A Matter of Endorphins

I was uncharacteristically sad yesterday. There wasn’t any reason for it, I was just plain sad. I wasn’t down-in-the-dumps sad. I wasn’t depressed, or grieving, or heartbroken, or lonely. (My word, but there are a lot of beautiful shades of that emotion). I was just… blue. Down. Maybe a little melancholy.

The sadness continued this morning, meaning it lasted around 36 hours. I woke up and went through the motions of using the restroom, washing my hands, brewing my coffee, then reading a bit in a biography while it brewed. But the whole time, I felt like looking out the window and just giving a sigh, like those two kids on the opening page of the Cat in the Hat who can’t play outside because it was raining too hard. A breakfast of Greek yogurt with blueberries, a hot shower, a clean shirt, a hug from my boyfriend, still sad. I blended my lunch of protein powder and fresh vegetables (spinach, carrots, broccoli) then headed into the office, listening to NPR on my way, still sad. I saw my first client and talked about overcoming depression with him, still sad. And then I thought, “Okay, that’s enough. I don’t want to be sad anymore.”

I took a long walk through the park during a quiet hour from work, my office being just a block from a major city park. The birds were singing, there were hot shirtless runners, there was a light breeze, and the sun was shining perfectly. There was a lot to be grateful for. As I felt my body slowly come awake, I felt a familiar stiffness in my bones, and the blood flow through my muscle groups felt amazing. My bones popped, my spine expanded, and my head cleared as I breathed it all in, quickening my pace a bit.

I took a moment to take stock of my melancholy. On Sunday, upon leaving Philadelphia, I’d woken up sad. The night before, I’d had dinner (an incredible mushroom shepherd’s pie), drinks (two Old-Fashioneds), and dessert (chocolate creme brule) with my boyfriend as we listened to incredible live jazz music. I’d felt so alive. But then Sunday morning I’d woken up sad. I packed my suitcase, showered for the day, and then spent four hours at the local art museum before heading to the airport. A two hour wait and a four hour flight basically meant six hours of reading (a new biography on Tennessee Williams), and then finally home. Yet sad the whole time.

And then Monday, healthy food, several hours of work, and then a long evening of play time with my sons, who I hadn’t seen in five days. I gave them new animal toys to add to their toy zoo, a harpy eagle and a sun bear, and we played together in the backyard, laughing and having fun. I made them dinner, we played Twister, they were hyper and silly and it was a wonderful night. But the entire time, still, blue, and knowing it the entire way.

As I walked through the park, I did a little therapy on myself, as I often do when I have something to puzzle out. Were I to come to myself for therapy, with this set of problems, how would I counsel me as a client? What would I have to say? I would ask me to describe the sadness, what kind of sadness it was, and what I had to be sad about. Then I would remind myself that sadness is a natural state, that all humans are sad, even when life is really good.

It’s a matter of endorphins, I would say.

I would remind myself that the brain produces endorphins (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine) naturally, but it produces best in optimal conditions, with healthy nutrition and hydration, ample sunlight, low stress, and good sleep. And I would remind myself that if the brain has been producing endorphins at high amounts for a few days in a row, then it is natural for it to produce lower amounts for a period of time afterward, as a balancing measure. It is also normal to have a low when one hasn’t been sleeping well, or has been drinking a lot of alcohol, or has been eating a lot of sugary or salty foods, or has not been exercising. No one gets to be happy all the time, and blue has its place. Blue is safe. Blue is okay.

I just got back from vacation. I ate a lot of food, drank and danced, traveled, and hadn’t slept a full night in several days. Blue was normal, and it didn’t make my life any less wonderful. Even when sad, all of my joys were there: my children, my partner, my work, all of the things that give me balance and happiness. It was a blue hour, or perhaps a blue day, not a blue life.

I finished my walk around the park, ready to resume. I felt a little bit lighter (meaning my brain was producing just a few more endorphins), and I knew that after a nice meal, I would feel even better still. The world around me remained beautiful.

Blue sky, blue water, blue blood, and me.

Blue

A Few of My Favorite Things

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I love tree branch picture frames, when the view from my back is a dusky sky surrounded by jagged leafy edges.

I love the empty space in my arms on nights with no kids, where I can almost feel them cuddling into me, invisible heads nestled into the spot between my chin and my shoulders, a pellucid invisible hand on my cheek.

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I love the one hundred different colors the leaves think to turn themselves as the heat of summer retires into shorter days and longer, colder nights.

I love words that arrest my brain with sound and rhyme, poetry and deeper meaning. Fervor. Cadence. Alacrity. Pulchritude. Profundity. Lackluster. Brouhaha. Cacophony. Conundrum. Detriment.

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I love the shining crystals that stand on freshly fallen snow, undisturbed by the ugliness of footprints and human destruction.

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I love the helpless peeping sounds ducklings make as they boldly forage across the pond.

I love the deeply textured and billowed skyscrapers, canyons, valleys, and cities of clouds I only see from airplane windows.

