DISCLAIMER: The posts I make this week are about my own experience. There have been a couple of times in my life where I have had a temporary bout of depression which has stemmed from a specific situation, and once I figured out a solution to why I’d been feeling the way I was feeling, I’ve been okay. If you have felt depressed for a long period of time and don’t know why, please talk to a doctor about it immediately.
Over the past eight months or so, I’ve had waves of feeling really good for weeks at a time and then a few days where I felt, I don’t know, kind of down on myself and unmotivated. Those days usually happened after having a day or two of feeling really anxious for no reason. It’s weird. Things are good in my life so what the hell was my problem? When I was feeling really good, I would go to my twice weekly Pilates sessions and come out feeling invigorated, and I would take walks alone or with friends a few mornings a week and feel energized for the rest of the day. And as recently as ten weeks ago, I was on a cruise in the Caribbean with friends and feeling happier than ever. But in the ten or so weeks since coming home from that cruise, the times where I felt down or unmotivated were for longer stretches than it had been in the months prior, and that really bothered me.
I’ve always been very in-tune with my body. I’ve known for a while now that my approach to middle-age has brought a fluctuation in my estrogen levels which can affect mood, and I can definitely tell when it dips and I feel off in the brain department, so I try to help it by getting regular exercise and being careful with what I eat so I don’t feel worse. But there was something more to this than just hormones. I knew I was feeling out of balance in doing something for myself, something that was inspiring or creative, but I wasn’t sure how, and honestly didn’t feel the motivation to get myself going on something just for me. There were so many other things in my life that needed my attention so doing anything significant for myself had stayed on the back burner for far too long. My son, Nolan, moved to Arizona in January and was home for a visit about six weeks ago, and we talked about how I’d been feeling. We both agreed it would be nice if I flew out to Phoenix so we could drive up to Sedona for the weekend since neither of us had been there. I thought a weekend of hiking in beautiful scenery would be a step in the right direction at getting me out of my funk and maybe inspiring me to figure out something creative I’d like to do for myself once I got home.
I scheduled my visit with him to be the same weekend Wil was going to speak at the Science and Engineering Fair in Washington D.C. since I would have just been home alone anyway. Two days before both of us were supposed to leave for our respective weekends away, our dog, Marlowe, tore her cruciate ligament and half her meniscus in her knee and required surgery. She would be at the vet two nights and then come home and require 24 hour care and supervision for the next eight weeks. EIGHT WEEKS. I texted Nolan from the vet office to tell him I couldn’t come to Arizona because of Marlowe’s situation, and then went to the store to load up on everything Marlowe and I would need for the next few days while Wil was out of town. I boarded our other dog, Seamus, because I knew I couldn’t manage caring for both of them on my own while Wil was away. I was about to be on lockdown in every sense of the word.
When Wil came home from D.C. and Seamus came home from boarding, it was really difficult to juggle taking care of all the animals. Marlowe was in pain and felt vulnerable so she did not want Seamus or any of the cats near her. We would rotate them from room to room so Marlowe could rest and feel safe, and I would sleep (and am still doing this) in our guest bedroom with Marlowe next to me on the bed with her leash around my arm so she doesn’t try to jump off during the night. After his D.C. trip, Wil had to immediately go into three weeks of TableTop production, so the pet juggle was on me at home. I love my pets to death but I was feeling more and more like I was trapped and unable to do a single thing for myself, especially since I had that Sedona trip to look forward to and had to cancel it. I ate the same things every day, had the pets needs handled, took care of things around the house, and was exhausted all the time. I did make sure to still do Pilates because I knew if I didn’t have at least one thing for myself, I would lose my mind, but even when I did that, it didn’t help me feel better mentally. Wil knew how hard it was for me to take care of all of this alone during the day and would try to help me in the evening but we weren’t spending any quality time together, really. We were both so tired at the end of the day that we would just watch TV and go to sleep early. The same thing happened every day for two weeks while he was in production and one evening, I completely lost it.
I knew how tough it was on Wil to have these long days prior to and during the filming of TableTop, so I hadn’t said anything to him about how I’d been feeling over the last two weeks and really, over the last few months where I’d been having these waves of feeling off. Doing another season of TableTop was a tough thing for him emotionally and I guess I felt like my own moments of unhappiness seemed trivial, so I hadn’t brought it up. Looking back on it now, I know that wasn’t a wise decision on my part because when he told me he had a day off and just wanted to have friends over to play board games all day for fun, I had a total meltdown. A complete, ugly cry meltdown as I was putting a load of laundry in the washer while he was telling me of his weekend plans, and he had no idea it was coming.
I mean, wow, was I a mess.
