Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dancing to the Blues

To call them the holiday blues makes them sound festive. And when you're in the midst of them you know they aren't pretty little multicolored versions of depression. They're not Hallmark-card polite, throat-clearing, back-patting "there, there" types of blues. The holiday blues are a freight train and you are tied to the tracks. They come on slow or they come on fast, and sometimes you feel them coming and sometimes you don't, but when they hit, they hit hard, and they hit you in the guts.

I thought I'd outrun them this year. I went to Mexico to pretend it wasn't Christmas, and it worked. My brain soaked up Vitamin D in copious, drunken quantities, like Hemingway on rum, sprawled out among his six-toed cats and writing like a demon. Neurons, dendrites, limbic system all thrumming to the heady amounts of love, intimacy and communication that come on tap with vacation, mixed in with greedy doses of sleep. It was like a brain spa, and my brain leisurely ordered up its own versions of Swedish massage, salt scrubs, mani-pedis, fruit peels and a few happy endings. By the time vacation ended, my brain naively thought it was ready to get back to "real life."

Cue disaster. As the plane touched down, things began to unravel. Intimacy, warmth, communication and Vitamin D hit the dark, rain-spattered sidewalk like rotted pumpkins hurled down from the freezing sky. I shrank into my beach dress and wrapped a sweatshirt around myself. I hailed a cab and tried to ignore the cabby's apocalyptic grumbling about the weather, about how Austin has changed for the worse, about a fatal accident he'd witnessed on Christmas Eve, about how the Mexicans are destroying downtown, etc, and I felt a rock beginning to form in my belly. Once home, I dug my car out from under fallen leaves, and drove back to the cold, isolated apartment which has scarcely been visited for these many months, but which had somehow, in the brief moments between touchdown and rain-spattered sidewalk, become home again.

And I didn't understand what was happening then, but the slow roar of the freight train should have sounded familiar. After all it has been the backdrop, these many years, to countless Christmas carols and refrains of Auld Lang Syne; no matter how loudly they ring or how many strangers plant kisses on my lips, there is that rumble, that screech, that gut-wrench. I woke up the following morning, alone, with the dark pressing on all sides, and my brain began to lurch like one of India's dancing bears. Why alone? it wanted to know. But I didn't have an answer. Yesterday we were basking in sun, and love, and affection. Today we are stumbling in the cold, isolated. Where is the spa? it asked. There is no spa, I replied. Love is a myth. And indeed, this seemed true. I couldn't communicate for shit. Every time I opened my mouth to speak to my beloved, it had much the same effect as it would if I were a dancing bear, opening its tortured mouth to roar. The brute with the ring in its nose, forced up onto its hind feet: Dance, Bear. Dance! And I did. I danced to the misery and confusion and isolation. I danced to the fear. I danced to the sadness. I wept with frustration. Dancing bears are not beautiful creatures. They are tragic, fearsome, trapped, bleeding, and broken. So the more I danced, the harder I hurt, and the farther away Love went.

Until I realized, looking at it from that far, far distance, that maybe it wasn't really Love at all. Maybe it was just love, the kind of love that loves you until you grow frightening. The kind of love that loves the beautiful but runs from the broken. I can hardly blame it. I am not a very nice creature, in this state, dancing to the holiday blues. But then none of us are, when we dance to our inner demons. We can choose not to. We always have that choice. But it's naive to think we don't need helping hands to guide us, people to reach out to, who will in turn reach out to us. Someone who won't run from the bear, from these ungainly paws that, after all, are asking for help: please take this ring out of my nose. Please help me to trust again.

But it doesn't matter, does it? Whether anyone is there to "help" me trust again. Silly brain. Sweet, silly, flawed, animal brain. We are not built to trust, not with the ground crumbling out from under us, or what we thought was ground, what we have spent months learning to believe was ground. No--we are built to run, to retreat, to protect ourselves when things change. This is why I have worked so very hard at learning to love--to Love--myself. That's the ground I have to start from. Love self, first, and then others, because if I can't love silly, sweet, flawed, animal me, then I can't love anyone else. If I run from the bear, then how can anybody else be expected to stick around? Maybe that's something I can pledge to do in the New Year: sit with myself. My own fearsome, broken bear.

Auld Lang Syne might suck this year, but I won't have to lay on the tracks. And maybe we can dig up some Jay-Z or some Z-Trip or some Zaytoven (it's the end of the year, after all). Anything but the blues. I'm done with them until next year.










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