I love the all-encompassing warmth in my heart when I hear my children call out to me in the mornings, the feelings of genuineness, unworthiness, love, patience, dedication, strength, and fear they bring.

I love savory salty crunches.

I love that two people could have ten thousand children, and each one would be a new combination, a unique and unpredictable miracle of life.

I love sunlight on my skin through the window, and how it can warm my whole body.

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I love the bizarre combination of peanut butter spread on toast and dipped in orange juice, the sweet, soggy, earthy flavor that coats my tongue with each bite.

I love the deep muscle ache that sets in the day after a great workout.

I love taking the last product out of the box, the sense of finality and accomplishment in disposing of the container, and the fresh feeling of birth and newness of replacing it with a new package.

I love seeing a sight, be it a squirrel, a spoonful of soup, or a sad sequined stranger, and inherently injecting emotion, drama, motive, incentive, denouement, plot, and climax in a split second, my writer’s brain operating undisciplined and unrestrained in even the most mundane.

I love seeing a person recognize their potential, forgive themselves, and choose to step forward with strength.

I love in late September when the air coats my lungs with cold and feels like Halloween.

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I love using my strong thumbs to find the tense spot and feeling the pain intensify with pressure before it oozes out of the body like toothpaste from the tube, leaving only the impression of a bruise behind.

I love the rare occasions when the deep percussion of my heartbeat sets in my bones with rhythm, celebration, alcohol, and friendship taking over, and I dance without limits.

I love walking the streets of an unfamiliar place and, without agenda, awaiting the next experience.

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I love the thrill of a blank sheet of paper.

I love how each vertebra pops and expands and releases in the shift from downward dog to upward, and the newness each small stretch brings with it.

I love finding just the right angle in the mirror where I can think, “Damn, you look awesome”, for just a moment before I turn.

I love the unseen smile I get in my throat where no one can see when someone surprises me with just the right counterpoint in a bantering session, and the challenge I have to quip back.

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I love dark chocolate on my tongue, slowly melting.

I love the sound of woods, all rustling leaves and birdsong and pine.

I love the majesty, and the inevitability, of waterfalls.

I love the altering shades of blue in the eyes on my children, never quite the same, each containing their own universes.

I love the threat of the bathwater as it slowly rises around me, promising to cook me from outside in.

I love hot water down the spine.

I love the splashing colorful grandeur of fireworks.

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I love the smell of fresh apples.

I love earth, dirt, and grass beneath bare feet, knowing that billions of life forms exist below as they do here, and above.

I love thunderstorms, majestic, black, powerful, fill-the-entire-sky thunder and lightning extravaganzas.

I love choosing water by the cup, the glass, the gallon, and washing away all the unwanted with each sip, gulp, and drowning.

I love that there is no truth except my own, and that my truth is not your truth, and that your truth is not mine, and that my truth can change with age, and understanding, and experience.

I love shaking the boat, violently and willfully, or gently and rocking, so the water laps over and threatens the security of those who hold the oars, those who have forgotten other passengers are on board.

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I love the color coffee turns with just a touch of cream, and the soft bitter taste against my tongue with that first sip.

I love finding random knowledge, from a callously selected biography, an unexpected conversation, a dense nonfiction on an unfamiliar topic, a news article.

I love what I know to be challenged.

I love to have my awe inspired.

I love the pressure and anticipation I feel when finishing the last chapters of a book.

I love the slow painful realization that I’m not doing as well as I thought I was.

I love how many ways there are to make music.

I love my animal urges, and knowing that the animal is every bit as big a part of me as all the rest.

I love the feeling of a pair of eyes following me across the room.

I love losing myself in a role, in a character, in a line of lyric, in a song; becoming someone, something, somehow different from and more than myself, like all of us in one but still just me.

I love sticking it out, despite my most rational reasoning telling me I should go, and finding myself having a wonderful time.

I love learning that taking care of my own needs makes me better equipped as a father.

I love seeing myself on a long timeline, knowing each moment of my life was faced with all the authenticity I was equipped with at that moment.

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I love that everyone I have ever known leaves an impact on me, like a crashing meteor, or just a pebble, but enough to alter my lunar landscape for the rest of my days.

I love the other world I enter just before I fall asleep.

I love laying out small portions of my vulnerable self and finding out who will match me, pound for pound. I lay one down, then he does, I, then he, until trust and safety are there, or they aren’t. I love knowing that when I am not met in the middle, my sacredness, my self, will come back to me wiser and stronger through the pain and understanding.

I love that initial eye contact, then the gentle touch, then the kiss.

I love that line on the male form that extends over the stomach and into the hips on each side, the solidity and the core from which all else builds, and I love the strength when I feel place my hand there.

I love that no matter how far we fall as humans, physically or spiritually, we can always rise again in love and potential.

I love setting out to teach, and in turn learning more than I ever thought possible, over and over again.

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I love the assurance of the sunrise tomorrow, and the certainty of the moonrise tonight.