There I was, in a strange place, telling a strange woman all my problems.
Perhaps it’s not what you’re thinking. I wasn’t in a dive bar drowning my sorrows, I was in a pleasant office talking to a therapist.
This was a first for me. I was relieved to be sitting in a chair. In the movies, there’s a couch. But if I lay down on a couch, I take off my work boots and fall asleep. So, the chair was fine, chair was good.
It had taken me a while to get to this point. I’m a Norwegian farmer – when I was growing up we not only didn’t talk about our feelings, we didn’t really even acknowledge having any. But, times change, and, occasionally, men can change as well.
There’ve been some dark patches the past few years. Last year, a high-level New York literary agent told me a manuscript I’d been working on for a decade or more was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It was the best I’ve ever felt as a writer, but it was followed by a series of emails from publishers disagreeing with him. In the end, he sent me a note of apology for raising my hopes and saying he gave up. Broke my heart.
I’ve also had my heart broken by my country. Some of the actions coming out of Washington DC are beyond anything I’ve experienced in my life. I continually struggle with making sense of it all.
There’s more…there’s always more. My mother died last winter. She led a remarkable, full life. She’d had a couple of strokes, was in a great deal of pain and was more than ready to leave, but dealing with her loss has been far harder than I expected. In addition, I’ve been going to so many funerals. I don’t know if it’s a small community so every death strikes home, if it’s because I’m getting older and so are my friends, or if there’s some other reason, but…so many funerals.
Finally, I am getting older. We have a history of arthritis in my family and I’ve been feeling it kick in. I’m used to getting hurt and then healing, but the thought of being in a growing amount of discomfort every day for the rest of my life is disconcerting. All in all, I was really sad, for an increasing percentage of my days, and nights.
There are a couple problems with this. First of all, I know I am a fortunate man, lucky beyond all measure. I’ve had dear friends die young, young enough so they never needed to worry about arthritis, but also young enough that they didn’t get to see their children grow up, never got to hold a grandchild. It makes me feel small and petty to complain about anything in my life. Next, I don’t get paid to tell people how hard my life is. I like to make people laugh, make them think. Occasionally, I want to make them cry, and if I can do all three in six hundred words, my life is complete. No one wants to listen to me whine. If I do too much of it, people will stop reading my stuff and I’ll have to look for a real job.
Along with the family history of arthritis, I also had a great-uncle who, back in the days before I was born, twice went to an institution and got electroshock therapy. It may or may not have done him any good, but no matter what, the experience didn’t sound like fun. When the dark patches refused to go away, I decided to do something about it.
Once I got myself through the door, it wasn’t so bad. There was nothing magical about it. It mainly consisted of saying some things out loud that had been rolling around inside my head and having a smart, thoughtful person provide some perspective.
I went back three more times and I ended up feeling better. None of my problems have gone away, but the darkness has receded, and I’m able to look down the road and not worry about the trip.
And that’s a good start.
Copyright 2019 Brent Olson