Dancing with the Seasonal Blues

“I’m on the fence,” I said with one hip leaning against the doorframe and a hand on the other. “Do I go to bed early, or do I go dancing?”

My housemate Amber looked at me from across the hall, “Well, would you regret it if you didn’t go?”

I shifted onto the other foot, pushing myself upright, thinking.

“Probably,” I paused. “But I just don’t know if I have the energy to go out and interact with people right now.” She nodded, her blond hair casting an angelic glow into the dimly lit hallway between our bedrooms.

I knew she understood, and it was a relief to tell her how blue I was feeling without any shame.

I stood in the silence for a minute longer, moving my hair from where it rested on my upper back to the right side of my neck. It dangled above my shoulder, the ends settling against my collarbone. I breathed in slowly as the cool air swept its fingers across my skin, sending a little shiver down my spine.

Everything felt heavy. A part of me wanted to go to bed and sleep for a week straight, but I knew that wasn’t actually what I needed. My seasonal depression, although it has never been formally diagnosed, has become a familiar entity during the long gray months of Oregon’s rainy season. It has an uncanny ability to drop a veil between the world and me, causing a deep exhaustion and feeling of separation.

Standing in my socks on the hardwood floor, I watched Amber fold clothes and weighed my options. I didn’t want my depression to win.

“Okay, I’m going to do it!” I said suddenly, more to convince myself than her.

She smiled, looking up at me from the laundry pile on her bed. “Good! I think you’ll sleep better after dancing anyways!”

I already knew what I was going to wear: the vintage yellow dress with little red flowers perched atop dainty black stems that I’d brought home from a recent trip to Astoria, Oregon.

The dress had inspired a daydream when I first saw it hanging demurely on the shop rack. Suddenly I was wearing red lipstick, coyly shushing my billowing dress as a rugged, bearded man eyed me seductively from across the room. When I came to, however, I was still wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes, standing in the middle of a carpeted thrift store on a day characterized by looming gray clouds and sputtering rain. Such is life. But I knew the dress had to be mine.

Now it was just the thing I needed to convince me that heading out into the world on a gray Tuesday night would cheer me up. I slipped the dress over my head and hooked the metal tips of two shiny, round earrings through my earlobes. In front of the bathroom mirror, I ran a mascara brush twice through both sets of eyelashes, spritzed my neck with rose water and pulled on a pair of tan suede boots. The dress’ high waist and cheerful color made me feel feminine, and a little flicker of excitement leapt through my stomach before disappearing again into the lingering numbness I had been feeling all day. I stashed my black, suede-bottomed ballet slippers in my purse and zipped up a hooded fleece before calling “Bye!” to Amber on my way out the door.

The cherry-wood floor was glowing beneath golden lights. Old timey blues drifted out of the speakers and the ballroom was full of dancing couples. I was already glad I’d left the house.

In order to blues dance, you need two people – one to play the lead role (giving the non-verbal cues of where and how to move) and the other to play the follow role (listening to and following the lead’s cues to stay in sync). I prefer the follow role.

My first two dances didn’t flow, and I wondered if I’d be able to break through the numbness. I felt stiff and distant from my dance partner, still absorbed in my thoughts and disconnected from my body. But I kept at it.

“Would you like to dance?” I asked a man in a black collared shirt standing near the center of the floor. Dancers swayed and dipped in every direction around us. “I would!” he replied and extended a hand. I held on and we paused for a second, listening for the beat.

Dancing in Portland, 2012.

Dancing in Portland, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

The music was a traditional blues song, slow and earthy. I swayed my hips, feeling the light swish of my dress as it lifted on the breeze of my movement. He led me through a double spin and then we glided a few steps diagonally. We sidestepped, faced each other again, and then swayed low, knees bent, our torsos counterbalancing one another. Upright once more, he asked, “How is your day going?” The words momentarily broke the spell of my fog.

“It’s been alright, I guess. To be honest, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately,” I said over the top of his right shoulder, feeling suddenly vulnerable and relieved at the same time to have told the truth.

He nodded his head – I felt the tension in his arm shift as the subtle movement traveled down through his neck muscles all the way to his wrist.

“Everyone feels that way sometimes,” he answered, reassuringly.

I took a deep breath and let the music resonate through my torso. I closed my eyes and surrendered; he dipped me, I followed, arching my head back expressively. As he pulled me back upright with a palm on the center of my upper back, I felt my hair momentarily lift into the air like two wings expanding when a bird takes its first leap off the branch into open sky.

We hugged each other at the end of the song and parted by saying thanks, each of us heading back into the crowd to find another dance partner.

Going into my next dance, I felt a little lighter. Perhaps it was the music, or the primal warmth of being touched, or the release of pressure by way of being real with another human being, even if for a moment. A little crack in my shell of depression had appeared, and I could peer through it to see the light on the other side.

