The summer after my sophomore year of college, I went home. That seems unremarkable to say, but the previous summer, I had gone home, but for only the briefest moment, and only so that I could gather up my pertinent belongings and depart again. Not to return to college but to head to Walcamp in Illinois where I had earned a gig as Camp Counselor. (…where I would have what was probably the most physically demanding, emotionally taxing yet rewarding, edifying and downright fun summer ever with a bunch of unbelievably dedicated, caring and stinkin’ awesome people. That summer rocked.)
This summer–the summer after my sophomore year–was the complete opposite. I had no plans. I had no need of plans. It had been suggested to me that I come home and rest, relax. Recuperate from what had been an extremely challenging semester–not only was I taking an overage of credits, but I had a job, extracurriculars, fieldwork hours for my education major, some semblance of a social life. . .
And somewhere in the midst of all that, I cracked. You can probably ask my then-boyfriend for all the gory details; I think my psyche has managed to repress most of them, but I am certain that I cried in basically every building on campus, dissolving into a person who suddenly could not stand herself. And this mystified me. I had never been depressed before. But suddenly I would be lying in the back hallway of the student union and all I would see in my mind as I did was complete black. Complete and utter black. Like I’d been thrown into a slick-sided pit.
I have guesses as to why I fell apart that year. I’d never really ‘dealt’ with my parents’ divorce, which had happened in 2001 (this school year being 2002-03). I was ridiculously overloaded with coursework, activities, obligations. I was trying to be a good student, a good friend, a good girlfriend. And I think it was that year that the weight of new ideas, of the pressure of the future (was I really to be trusted with the minds and futures of high school students??–at that point I was enrolled in the English Secondary Ed program). My worldview was being challenged, and I was already on shaky ground, what with the cracking of my self-concept in 2001 when a reality I thought was impossible to break completely crumbled away from under my feet.
So summer of 2003, I went home. To heal. To figure out who I was, what I was going to do with myself. To determine how this depressed person was going to fit into what and who I thought Me should or could be.
I needed something to DO–to facilitate my passage through this summer of nothing.
Maybe it was my dad who suggested walking. Maybe it was my stepmom. Whoever it was said, more or less, Jackie, every day you should go walk. Figure out a path and walk.
My dad, who has always been a jogger, suggested a route, told me if I walked road A to B to C to D and then came back to the house it’d be about 4 miles.
So I started walking this path every day. Usually mornings, before it got too hot, as much of the route was out along the major-for-the-thumb-of-Michigan roads that cut through fields on their way to this-or-that town. There wasn’t much in the way of shade out there, so I stayed on task, on pace. I usually got my 4 miles done in just around an hour.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say that the walking cured me, but I can’t. I can count on my fingers how many days it’s been since I had a depressive episode; I’m not over this. It’s part of who I am–perhaps not forever, but for now. So the walking wasn’t magic. But it let me think.
I have found that my brain is tuned to the pace of my 4-miles-an-hours stride. And there’s something about the tempo of walking that switches on not just my thinking, but my writer-brain. (I went walking tonight, and that’s where this blog post began.) Something about how my body moves, or my feet hit the pavement, loosens words and phrases I would never have come up with while sitting still.
Walking didn’t fix me, but it did remind me of something that I could do, something that I could look forward to–that I could feel language and even if I could never manage to pin the words I found while mid-motion to the page, at least it was possible. At least this was somewhere within me.
And when you have something dark and disgusting in yourself like the pitch-black of depression, finding something inside yourself like the light and hope of language is a great relief.