Under The Weather
by Erin L. Cork
The news flashed across the Internet: Frightened Rabbit lead singer-missing, family concerned about his state of mind. They found Scott Hutchinson’s body putting an end to desperation but the beginning of grief stages for those who loved him. Josh Ritter says “Only the living go to the graveyard grieving.”
I’m writing this on another day where grey and rain flood my town. The rivers and creeks have spilled over into the streets, invaded homes and drowned schoolyards in muddied waters. It’s the kind of curl up day, on the couch, in a corner, in the fetal position where even hope struggles to reel you in, pull you towards dry land.
I’ve known depression. I’ve embraced it, loved its familiar skin, sang sweet words as I recognized the familiar, heavy steps heading towards me, “Hello darkness my old friend…”
I may have been five when I let it touch me. I sat on the wood floor, leaning against my parent’s bed. A breeze lifted the sheer lace curtains just off the floor. Sunlight and shadows flickered like finger puppets playing off of each other. A statue of the Virgin Mary sat on a doily at the top of a corner bookshelf, her head cast in repose but I felt her glances.
I have no idea where my mother and father were but at least one of them had to have been home. The sensation of solitude, not of self but of aloneness settled on me, covered me in a blanket of monochrome. I didn’t have the word for despair but I knew it then and I would recognize it every time thereafter.
I’d see it enter a room as I reached desperately for connection. It was jealous and significant, unwillingly to share. I’d wake to it sitting on the edge of a stranger’s bed or feel it burrow between the sheets of a lover. It would nod its head at the bar at a reunion. It domineered, clutched and grabbed, pulled me from the tongue of joy, the arms of love. I would learn guilt and shame from our involvement. It was my dirty secret.
Over the past decade I have had an on again, off again relationship with its sibling, anxiety. I’m pretty sure that at first I mostly ignored it, choosing the company of the mysterious over the hyper-nervous which I found a way to quiet with alcohol and denial.
Unfortunately, it found a way to make me notice. Now it makes demands. It has me holed up. It refuses me companionship. It locks me in, makes me stay home with it instead of socializing. I fought back hard when it wouldn’t let me go to one of my oldest friend’s birthday celebration. So many people I love and care about, that I have long histories with were there. But Anxiety won and I spent the evening listening to it whistle 15 versions of Auld Lang Syne.
Florence and The Machine “Shake it Out” echoes: “I can see no way, I can see no way, and all the ghouls come out to play, And every demon wants his pound of flesh, I like to keep my issues strong, it’s always darkest before the dawn…”
Scott wrote and sang about his battles with mental illness. I believed this helped him “Wait ‘Til the Morning”. I recognized the war. I’ve waged it for a lifetime. There are days when success has meant moving from the bed to the sofa. The moments where the sun warmed my face on a mountaintop and a flag of triumph replaced surrender or defeat held me for weeks or months. I dared sometimes to consider that I had conquered. But it is a devious and sneaky foe. Like a fog it settles in, hiding the summit, misting the way up and out. Sometimes I’ll walk right into it and find that I can get above it. Other times, I get lost in it.
I’ll go for long periods where I feel well, fortified, invincible. And yet, it finds a way to enter and hold a knife to my throat. The impulse to hide the breach is hard wired. It is mortifying to even think about reporting the intrusion. I stand up straight when my skin and bones feel tired and worn. I laugh and smile, joke about the impulse eating, spending, Netflix binging as if I didn’t feel the weight of shadows smothering and choking the breath from my chest. It is my struggle, the thrashing and grasping for survival. For some reason I still find a reason to fight back while keenly aware that there may be a moment when I let go.
As a teenager, I kicked open the bathroom door where love lie bleeding on the floor, held my mother until the paramedics came. I waited outside the sterile locked psych ward until she said yes, “Let her in.” Someone was screaming down the hall, a piercing cry for release. I was terrified, trembling as I approached her room—somewhat relieved to find that it wasn’t her wail shaking the walls.
I can’t remember if it was days or weeks later when my mother was finally willing to see me. That time is a blur. The flowers in her room wilted in Pepto-Bismol colored urinals, no glass allowed. She said, “I don’t want to come back.” I understood that her resignation, her anger with me was because I had saved her; that I had selfishly wanted her to live.
I thought of a conversation she and I had. Again, I’m unsure of the timing but she and I were discussing the scene in The Big Chill where Glenn Close breaks down grieving in the shower. I told her how it stayed with me, it was moving, haunting even. As if I should know this she said, “All women cry in the shower.”
It was an insight. I wasn’t quite a woman. So, I had no idea. I hadn’t even considered this. Seriously, up to that point I had little understanding of tears, their origins or untimely arrivals. I fought hard to get control over them, as the weakness I felt in their power was unacceptable. I had tried to use them as a weapon and failed miserably. I found little use for them. Eventually they refused to come at all.
