A new year, a new optimism, in spite of it all

As 2019 opens, my world is so much brighter than it has been for a long time—a strange sentiment given all the obvious and ominous shadows hanging over this sorry planet—but when you have been carrying darkness deep within and even the smallest moments of hope seem impossible, the lifting of that weight is near miraculous. The difficulties and challenges do not evaporate, but a renewed sense that they can be faced moving forward is the most wonderful feeling. On the Solstice I wrote about my recent medication adjustment and the subsequent easing of a depression that I had failed to recognize, being so tightly wound in its grasp that I was struggling to even find the will to continue living. Consumed by bitterness, anger, and grief I’d become a morbid, unpleasant soul by the end of November, unloading my misanthropic  self-hatred on a few trusted close friends, near and far. Now, with the unrepentant zeal of the born-again, I cannot stop marvelling at the sheer joy of not feeling miserable—it is not a delirious happiness, but damn, it does feel good. Or as a friend who nearly lost himself to a bout of  depression described the transition: I went from cowering in a corner wanting to die to crying at a stoplight overcome by the sheer beauty, intensity, and brilliance of the green light.

This past holiday season—the third since the loss of both of my parents and the suicide of a dear friend, and the fourth since my own very close encounter with death—feels like a turning of sorts. Or a recognition that we are ever turning and looking back over our lives, applying narrative arcs, seeking meaning and closure. However, this time, I refuse to be swayed by the temptation to believe this is even possible, let alone helpful. I’ve long doubted the narrative imperative, in fiction and memoir alike, and yet in our own lives we long for tidy, complete stories with meaning and message, and are continually upended every time life pulls the carpet from beneath our feet and we are forced to rewrite the script.

The major difference this year is that I have started to see my mother, in my dreams and my imagination. Always colourful and carefully coordinated, ageless and aged, believer and doubter, guardian angel and true friend. For long time, apart from a brief interlude when I was the desert of central Australia, my mother has remained a dull thickness in the core of my being. A mass of anger and guilt and self-pity. It’s easing. I feel sadness. I find myself crying. I know that I am finally beginning to grieve. It hurts so good. And I have a sense that this loosening, this opening up, is essential to releasing the blockages I’ve encountered in my own writing projects.

So with the new year ahead, I’ll begin with the resolution that marked every journal kept during decades of looking for a voice, an identity, and then, having found it, having to slip into a closet—This year I will write. Of course, I have advantages. I am no longer unpublished. I am part of an environment as a reader, writer and editor where I am fortunate to engage with inspiring and encouraging people. And I have formed some true, valuable, real friendships with people who accept the whole, weird me. These people, some of whom I have never met face to face, have sustained me through this darkness. A few with saintly patience and grace, I’m afraid. I hope that going forward I will become a calmer, more open listener, a better friend myself. And alert to the pain of others, like so many seemingly random twitter connections who heard me call out into cyberspace in my darker moments and responded with a good word or expression of concern.

My intended reading, moving into 2019, includes a few essay collections, a couple of photo essays, some long-deferred grief reading like Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter, and lots more poetry. With a month in India now just over four weeks away, I’ve also got some work by Indian writers in my TBR pile, and some books I’m reading in advance of a really exciting event I’ll be taking part in in Kolkata (more about that to come).

As I mentioned before, I became seriously concerned about my well-being last November, when I found myself so physically drained and emotionally exhausted that I was wondering if I could manage to get through my trip to India at all. I had been planning a return all year and, at last, with the tickets booked, I was overwhelmed by the prospect of going. The day after I finally allowed myself to accept my psychiatrist’s suggestion that I was under something more than the seasonal blues, I dragged myself down to Mountain Equipment Co-op and bought a new lightweight travel bag. And I haven’t looked back since! My agenda for my stay is still taking shape, with room for impulse and adventure. I look forward to spending time with friends, some I have met, and some I feel like I’ve known forever even though we’ve yet to meet. I will be flying in and out of Bangalore with plans to go to Kochi and a desire to visit Mumbai, and beyond that, who knows? I am less of a tourist attraction hunter and more of a flaneur on the road. My attraction to India has grown more out of friendship and literary connections than anything else. Its neither romantic nor idealized, but as I said in my RIC photo essay:

 I’m drawn to travel in uneven places. In scarred and wounded spaces I recognize myself. Complex, interrupted histories mirror my own.