A stout young man about my height with sandy brown hair stood facing me, our clasped hands were poised in mid-air at our sides as we waited for the next song to begin. Then with a subtle shift in tension, we began to move. Our torsos twisted in opposite directions, like two magnets repelling one another. We twirled as a pair twice and then came back to face each other, this time a little closer. My forehead brushed against his cheek and I noticed a gentle vibrating in his chest, as if a bee was hovering behind his rib cage. A few minutes later, I realized he was humming along with the music.

As we danced, I wondered how many other people came to the ballroom feeling depressed, alone, or sad.

Two summers ago, I’d learned a powerful healing technique for partner dancing during a blues dance immersion weekend (called an “Exchange”) where I attended workshops in-between river dips and late-night dances in the woods. During the third day of the Exchange, I took a course where we danced with a partner, while letting them feel anything they wanted to. Meanwhile, we supported them with the intention of ‘being there’.

An incredible thing happened when we tried this. Many of us reported feeling validated, empowered and connected to one another in a deep, profound way, even though we’d only just met. It was a life-changing moment for me and I thought of it now. Perhaps it would be a good night to try it again.

I’m here for you, I repeated silently in my mind. My partner was still humming as he lifted his arm to twirl me. The momentum caused my yellow dress to fly outwards, creating a sand dollar shape around my hips.

“What a pretty dress!” he proclaimed, smiling.

“Thanks!” My cheeks flushed pink.

I closed my eyes again, and surrendered to the movement; felt down into my feet, rooting me. The hardwood was stable and solid beneath the thin fabric of my ballet slippers. I’m here for you. He glided me across the floor, held me closer. I leaned in. I could feel every breath – both our hearts beating. The music suddenly felt alive, like a song coming through me. I was aware of the emotion our bodies exuded, and every subtle movement communicated a feeling.

Blues Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Blues Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Something dawned on me mid-way through the dance. I realized I was actually speaking to myself. I’m here for you, I kept repeating, each time softening a little more into the present moment, remembering how to love myself.

Gradually, the foggy shell of my depression melted away, and for the first time all day, my mind was clear, and I was present. I felt the soothing warmth of his hand as it cupped my lower back, guiding me. When the notes faded to a stop, we let go of one another to make eye contact. I was so grateful for the dance. We hugged each other before parting ways.

At the end of the night, I stepped outside onto the covered sidewalk. A block later, right after I’d left the shelter of the cover, rain poured down in glittering sheets. It was as if the sky was just waiting to dump a river of water right as I walked beneath its open arms.

I laughed, feeling like somehow it was a trick played just to test me.

Challenge accepted.

I held onto my purse and began to run. I let my jacket flap open, and felt the cool water wet my hair. I grinned as droplets slid down my cheeks and off my chin.

This is what life’s about after all. Dancing in the rain, dancing with the blues, stepping forward anyways, open. Open and alive.

—-

Check out this short video clip of my good friend Richard and I dancing! And some pictures…

Dancing in Portland, 2012.

Dancing in Portland, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

Dance Exchange in Seattle, 2012.

Dance Exchange in Seattle, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

How Every Good Story in Life Begins; Thoughts on Travel, Memory and Purpose

In one swift movement I pull the heavy fan of hair up off of my neck and spiral the curls into a tight bun on top of my head. Then I slip my feet into two comfortable leather black sandals, and walk out the front door.

That’s how every good story in life begins, doesn’t it? You must first simply open the door, walk across the threshold, and out into the world. But what comes next is a mystery. Pay attention because there is a message in the spaces between knowing — the left turn instead of the right, the rose dangling across your path, the stranger who says “hello”; the pull to go a bit further, or to slow down and listen. I know it all too well. There was a purpose to every fork in the road overseas, just as there is now.

Dusk has pulled a shade across the sky and I can’t quite make out the street signs, but it doesn’t matter. I just want to move. As the soles of my feet settle into the familiar footbeds, perfectly molded by miles of walking, I choose a direction and stroll into the arms of the warm evening air.

A cat rustles through the hedge near my feet as a bicycle whirs past us. I keep walking. I pass someone hunched over a front-yard garden plot in the dark.

“Nice evening to get some yard work done, isn’t it?” I say.

He stands up and laughs, agreeing.

“Enjoy!” he calls after me as I roam on, noticing the rhythm of my stride, and pick up the pace.

I exhale, feeling my muscles stretch and wrap around my bones, lift my legs up and set them down again. I breathe in. The air smells sweet and earthy. If Oregon had a perfume, it would be this night – alive and blooming, yet subtle like a river winding through the fern-lined canyon. The smell is deeply comforting and reminds me of the camping trips I went on as a child.

