During the last few months of living in a COVID winter, I have acquainted myself with the rapture of mood swings. One day I’m cooking while sipping wine and singing along with Dean Martin, the next I’m sitting with a warm cup of tea overlooking Lake Michigan and bemoaning the darkness, the clouded skies that have dominated this winter.
Books have been published – two in two months – websites have been rebuilt, thanks to Darin Philport and his team, and a new publicist, Dianna Stampfler, has my head spinning with homework. You’d think this would be grand. You’d think this would be a life-giving change from the train wreck of 2020. But no. Times are actually quiet.
You see, I write and publish for reasons that may befuddle you. Yes, I like the feeling of royalties, I like the prospect of success, but the catharsis that words to paper allow me is paramount to my mental health. Along with that is the revelation that no matter how misanthropic I can be, getting in front of an audience to talk, discuss, and educate anyone willing to listen and participate in my writing and adventure world is also life-giving. And that’s the missing link. I do not do Zoom. I can do Zoom, and will if I must, but having tried teaching college courses online, I can tell you, that is not for me. I need affects and body language in front of me with breathing humans a touch away. Screens hide reality and people can pop in and out like a third grader wanting to use the bathroom to avoid math.
Thus, limbo. The bar is set across the divide and as I try to slide my way underneath, I get caught. So, what can ease the mood shifts? What, pray tell, can alter the Bipolar affect my poor wife must endure daily wondering which person she may be interacting with after her own stress-filled day in her life-consuming executive world?
As I await live audiences sitting in theater seats of auditoriums or old metal chairs in a community room, limbo remains. I’m not driving or flying. I’m not planning book signings. I’m not at libraries holding court with bookworms. I sit in my chaise looking at a great lake that continues its own life of limbo. Usually frozen by now, even Lake Michigan smashes against the breakwater pleading for a well-deserved winter rest.
The Use of a Good Depression
In no way do I purport to take away the seriousness of a disease I have wrestled with my whole life, but there is an upside to low mood. I tend to be more creative. But if you write to no audience, doesn’t that exacerbate your depression, you ask? Yes, so other outlets are necessary.
Cooking during COVID and being a caregiver to my deserving wife has been fabulous. Learning how to find herbs and spices, to understand what a chef’s knife is for, and explore the freezer and pantry for something other than a readymade glob of food has been some of the most rewarding 10 months of my life. And to discover that cookbooks are written for a reason, whoa, now I’m on to something.
There’s also my art studio. A good, dark, depressive episode always equates to an open easel and flowing watercolors. Time is marked by a few experimental brush strokes and a few wasted sheets of paper, but eventually a picture takes hold, and a theme harkens. If I’m lucky, by June, Christine may have one framed.
Next, this is for you Koz, there is the fly-tying bench. The vise goes up, bobbins hang down, and feathers fly as caddis and mayflies are aped. My favorite is the caddis nymph which produces an early venture onto the stream for opening day and lasts all year as an alluring nibble for finicky trout. I can sip scotch and contemplate life on the water.
And finally, there’s always my kayak. I love to kayak in the winter. The silence is golden, and the raw elements of winter provide an eloquent waltz of mindfulness through a deserted landscape void of people.
And Then, the Cocktail
Self-medicating is not healthy. Self-soothing is. So, a cocktail here and there is not out of the question, assuming it does not woefully interact with medicines or moods. For me, a good Manhattan or a good scotch while sitting in the writing studio, the art studio, or with my lovely in the parlor, can alleviate much of a dour tumult. After the cocktail hour, a deep breath emerges and the evening parades through the dining room and into a soft night.
Again, notice cocktail hour, not cocktail-day, or cocktail-by-the-hour starting at 8:00 a.m. The art of the cocktail hour can be my lift of poorly placed dopamine or serotonin. I am lucky. The hour does not portend a mindless prattle toward worsening depression. The hour does not hover over me causing withdrawal symptoms the next day.
But, I do wonder when the recycle service arrives at the curb and the bottles crash from bin to truck, wow, is that loud!
Yeah. There has been a lot of cocktail hours during COVID. And have I mentioned the wine corks?