October is arguably the best month of the year in New Mexico. The heat of the summer has tapered off into the pleasant and dry 70s during the day, and a comfortably chilly mid-40s at night. It’s not quite time to put away the short sleeves, but cool enough in the mornings to wear a cozy sweater. Like the rest of the country, our leaves begin changing rapidly around the 3rd week. I live near the Bosque, which describes the east and west banks of the Rio Grande. Sudden bursts of yellow explode within the green cottonwood trees that fill the strand, creating an amalgam of emerald and gold. The air smells crisp in the morning and dry with heat in the afternoons before settling into a refreshing bite as the stars emerge above the city of Albuquerque.
It’s the perfect time of year for hiking, camping, fishing, walking the dogs, eating breakfast on the patio, and potlucks with friends in the park. The intoxicating smell of roasting green chile is on the air, the balloon fiesta happens (hundreds of hot air balloons filling the sky every morning is an amazing site), and the outdoor patios at all our fine breweries gather fine folks like moths to a flame. To my wife and I, October also means Annibirthary week. This is when we celebrate my birthday, our anniversary, and her birthday on consecutive days by going on some type of outdoors adventure together.
October brings together some of what I consider the best things in life. But the advent of autumn also carries a hard and heavy weight for me. For the past 25 years I’ve spent my favorite time of year covered in a months-long blanket of depression. I can hear it breathing behind me as August turns, and by the end of September I’m in the fog. At my birthday I’m glued in, enveloped in gray that stands in stark contrast with the season of gold.
The result is that I live a sort of half-life: I’m experiencing the brilliance of the season through a shroud. This October I took a trip across the country, stopping at such awe-inspiring locales as the Ozarks and Great Smoky Mountains. I met my wife on the coast and we attended the wedding of a dear and old friend. For this year’s Annibirthary we were to stay in a trailer on the land my wife bought in West Virginia, and experience I was looking forward to. We were then to travel to Cuyahoga National Park, stay with friends, before driving back to Albuquerque. The first half of the week went fine. Once the wedding was over the meltdown started. My depression snapped at my face like a rabid dog, and the breathing I’d heard early in August had turned to fire on the back of my neck. Daily panic attacks meant plans had to change. The pain I felt in my heart was only equaled by the pain I forced upon myself thinking that I was ruining my wife’s vacation, and it was all my fault (one of depression’s most effective lies). We salvaged what we could, and we have some happy memories of the week, but mostly its polluted by hour long stops on the side of the highway to calm me down, and unstoppable tears.
Every autumn my hope for the best trumps my expectation of the worst, yet the worst always seems to happen no matter what I do. This year has been particularly hard: constant suicidal thoughts, self-injurious panic attacks, and I just don’t know how a body can hold that many tears. It’s also been particularly productive in spite of its hardships. My creative life is unbottling, sometimes at an obsessive rate. I don’t sleep, but more often its because my creative mind won’t shut down, rather than ruminating over what I would write in my suicide note. I count this as a valuable treasure, a ray of light cutting through the rain.
I’m heading off to Big Bend National Park in a couple weeks as I begin my month-long artist residency. I’ll be in one of the most remote areas of the contiguous United States, hours from the nearest professional psychiatric help, and an entire day’s drive from home. But I’ll be minutes from the Chisos Mountains, towering seven thousand feet in the Texas desert. I’ll be a short walk from the red canyons of the Rio Grande. The only expectation that I have been given is to be inspired and create. My hope is that the depression will clear by the time I get there and I can make the most out of this experience. Something tells me that it won’t make a difference if my dark tourist is accompanying me for the ride.