Now, they surface during the Olympics, Coke and Budweiser or soldier commercials. Or last week when I binge watched, Dear White People, the aftermath of Reggie being held at gun point and again after Troy broke the window of the locked hall door and was hauled away, his stoic father shouting, tears running down his face, “That’s my son, don’t shoot, that’s my son.” I cracked.
I inherited the short, sturdy frame, large breasts, and the love of trivia, language, and music, as well as Celtic broodiness from my mother. My sister would take the mental warpage to a deeper level. While I was the one most likely to succeed that she had to follow, she beat me to death in self-destruction. I’m not brave enough to go where shock treatment and institution are required.
My addictions pale in comparison to what she has done. I even beat a couple of them into submission. She inherited the beauty, the head turning features. She sent them to the grave early and became the walking dead, unrecognizable now. I believe in zombies because of her.
Anne Sexton wrote in The Big Boots of Pain, “…I would sell my life to avoid the pain that begins in the crib with its bars or perhaps with your first breath when the planets drill your future into you for better or worse as you marry life and the love that gets doled out or doesn’t…”
The National is one my favorite bands, they are deeply connected to Scott Hutchinson and Frightened Rabbit. Aaron Dessner produced their latest album “Painting of a Panic Attack”. I’m thinking of the National song “Sorrow” as I write this, the verse: “Sorrow found me when I was young. Sorrow waited, sorrow won, Sorrow, they put me on the pill. It’s my honey it’s my milk…” swirls through my head.
In my first days of sobriety, there was fear that I wouldn’t survive. I was prescribed Nortriptyline, which just made me sleep, then Prozac and something else that numbed me into compliance. I wandered through days, weeks and months without emotion. I really didn’t want to live with out feeling, even if it might kill me.
I heard something in Frightened Rabbit that I understood, a place of refuge, solace. Words of hope that I knew Scott Hutchinson wrote in the hold and the morning after. The peace came in his voice, knowing that he’d his found his way there as I had before. I know the feeling as the sun slices through a dark room. The moment when “Still, I rise…” I’m here, torn and tattered but not broken.
I don’t recall spring being this wet, this cloudy, not like this. I think of Hutchinson’s words again –“What’s the blues, when you’ve got the greys?” I tire of it easily now and long for warmth and light, it helps. I know this when I’m in the damp cold place. It kneads its chilly fingers under my skin. I shiver under its touch, longing for heat and endless sky, wanting “that the world might be a more colorful place…”
I acknowledge that August will have me wishing for a cloudburst. The fires will start, the smoke and heat suffocating. I’ll be humming Ryan Adams In My Time of Need, “…Will you say to me a little rain’s gonna come when the sky can’t offer none to me…”
Music, words –writing they have been my release. They find what’s missing and put the pieces into place. They have given me reason, shown me how, held me while staring at a shaving of the moon at 0400 AM through the shades of morning lifting above the foothills. They’ve kept the light on.
Experience tells me when I’m there that it will pass, like a stomach bug or head ache. I know now that another day will bring the words to the page, a mountain peaked, a deep kiss. I didn’t know this when I was young and I’d push towards death at alarming speeds. I’d leave stories unfinished, wishing for ends, believing myself incapable of completion. They were leaves covering the body.
The throes of despair are so much weaker these days. They still pop in for an unexpected visit. My surprise is evident, I sigh and ask them in. I don’t offer them spirits anymore, maybe something sweet. I ask them to sit and rest but I refuse to lie down with them. Up until now, I have found my way to day light, moved past what Scott referred to as the “ugly side of midnight…”
When someone who is so outspoken about their struggles who thus far has survived and raised their fists to each new sunrise succumbs and takes the hand of the reaper it is startling. It rattles me and reminds me that it could be me. I realize that I’m not ready. I am unfinished. Aren’t we all? There is still so much to do. How do we complete a life?
I grew up in a house of madness. Whether treatment, which did come later, would have prevented the unraveling is hard to say. A change of scenery or different decisions may have allowed my mother to live another life not spent in darkness or at the hands of a sexually confused man.
They were married and had children because that’s what you did in the late 50s and early 60s. The repercussions were astounding. My siblings and I survived the warzone but not unscathed, three of the four of us are alcoholic/addicts and diagnosed with PTSD. Our other sister is a food addict and OCD. I have a sister who is schizo-effective. She cannot live in this world without medication.
Getting sober almost 30 years ago and follow up intensive therapy saved my life. I do not use medication to treat depression, anxiety or the occasional hyper-mania. I exercise and write extensively about trauma. After years of experimentation I find that this works for me. I have strong views about how medications are thrown at diagnoses without compatible therapy. Society suffers if we don’t treat mental illness holistically.
Erin Cork lives in Missoula, MT with her wife and two mix-breed mutts. She writes both CNF and Fiction. She is currently editing a novel and an essay compilation. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @elcork17 or https://www.elcork17.com