The biggest cost of my depression was new tires for my car.
I was a senior in college before I had a name for the heavy, helpless periods that crushed me. I never noticed the warning flurries until it was too late. The weight and cold pressed in on my chest, burying me in a snowdrift: Depression.
It came and went from the time I was a girl, bringing with it at its most innocuous a restless discontent or, at worst, a paralyzing sense of hopelessness. Most people sleep, but I became charged with manic energy: staying up all night to rearrange my bedroom furniture, reading whole novels in a few hours, or writing on the humming old typewriter my dad brought me home from his office.
When I turned 16, if I felt it coming on I would get behind the wheel. Windows down in my 84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, the latest mix tape turning and clicking in the dash. I wore a track up and down River Road. On light days I went only as far as Goochland and the plantation where I learned to ride horses, but on harder days I drove as far as the prison where the sun set low and red over the hills beyond the razor wire.
Recognizing the name for this restless heaviness did little to settle it. Except now I had more understanding and a choice: feed or fight.
If I was feeling self-destructive, I would give into it: drinking vodka from a coffee mug and lying on the wooden floor of my dorm room for hours. I kept the song “Looming” by Jason Harrod on repeat, a song that echoed my ache. Here I am, I would say. Have me. Do your worst.
But if I wanted to fight, I would drive. I had no smartphone, no GPS. Only gas station coffee and an old map of the US under the passenger seat. Once I remember trying to shake a particularly heavy bout of it, crying as I drove, feeling that I couldn’t turn back until it was gone.
The rolling hills outside Fredericksburg gave way to dense woods and then changed to something else altogether. I sensed I was near water before I came to the long bridge over a bay. A sign greeted me on the other side: Welcome to Maryland! I drove along the coast for a while. No beaches but trees akin to cypress with their knobby roots showing above the shallows. It was beautiful, but somehow crossing the state line freed me to go home.
Moving to Houston mostly cleared away the snowdrifts. Living on the far west side on what were once rice fields, there are no hills and few trees to shadow the sun’s unending sky. The light has driven up my serotonin, dispersing the snowdrifts.
I still wear out tires and rack up the miles on my car. Driving brings peace, whether from the weight of depression or simply the difficult of the daily. I’m not driving away from my problems so much as driving straight through them, returning home healed somehow by the road.
Linking up this week with Not So (Small) Stories. Each week we talk about an aspect of writing or blogging and then have a prompt. The prompt this week was Drive. Clearly.