Strawberries on the Edge of the Abyss

Newcomers to ETEV probably haven’t spelunked the archives, so it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that I’ve got clinical depression and anxiety. They’re both kicking up one hell of a fuss at the moment. You might not know it from a few recent blog posts and my Facebook feed, especially not since my feed has been full of my comments on the Supernatural marathon I’m currently running and precious little else. I’m pretty good at covering the worst bits up. That’s such a weird thing about these disorders: if I haven’t hit absolute rock bottom, I can look pretty bubbly and bouncy. I might even appear to have my shit together.

I don’t. But I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and I know how to put the mask on so I can function in the outside world. And I know what to do when I’m no longer going to be able to fake it to make it.

So. I’m going to tell you a truth: the reason I’ve been mainlining Supernatural is not just because it’s an entertaining show, but because I’m using it to stave off a major depressive episode. Tell you what, teetering on the edge of the abyss is about the most unpleasant sensation a mind can feel. There’s a reason why we turn to things and cling to them, whether they be drugs, alcohol, a teevee show, or whatever. When you’re going over the edge, you’ll grab at anything that appears to give you a chance of not going over.

And sometimes, all you’ve got is a strawberry.

You see, there’s this old Zen story about a poor bugger booking it across a field, running from a tiger, and going over a cliff. They just manage to grab a root, but that root’s not going to hold them for long. They’re dangling over a sheer drop to certain death on the sharp rocks below. And if by some miracle they don’t end up splatted across the landscape, there’s another man-eating tiger down there. Fantastic.

They’re completely out of options. And in that moment, they see a strawberry plant clinging to the cliffside, with one giant ripe strawberry just within reach.

Image shows a ripe red wild strawberry, which is smaller and more rounded than the cultivated variety.

And that’s what it’s like to be on the edge of the abyss.

You know if you try to go back, the tiger’s going to get you. You know that the only way down is by falling to your death on the sharp rocks below, and that you can’t hold on much longer. But that strawberry is there. Right there, in that moment, there is something good, and so you’ll reach for it even though it may seem utterly fucking ridiculous to be thinking of strawberries just now. You’ll reach for it even if it’ll ultimately cause you to lose your grip and plunge straight down.

I’ve got a shitload of work to do. I’ve got to find a way to pay bills, and jobs to hunt, and I’ve got a book to revise and publish, and blogging to do, and tough choices to make, and all of these things that are screaming for attention that I can’t give them, because if I try to go back or forward, I’m either getting devoured or I’m falling. So I do this ridiculous thing in this moment. I reach for something completely frivolous. I reach for something delicious, something that tastes so sweet even though fear is flooding my mouth. For just an instant, there’s no tiger above, no rocks below, just something delightful that I can savor even as my last tether is pulling away.

And it may keep me anchored there just long enough for a way out to present itself.

Sometimes, just beyond that strawberry plant, I’ll see another handhold. And I’ll grasp it. And that strawberry has given me just enough calm and energy to keep looking for another handhold, and then another, until I’ve gotten down safely, or at least found a less precarious perch where I can wait for the danger to pass. Then I can go back and put everything else in order.

Until then, all I’ve got is that one thing. So I’m reaching.

Best news is, it appears to be working. I managed to get my anxiety to fuck off long enough to allow me to take care of some business and get groceries. If you’ve never tried to go out in public with anxiety screaming at you that everything’s going to go spectacularly wrong the instant you set foot from the house, you have no idea how much effort that takes, and how impossible it sometimes is, but it feels something like trying to calmly attend to some daily tasks whilst bleeding out. It’s seriously difficult, is what I’m saying.

I managed to get several chapters of RTBS vol. 3 typed and revised in a single day, when depression and anxiety were tag-teaming to make me believe I didn’t have the strength. Well, I didn’t, before. Not for days. But I savored that strawberry, and found that extra handhold just beyond it. It’s enough. For this moment, it’s enough.

That’s all you can really ask when you’re teetering on the edge.

