My sister was here last week to visit with me. It’s always so wonderful to have here. My siblings are my best friends and the only thing I’d change about life in San Francisco is that I wish they were here with me. She was only here for a few days but we packed in a lot of lovely experiences together. On her last day here, we went horseback riding down in Half Moon Bay, an experience that pulled me full circle through a tough time.
You see, my sister once did try to live here for a summer, checking out whether or not it was the place for her. It was during the lowest depths of my depression, right before I got diagnosed and got help. I didn’t know what was wrong and I didn’t understand how to cope with depression. It was an awful time. The worst part was that I really wanted to enjoy my sister’s stay, to do fun things with her, to create memories, to celebrate our adulthood together … and I couldn’t.
It’s hard to explain depression from outside of it. We did do things sometimes that summer and sometimes I laughed and had fun. But I often couldn’t do anything. Or I fell apart. I remember one time we went to some kind of comedy day down by Yerba Buena and there were all of these people around, mostly kids, and I just started crying and I couldn’t stop and I felt like I was going to implode. I had to have my sister call my best friend who also didn’t really know what to do for me. I don’t recall how the day ended. Sleep, eventually, I suppose.
Everything just felt hard that summer. On the one hand, my senses were dulled and I couldn’t take pleasure in anything. And on the other hand, my mind was constantly ruminating and producing feelings of anxiety. Everything scared me. I got my first Zipcar rental while she was here and the whole process – figuring out how to get the car, get the gas, drive again after it had been awhile – terrified me and upset me and made me cranky, and snappy, and stressed and then I felt guilty and bad and sad about being cranky and snappy and stressed.
So that summer, I had suggested that we go horseback riding on the beach. It was something that had been on my “life list” for many years, probably something I saw in a movie or read about in a book that sounded magical and stuck in my mind. My sister thought it was a great idea. But I couldn’t do it. The cost, the drive, the ride … it was all too much. I kept saying we’d go soon and then being upset about it. My sister was fine with it all. She was mildly disappointed that we weren’t going but she’s laidback and was having a good time here on her own anyway, taking art classes and going to festivals and exploring the city. And yet, I felt terrible that I couldn’t take her.
That was six years ago. So before she came to visit me this time, I said that the one thing I wanted to do was to go horseback riding on the beach. I wanted to tie that loose end up into a bow. So we went. And I was a little anxious, because I hadn’t been on a horse in a long time, but I wasn’t debilitatingly anxious. I was fine. Because I am mostly fine now.
We rode an hour on a trail on the bluffs above the ocean then another hour on the beach itself. My horse was too tall, my stirrups didn’t quite feel right and when the mare would gallop I’d get scared enough that I’d have to WHOA her to stop. But I wasn’t petrified. And I wasn’t depressed. And I wasn’t stuck inside of my own head. I was able to look around and see the stunning beauty of the area. The trail wound through some beautiful flowers. And I have to say, riding on the beach actually is as magical as the movies make it seem. The waves crash on to the sand near the horses and you’re up there so tall and you’re part of this magnificent natural beauty in a way that is entirely distinct from standing on the sand on your own.
By the time that the two hour ride was coming to an end, I was definitely ready to be done. I was sore all over. I was tired and hungry. But I was so happy. I knew that it would be a good accomplishment to complete that activity but I didn’t expect to feel as elated inside as I did. It was as though there was this incomplete thing that was still waiting inside me to be done and when we finished the ride it was finally finished and I felt whole. It was like that loose end had been hanging there inside of me all of this time, itching just a little beneath the surface to cause tiny discomfort, and now it’s all tied up and the scratch is gone.
I live with chronic depression. That summer was the worst of it and I’ve gotten steadily better ever since. But I think of my illness like a cancer, with remission and not necessarily cure. It comes back sometimes and I have to be diligent in treating it. In fact, I’ve noticed over the last months that I’m more anxious than I was for awhile, that my downs are a little lower, and I eye that carefully, checking to see if it’s a normal reaction to what’s happening in my life or if it’s something that needs more care. I’m not always healed, but I’m well enough to ride horses on the beach with my sister and love almost every minute of it.