I always thought I liked fall, aside from that whole back-to-school nonsense. The heat of summer is no longer a threat, and western Oregon can be singularly lovely at this time of year. It's fun to get out your sweaters again. Rainy days can be an excuse to curl up and be cozy. But I've been thinking a lot about October lately, and I've started to wonder if maybe it just isn't my month.
In October 2012, I stayed with beloved friends in Nashville while they prepared for, experienced, and mourned the death of a family member. I grieved with them, my heart still raw from the loss of another friend the previous month.
In October 2011, I was in Los Angeles, where plans fell through and I struggled to connect with communities to write about. It took weeks to find a spot on a tall ship, and when I did, the crew and administrative staff were prickly and tricky to work with.
It's hard to sort out previous Octobers from the unhappy blur of a career that didn't fit me, but I have enough evidence to suggest a pattern here. This year's October has brought a bad cold and a lot of gray days, but no major tragedies or stresses. Yet other aspects of the pattern continue. I'm still feeling stuck and discouraged and insecure. I'm still asking questions like "What's wrong with me?" and "Why is everything so hard?" I'm still experiencing low energy, lingering illness, trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. I still want to spend most of the month in bed.
And I'm still, as in the past three Octobers, surrounded by kind and supportive friends, and leaning hard on their grace. I'm still given more than my share of bright moments and beauty: small gifts of comfort and delight, which remind me to look for brighter days. I'm still (mostly) aware that this discomfort, too, shall pass.
Occasionally, in darker moments, I allow myself to wonder, "Do I have an actual psychological problem? Is there a drug for this?" There may well be something I could swallow that would inject more gusto into my days, something that could carry me over this Swamp of Sadness without getting my feet muddy. As tempting as that sounds -- and with all respect to those who really do need drugs -- I don't want to miss my chance to learn what this time has to teach me. A similar malaise once led me to seek, to question, to re-evaluate my choices and, ultimately, to launch myself out of my comfort zone and into a new life. Who knows what gifts this gloomy season may have in store?
I grew up in a house where Hallowe'en was a bad word. It was a time when other people inexplicably celebrated the worst things: Fear, Evil, Death, and Sugar. In more recent years, I've learned how fitting it is that this season has a holy day for mocking and embracing our mortality, for looking our fears in the eye and laughing at ourselves, for sitting with the darkness and saying, This too is part of life.