Returning to Calcutta for the third week of February will feel like coming home to a creative space I cherish, this time with the added lucky coincidence that my stay will overlap with the poetry residency of Franca Mancinelli, the Italian poet whose wonderful The Little Book of Passage made my end of year list, and she will be staying about a five minute walk from where I’m likely to be! I expect a busy week in the City of Joy because all year I’ve been mapping out places I want to revisit and those I have yet to explore. With a camera and notebook in hand.

The greatest thing I hope to bring into 2019 is an openness to experience without prescribed expectations. Some very exciting threads are coming into view—writers, reading, artistic opportunities that need to be followed to see where they lead.  There is also a lot of personal work to be done on my grief, loss, and identity issues, be it fodder or foundation for future writing… well, only time will tell.

Best wishes for all in the year ahead. Personal, national and global storms are inevitable. A good word, a good book, and, as I’m learning, a little light can go a long way. With luck we can all sustain at least a glimmer of that light through the months ahead.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

27 thoughts on “A new year, a new optimism, in spite of it all”

  1. Joe, reading this has made my day!
    Who would have thought that medication could make such a difference… please tell your psychiatrist that he has made your friends feel a great sense of relief that you are over that awful slump.
    I am beyond excited about your writing plans, but also looking forward to hearing about India. I think I’ve left it to late to get there, I just can’t cope with hot and humid weather any more, so I’m looking for vicarious experiences now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m amazed myself. I’ve always thought of my medication (an epilepsy drug) as regulating the upswings that have been so serious in the past. It took my doctor a long time to convince me the drug worked on both ups and downs. I’m so glad to have her support. I’ve since talked to a few other friends who have also had the experience of requiring medical support with a depression of some kind—as usual the ones you least expect—and the same “suddenly there’s light” feeling.
      Happy New Year to you and your family, and thanks for being one of those friends who has offered support all along. 🙂


  2. I was so happy to read this Joe. I’ve never suffered from real depression or real anxiety but even my little brushes with feeling miserable or anxious and then waking to feeling light and lifted has given me a little insight into what you must be feeling. I’m a firm believer that if medication works it should be taken. I have enough people in my life who take medication for their mental health to know that the most important thing is to feel able to live one’s life with enthusiasm and motivation. All you need is a good doctor you can trust to help you manage your medication – but you do need then to trust them. It sounds like you have found that. Well done.

    Have a great trip to India.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sue. Happy New Year! I do have a good doctor, but it took a long time, about 18 years after my diagnosis, following a second serious manic episode, to finally get the proper support. The psychiatric system in most countries has so many cracks it’s not funny.


  3. What a lovely post, Joe, and it’s so wonderful to hear that you’re in such a positive mood and with plans for the coming year. I think the right medication is *so* important – I may have said that my Offspring have struggled on and off over the years, and finding the right medication/therapist has been crucial for them. I look forward to following your journey during 2019 and especially your fascinating travels. Happy new year! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on taking a punt on some new meds. Wonderful news that they are working well for you. Hope your trip to India goes well and that you can find some headspace to write.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It is the same med I’ve taken for 20 years. My former psychiatrist never checked my levels, so I hadn’t realized how much the level can fluctuate in the range. India should be fun; with a month I should find some reading and writing time.


  5. As ever a wonderful heartfelt post, Joe. So glad to hear you are feeling better; you sound motivated & enthusiastic & brimming with new found optimism! Good luck with your travels… it sounds amazing… I ditched my job just before Christmas because it was making me miserable and next week I’m off on a 6-week trip, including a week in Cambodia, which I’m really excited about. I look forward to hearing about your own adventure. Happy New Year to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Best of luck with your trip to India, Joe, and wishing you a bright and productive start to your year! It sounds like you have lots of exciting plans and travels ahead of you in 2019, and looking forward to following your updates as you continue down your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Enjoyed reading your post,Joe,especially since I am bedridden with a cold (blame,the New Year’s Eve and the fireworks!)
    I hope 2019 would be adventurous but light footed, easy but intense, unplanned but with stimulating results…Basically a Unique Experience.
    All the Best,
    from White Greece.

    Liked by 1 person

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