We ended up spending the next two hours talking about how I’d been feeling because he had no idea this was going on with me, which was completely my fault for deciding my feelings were a burden when he had his own stuff going on. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and had no idea how to feel any better about that. We both agreed I should talk to the therapist that has helped our family over the years and fortunately, I was able to get in to see her the following afternoon.
One thing I’d been thinking about for weeks was taking myself on a road trip and for whatever reason, I really wanted it to be along the coast in Northern California up to Big Sur. I’d been there once before and it’s beautiful. I have always felt a sense of calm and happiness when I’m near the ocean and I know that was a big part of why I felt so good when we were on that Caribbean cruise recently, but something about being along this rugged coastline with all the huge trees surrounding it felt, I don’t know, peaceful and healing to me. The therapist talked with me about this thing that happens with women around my age whose kids are out living their own lives. As a mom, it’s very common to put our own creative ways of expression on hold so we can care for our kids, and then after a while when they’re out on their own (in addition to this hormonal change that happens in our bodies) we feel this need to have something for ourselves, something creative and inspiring, and after all those years of either barely doing that for ourselves or not at all, it’s like we don’t know how to get that started again. Since I’d been feeling like I wanted or needed to be up in Big Sur, she suggested this place called Esalen for some quality “me” time.
I had no idea what Esalen was, but I did think it was unusual that this was the second time in a week someone I knew who I’d talked to about how I’d been feeling had suggested I go there. I was really worried it was some sort of religious thing because I’m not interested in that, but I went home and looked it up and it wasn’t a religious place at all. It was just this beautiful place that you can stay at to relax, take in the view, go on a hike, eat healthy food, take yoga or meditation classes if you want, or sit in the natural hot springs. And if you were feeling so inspired, there’s different workshops happening on weekends as well as during the week that you can participate in. I felt like I needed this time for myself as soon as possible and a weekend didn’t feel like enough time. I wanted a whole week, and I was surprised I was able to book it just six days before I wanted to go. I’d heard from both people who suggested this place to me that it books up so to schedule my stay a couple of months in advance, but I just figured I got lucky that space was available.
Since Wil was still working on TableTop for the week I wanted to go, I decided to board Marlowe at the doggie day care/boarding place we always take them to when we travel. They have experienced staff there who can provide for a dog requiring extra care and a quiet place to rest without other dogs around to disrupt. I felt sad at first for taking her there but I knew it was in my best interest to take a week for myself and she would be in good hands while I was away, so it would be okay. I packed a bag and headed out on Mother’s Day for my five and a half hour road trip, sunroof open and singing along with the radio the whole drive up. I’d never taken what was essentially a “me retreat” so I was excited and relieved knowing I had this time to just relax.
When I pulled into the driveway at Esalen, I was blown away by the breathtaking view. The trees on the cliffs overlooking the ocean below, an enormous garden full of vegetables and flowers, and quaint little buildings along the perimeter of the property that served as rooms for the guests. I pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the office to check in. I noticed a flyer on the counter about a painting workshop happening the whole week I was there so I asked if there was still room in it if I signed up. Again, a thing you usually have to book way in advance, but for whatever reason, there was a spot available if I wanted it. I’d always wanted to learn to paint, so I took the workshop schedule with me back to my room so I could think about it while I unpacked. After I put all of my things away, I grabbed the map of the property they gave me upon check-in and headed out to explore so I could familiarize myself with the surroundings. I checked it all out and then decided I had nothing but time while I was there, so I stopped back in the office and signed up for the painting workshop.
An hour and a half after I arrived, it was dinner time. All of the guests could get their buffet-style meal and sit anywhere they felt like, indoors or out. I decided to sit alone at what was basically a wooden countertop and bench that looked out over the ocean and I ate my food while being entertained by sea otters playing in the water below. But as other guests started filling in the seating around and behind me, I could hear their unusual conversations so I looked around to see who I’d be spending my week with. I felt oddly out of place as I realized I was surrounded by what appeared to be dozens and dozens of “hippies.” I felt so out of place that I quickly finished my meal, grabbed a cup of hot tea, and decided to stroll over to the edge of the property to watch the sunset. As I sat down on a rustic wooden lawn chair and looked out at the setting sun, there was something very familiar about this view, and that’s when I realized where I was. It’s the same place they filmed the final episode of Mad Men when Don Draper has a life meltdown and gets in his car and drives, eventually ending up at the edge of a cliff watching a sunset. The final scene shows him sitting cross-legged on a lawn surrounded by “hippies” as he meditates along with them.
After the sun went down and darkness filled the air around me, I headed back to my room. I felt a bit panicked at the idea of having committed to being there all week, but I decided I just needed to focus on myself and make the most of my experience there. I got up to my room, walked inside, shut the door, set the key down on the desk, and started laughing as I said out loud “WHAT did I just get myself into?!”