close to mother’s birthday, a month from when my father died, and the anniversary of my mother’s suicide. Talk about a quadruple whammy. Each year I try to simply let the days float by like they have no more weight on my heart, to think happy thoughts and to remember better times. I’ve stopped my mind years ago from relating the color of lavender and daisies to the appearance of my father’s swollen body in the summer sun, or the smell of cigarettes and margaritas to the gases he released when I tried to pick up his stiff rubber body. I stopped thinking about the sound of cicadas as the song of my mother’s self-demise when a druggy drove by, the harbinger of death, and yelled out mockingly that “your momma’s dead! Bitch is done” muted by the screech of the cicadas.
Those relations used to haunt me to the point where I couldn’t bear looking at things that were similar colors and smells. I discovered the ability to actually enjoy life once again without associating everything with death. To love summer and see color and smell life once again. Even with all of that, my mind sometimes trails off into fragments of nostalgia and brings back those memories these summer months.
And it brings with it the depression, and traveling with this sudden barrage is a dangerous combination.
It’s a sad and strange and hollow feeling when I think back to my past and try to remember mom and dad and better memories. There were plenty of happy times, and then again it almost seems like my childhood, the good and the bad, and their memory, are all just an illusion. My parents aren’t here, did it all ever happen? Did they exist? Of course they did, but sometimes the need to feel them again and see them again makes it seem like an obscurity.
Just before leaving the United States to start the Rickshaw Run, I visited my uncle in the hospital. I tried to come up with all of the excuses not to visit him, because though I was told he’d recover, the thought of seeing yet another father figure on a gurney was terrifying. He’s been there through it all — from the moment my father (his brother) died, to dealing with funeral costs, to the tears consumed us as we picked out flowers and his plaque inscription, and the burden of carrying his coffin under the hot summer sun. And every day since.
He kept me afloat when I was lost at sea, so lost I thought about dying more than I thought about living.
At the hospital, he said to me, “I know you don’t love your father for many reason, because you were always alone as a young kid and was there through the terrible times, but know he loved you.”
“I never hated dad.” I said. And I meant it. But I always felt so much hurt in his and my mother’s memories. I’ve found joy in them these past few years, but it comes in different waves. That was also the first time I ever found out how my parents met. My mother years before had told me that they met when she was in a bar trying to buy marijuana and he was selling it, and I guess the rest was love. For a while. But finding out that it happened in a smokey dim bar that I had visited with them on separate occasions made me feel like I finally knew them a bit more. It made their memory seem a bit more real to me. And somehow my uncle telling me that my mother being pregnant with me kept my father out of life in jail was oddly warming.
As I began my recent job working with MedSailors for the summer as a photographer, there was a day when I became fully consumed by loneliness and dread. It occurred after my first week sailing, when it was not a job but just a sponsored trip. I had a blast learning to sail and exploring small ancient towns with new friends and being on the cusp of a new adventure for the next few months. But when we reached port, and I saw everyone off after goodbyes, something happened. I didn’t know at the time what it was, maybe the intense highs of getting to know people so well in just a week, maybe the lows of seeing them gone, maybe the alienating feeling of starting a job with people I didn’t know — whatever it was there was an intense moment of darkness.
I was afraid of starting this new gig and not doing a good enough job. I was afraid that the people I worked with knew each other already and I’d be left alone. I was afraid once again of failure. This latest journey is the longest time I’ve been away from the United States, going on 15 months. Previously, the longest trip abroad was 9 months. I’ve always hoped to travel longer, desiring to be that mythical “permanent nomad”. And here I was thinking of home and feeling lonely and wanting to tuck tale and run back to the United States.
I sat there the entire day consumed by this. I reached out to friends and told them about it, told them of the loneliness and dread and not knowing why. They reassured me it’d be fine, told me they were there for me. Maybe it was my first experience with culture shock? It helped, but this sudden barrage opened the door to those other dark thoughts. The ones I stopped locking away in the back of my mind and ignoring. The ones I finally faced after a near suicide. Or thought I faced them and beat, yet they were back.
For the past two weeks I’ve been running and gunning with the camera, always bouncing about from boat to boat trying to get to know people and capture their moments on these trips. I’ve been back on a high and enjoying the job. The people in the company, from the skippers to the managers, have all welcomed me and made the transition really easy. And I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be a photographer on a sailboat in the the Mediterranean. There are still lonely nights at sea, ones where my mind won’t quiet and the memories of Mom and Dad and my past keep me up at night. It could be these months, just June and July, that have refused to give me a solid night sleep. And each week, seeing off great people I’ve met during their trip can be emotionally taxing. And rewarding. Even with these highs and lows, and the haunting memories that June and July brings, I have found some answers.
I have found a few missing pieces.
Sometimes I feel, most often when depression hits me hard again, that I’ll always be alone. I’ll never be whole. Even that day at port when I doubted everything, I wondered what the purpose was of going on with life. What is the purpose of living? That’s what the darkness is, it is doubt and fear trying to make us all think that it’s terrible embrace is most comfortable and easy. That we should give up and there is no point in going on.
The thing is, this latest bout of depression showed me something new. It showed me that it is true we don’t have a purpose. I don’t think any of us were born with a purpose or destiny or what have you. I think we were all given this precious gift of life, and we have to decide what to do with it. We have to make a purpose for ourselves, because it won’t be given to us. And through all scenarios of pain and heartbreak, through all indecision whether to take the easy and safe road to nothingness or to take the road with more ups and downs, twists and turns, harrowing moments and risky situations that make you feel alive — the purpose is up to us. And it’s also up to us to make that purpose fulfilling enough to fight the haunting things that may never go away. To fill those missing pieces with better things than with worse.
I do believe someday that I’ll find the path to my whole self, and I’m sure there’ll be many more ups and downs and doubts — but it isn’t in high tailing it out of fear back to the United States. And I’ve found out that I’m truly never alone, that all of my amazing friends and family are always there for me at my darkest times or brightest moments. And my new coworkers are awesome people that make every day a helluva good time. The new people I’ve met thus far or soon to meet on the road are sure to add memorable moments to my story. I’ve found out my purpose right now, and it is to continue down this path and creating myself.
With that, on this Father’s Day, I want to recognise all of the fathers in my life that have been there for me from childhood until now, keeping me afloat and my spirits high and helping to raise me. To George and Scott and Uncle Ken and Andy and Mark and Kevin and Keith, and to all others — thank you and happy Father’s Day, I have a lot of love for you that I don’t know how to give fully yet.
And to my Pop, Ronald Brown, I love you and miss you every single day. So much.
It’ll be a hard month for sure, and I’ll still have my moments of nostalgic pain and depression. But I’m living life and loving life right now and enjoying this new creative endeavour. Who knows where it will lead, but at least I won’t be lost at sea. I’ll be looking to new horizons.