As I stride up the sidewalk and around the corner, I spot a single glowing ember — a cigarette — it flickers, and gradually, my eyes adjust to make out the dark silhouette of someone sitting on the porch behind it. Across the street, a television set casts an eery blue glow through the window. I look ahead at the charcoal trees and see stars peeking between their limbs like owl’s eyes.

I close my eyes momentarily and when I open them, I’m beneath a bright streetlight, walking along a shoulder-height concrete wall. I move my arms and legs theatrically, giggling at my shadow as it waves back at me.

Suddenly I’m in Poland, walking where my ancestors never walked out of. The memory scares me, so I return to now. And then minutes later, I’m in Italy, strolling along the water’s edge, gazing out at the full belly moon hanging from an invisible thread above the glittering sea. Not long after, just around the bend, I’m in Germany, crossing the wheat field, yellow stalks crunching underfoot.

It’s surprisingly easy to visit these places I’ve been to before; I call the memories my travel ghosts. I feel them so poignantly sometimes that I have to stop what I’m doing and forfeit my full attention to them. It’s then that I feel an overwhelming aliveness, remembering the taste of freedom and recalling the detailed sensation of a place or an experience.

But as I walk past the rosemary bush, and the lights of my home come into view, I remind myself that I’m still free now. After all, just tonight, I put on my traveling shoes and stepped out, no plan or agenda in mind. Traveling really can be that simple. It begins with the desire to experience the world, and then unfolds in the spaces between the knowing and the planned and the organized.

If you want to travel, here’s my advice: Open your door. Step out. Then pay attention.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Morning in Spain.

Morning in Spain.

Sunset in France.

Sunset in France.

Be More like Babies & Live Happier

I’m deeply immersed in writing a blog post for work when suddenly I hear a sound that causes me to pause. I look up from my tiny window table at the coffee shop and meet eyes with the most glowing, chubby, angelic face. She’s standing in the middle of the room, halfway between her mother and me. She smiles at me ecstatically as if this very moment is the most joyous moment there ever was; her eyes are sparkling like a lake aglow with the first rays of sunrise.

And then the sound again – it’s somewhere between a howl and a squeal and it fills the room with a burst of energy. The whole mood of the place shifts. Heads lift from computers and suddenly people are smiling and alert, looking around at one another and aware of the day beginning. A sound like that can only be the result of a soul so thrilled to be alive and so excited by the tiny details of the world around her that her delight is literally spilling over, and simply cannot be held back. Little sprays of spittle are bursting into the sunlit room from her mouth with each consecutive squeal. In her hands is a plastic cup which she’s stuffed with napkins. She’s carting it around like a dog might carry his bone — like treasure.

Now I’m alternating between typing sentences, sipping my coffee and staring back at this little two-foot-tall being who is dazzling the room with her contagious joy. She stares at me wide-eyed with a look of pure serenity and happiness on her face. I can’t help but feel what she’s feeling and I find myself smiling back at her cheerfully. The grin doesn’t ware off, even after I shift my eyes back to my screen. In fact, I feel notably lighter.

I think to myself: I want what she’s got. And then: what if adults could be more like babies?

Now I’m not saying we should all go around drooling and making non-sensical sounds in public places at one another (mainly because that would probably land you in jail, not because it wouldn’t be totally comical and even fun), but there is something to be learned from this baby’s outlook on the world. For one thing, we could all smile more often at strangers, because just this one act has the power to change a person’s mood and even outlook on the day. Did you know that humans have an incredible ability to transmit emotion to one another through our faces via a thing called mirror neurons? Mirror neurons allow us to mimic what another person emotes by merely looking at them (read more about that here).

Can we all wake up each day looking at the world as if it’s brand new and full of possibilities like the baby girl in the coffee shop does? Probably not, because we’re adults, and over time we’ve discovered that we’re flawed and broken in places, and not always capable of motivating ourselves to be our best. BUT even if you could think this thought once a week, it could foster a positive belief system that would lift you up when things get rough and create more opportunities because you are remaining open to them.

Last but not least, is the world a beautiful place full of details worth admiring and being moved by? Absolutely. There’s tragedy too – but certainly every person living in Oregon knows the miracle of seeing sunlight after months on end of gray and rain. I nearly cried at the sight of a daffodil the other day. It’s these little miracles that make life enjoyable. We can either pass them by, rushing on our way to the perceived destination of “success,” or we can pause and squeal about them, let our hearts speed up a little at the thought of spring; at the thought of all the baby birds that will be born soon and the longer days offering daylight for us to frolic in after we emerge from the caves of our offices.

It might seem like a stretch, but I’m going to say it anyways: be more like babies are, baby! And let the world see your soul smile more often.

Just in time for throwback Thursday, here’s me circa 1989:

That's me.

Strutting my stuff.