The summer of 1992 I was working as a media specialist for a camp in the mountains out side of Los Angeles. Basically that meant I followed the events of the family camp as they unfolded during the week collecting clips of video. At the end of the week I edited the clips into a final production that was presented at banquet in the dining hall on Saturday night. Sunday was a reset day and then we started it all over again. My little editing studio was in on the second floor in the back of a large log structure that also housed the main meeting hall. It was cozy. The mountains were beautiful. The work was hard, but rewarding and routine. Mostly routine anyway.
As my roommate and I were sleeping in on on Sunday morning, we felt the building shake a bit. Both of us were from Pennsylvania and at moment barely gave the event a mention. Then we noticed the California natives in the adjoining rooms were all headed out of the building. We wised up and followed suit.
I remember standing in the parking lot and watching the tall pines that surrounded us swaying from the shifts that were coming up from their roots. I was used to seeing them sway in the wind, but this was somehow different. Even more disturbing was watching waves move the pavement of the parking lot. Some of it cracked, some it is just rippled as if it was a lake and someone has just skipped a stone across the surface.
Along with these visual images, there were sounds. Sounds of trees cracking and falling. Sounds of rocks rubbing against each other and tumbling somewhere down a hillside. As one round of sliding rocks grew louder and louder it was interrupted by a noise that I can only describe as a box of toothpicks all snapping in half at once. Later that morning, we had divided into teams to inspect that areas of the property were we worked. The team that worked on of the children’s camps discovered that the box of toothpicks was actually a cabin. In the middle of the cabin, where 24 hours earlier had been about a dozen kids, sat a boulder roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
But even more memorable than the sights or the sounds was the feeling of the earth moving underneath me. The initial shock, which didn’t hit until we were standing in the parking lot, measured 7.2 on the Richter Scale. The aftershocks and tremors lasted well into the next day. I had never noticed it before, but the studio where I worked on that second floor shook every time one of our trucks or tractors drove by. From that day on, I noticed every shake and jiggle the building made, often stopping my work and walking outside to make sure it wasn’t anything more than a passing vehicle.
There was something very unnerving about the earth shaking beneath my feet.
As I work through episodes of major depression and think about years past when that was also accompanied by more severe symptoms of PTS and unaddressed gender dysphoria, I’m brought back to that feeling of not being able to trust the very ground I was standing on. During these episodes my emotional bedrock is also shaken and untrustworthy.
In the midst of it, I don’t know what feelings I can trust and which I need to discount. There is no way of knowing the true intensity of the feelings and emotions as they play out in my mind. Just like sitting in my studio, without some deliberate investigation, I can’t say for sure if I’m experiencing these feelings and thoughts through the lens of depression as it sends shockwaves through my brain or if what I am experiencing is true, legitimate and accurate based on everyday routine functions.
The more I’ve dealt with it, I’ve learned that I really don’t need to answer those questions right away. I can experience what I experience in the moment and allow for the fact that I may have a different perspective in a day or in a week.
But is doesn’t make those days or weeks any less challenging.
They can still shake me to the core.