You may think that because Canada is a northern country of long and harsh winters, our smells are only of cold, frozen earth, snow, and ice. Or maybe what comes to mind are the bland smells of a clean, safe city: the smell of a coffee shop here, the concrete mix of new construction there, the pot from your neighbours’ balcony as soon as it’s warm enough to open your living room windows.
But nothing could be further from the truth. This is a place where an ordinary stroll to the supermarket can turn into a soothing sensory experience.
I was feeling miserable: after riding on seemingly inexhaustible energy for the last several months, the fog and confusion are back. The depression, always lurking on a corner of the bathroom, is back. Depleted from pushing to the limit at work, both to fulfill my responsibilities and to function at a minimum as a cordial human being, I finally collapsed and screamed at my family last Friday. It was a movie playing out in front of my eyes that I could not pause. It played in my mind’s eye before it happened, while it happened, and, most painfully, after the screaming was done. The only difference this time was that I quickly apologized. And contrary to many years ago when mental illness was not part of our family’s vocabulary, I was able to immediately admit it to myself and to them: I’m not well, I haven’t been well and I need time now to get better. Everything was out and in the open because we have gone through this and it’s my mission to heal through openness and truth, to remove the stigma and call things by their name: depression, mental illness. Still, the fog in my mind continues, though it’s so much easier to deal with it when you don’t have to make excuses or pretend you are having a normal, productive day.
It was a weekend of blue skies, of cool breezes blowing through the bedroom curtains, of bright and sunny kitchens calling to activity and action. Yet I felt so purposeless and confused that the beauty only added to my distress and my anguish. I felt so tired, not even the bed gave me rest or comfort. Rather, I wanted to float, to sleep in a pillow as ethereal as a cloud, to feel weightless, to be rocked by a gentle beach wave, to leave my body and all the heaviness and uncertainty, all the awkwardness and the guilt behind.
I am fine. I am safe. My parents are here, living a couple of blocks away from me. My husband is here. My son is on spring break from school. But my aunt is mourning my uncle, and so many friends and family members are living in complete misery in Venezuela. The news attack me, not only from Venezuela but from everywhere. A litany of injustices, crimes, and horrors. I rub my eyes and my face trying to unread, then to understand. My safe surroundings do not reflect what I feel. The guilt becomes unbearable. The fog descends, I can’t help anybody, what am I here to do?!
That was the weekend.
Yesterday, I walked to the supermarket after dinner. I took a path running parallel to Shaughnessy, the main street. The path cuts across a few buildings’ backyards, back streets, and new construction. The first thing that hits me it’s the smell, so sweet and inexplicable in this urban setting. Yet there are enough forested areas, and pine trees and flower trees lining the houses and low rises, that they fill the air with spring. The birds are singing and the sky is perfectly blue. The fragrance of the flowers accompanies me the whole way there and back. If only I could continue walking, under the canopy, along a creek, for miles and miles. To see a meadow in the distance and make my way to it. To walk like Goldmund on his journey, my feet deciding for me where to stop and to rest. To walk and walk, and then to be gently lifted by the scent of the magnolias, transported to a place where there is no pain, only eternal spring.
Featured image: Claude Monet, An Orchard in Spring, 1886.