Some of you are also living with brains that have issues. And I’m telling you about my experience so that you know that what matters is making it out alive. Do what you have to in order to get there. Try not to let your jerk brain sabotage your efforts. You may have to find healthier ways to cope if the handhold you caught happens to be one that will kill you or harm other people, but don’t stop looking just because you grabbed the wrong thing in desperation. And if you see that one thing that isn’t terrible, don’t be afraid to reach for it, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Don’t hate yourself for doing things that appear utterly useless to outside eyes. If you have to play video games in the nude for a week without taking a shower, or lie in bed in a dark room picking at navel lint, or spend the majority of your time streaming ridiculous shows, if that’s what it takes to gather the strength to get by, then it’s okay. You can do that. You may find better ways to cope in the future, and that’s awesome, but you do what you need to hold on for now.

And you healthy people: you have brains that work just fine, but I guarantee you have loved ones who have to face down the abyss on a regular basis. Don’t you judge. Don’t yell down that people who are hanging on by a thin vine shouldn’t be reaching for strawberries. Chase off the tiger, put an air mattress over the rocks, rappel down and help your person back up, or just get the hell out of the way while they find their own way back, but most of all, let them have their strawberry. Because I’m here to tell you, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to reach for something good when everything is awful.

(By the way, this Supernatural marathon is not just for me, my darlings. I have Ideas for some good posts exploring diversity in television and film that are being sparked by watching something created almost exclusively by dudebros {and probably a handful of Chill Girls}. So when I get back from this little adventure dangling on the edge of the abyss, my time picking strawberries will not only have given me the boost up I needed, but will have given me something more to work with. That tastes extra-sweet.)

Strawberries on the Edge of the Abyss

6 thoughts on “Strawberries on the Edge of the Abyss

  1. rq

    In my scenario, it would be a raspberry. Not too big on strawberries. But the point still stands. :)
    In my case, however, there’s three little people who basically force me to keep going, to complete the next small-yet-large-seeming task (like dinner, or laundry, or checking homework), which usually works to carry me through. I don’t know if this extends the depressive phase or shortens it, though. I just know it doesn’t actually leave me with a lot of me-time to just kick back and… regroup, I guess (I would have said ‘wallow’ but that’s a bit of a negative word as it implies choice, when there really isn’t much of one). I end up in thought-phases where I’m tired of people needing me, hating the world in general, and basically not seeing much point in going on (yet being forced to carry on).
    I dunno, this seems a bit tangential but I’m sharing.

    You, however, are awesome, and you’re a veritable acrobat with your vines and your strawberries: I admire you. Please remember that. :)

  2. 2

    I’ve found that when the creative part of my brain (whether it’s depressed at the time or not) wants to do “nothing”–to stare at a wall, lie in the sun, or to stream whatever is appealing at the moment–that there is a good reason, and so whenever possible, I listen to it. Listening seems to be more imperative (and harder to avoid) when depression is there. Afterward, I often feel some burst of creativity, or have ‘magically’ figured out some new angle or approach to something.

    Do what you need to do!

    And ((hugs))

  3. 4

    Supportive thoughts and warm wishes to you. I can’t do anything to actually help, but I have been there, and it’s no fun at all.

    You are smart, talented, and respected by your readers.

  4. 5

    Great post. Wishing you all the best and want you to know you have my admiration and respect and are a wonderful, good person.

    Virtual hugs from me if you’d like them. Anything I can do to help, please let me know although afraid I’m pretty broke money~wise. I’ll chip in for you when I can.

    In my case the strawberry would be an Aussie native tree, and I’ve seen a lot of them growing in conditions you’d think were impossible out of cliff faces with solid rock they’ve punched their roots through and somehow got enough water and made their food from the captured nuclear fusion power of our daytime star eight light minutes away.

    Never seen ‘Supernatural’ but thinking now I should one day.

    I owe a lot of what little sanity I have to an old tortosieshell cat who kept me sane-ish as a high school kid by purring on my lap and just being there when needed. And for me and my brothers, nature therapy – going out bush weeding or walking looking at plants and just soaking in the environment around us really helps. I hope this comment does too. You deserve better and again, are a good human being who is appreciated by so many others. Please don’t forget that.

  5. 6

    Probably not entirely a good thing that so many of my strawberries look and taste like tipples of scotch. But I get where you are coming from.

    Supernatural is pretty awesome, but I’ve watched it too much to binge on again. StevoR, it takes a season or so for the show to figure out what it wants to be, but I think its worth the effort. And the cast and crew apologizes for the episode with the bees.

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