“What is a hippie?”
A few nights ago, I went out to dinner with some girlfriends. I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but at some point, I described myself as a hippie. One of the ladies, P, hails from China. She had no idea what a hippie was, and asked me to define it.
I looked to the other ladies at the table for help. We started out by describing a “traditional” hippie- a 60s love child opposed to war but into free love and drugs. P’s features contorted into a mask of confusion. Since I had referred to myself as a hippie, what was I saying? I tried another approach.
I took to describing what a hippie might look like. Long flowing hair, no makeup, funky jewelry, gypsy skirt.
“That sounds beautiful,” replied P.
I went on to describe less lovely attributes. The tendency to use patchouli in place of hygiene. The drinking of wheatgrass. P was still not seeing the connection between me and these so-called hippies.
I finally landed on a fitting description, at least when it comes to me.
“You know how my kids rarely wear clothes? and all of our feet are black from going barefoot? And everyone thinks they are a bit wild because I fail to discipline them? That’s a hippie.”
Ok, maybe not exactly the perfect definition, but you try to narrow it down. At one point I mentioned noodle dancing, and P’s eyes completely glazed over.
Today, I had an experience that encapsulated, to me, what it means to be a hippie.
I struggle with periodic depression. I guess most people can say that, but for me, it is a medical diagnosis. This condition has been treated in a variety of ways. I’ve done my time on a therapist’s couch. My doctor has prescribed an assortment of medications. I have also had periods where I did not need medication and managed the depression through exercise, creative outlets, and conversations with friends and relatives.
A few months back, my husband received a temporary work assignment that would require us moving out of state for three months. As you can imagine, the lead up to the move was a stressful time. I had been taking the same antidepressant for over a year, and while it had been effective for much of that time, I felt it was no longer working. If you are familiar with antidepressants, you know this is not uncommon. Since I knew I would be away from my doctor for an extended period, I scheduled an appointment to determine the best course of action.
My doctor advised that switching to a new medication would be my best option. I explained that I would be out of town for a couple of months, but she thought the new medication would work out fine. She scribbled her name, tore the sheet from the pad, and sprinted out the door. The new meds did nothing for me. I began to feel more stressed and less able to deal with it.
I called to see if she could change the medication to something else, and she said she could not do that without my coming in to the office- a bit of an obstacle since I was hundreds of miles away.
Against doctor’s advice, I stopped taking the medication all together, reasoning that it was not helping me anyway. I know, I know- you can stop with the lecture. But this is not my first trip to the rodeo. I have stopped taking medication before, under doctor’s orders. I knew to consistently take my vitamins, especially D since I have a deficiency. Exercise and plenty of sunlight are vital. Surround myself with positive people. Make time to unwind a priority. Limit drinking, eat healthy.
I’m working my plan, but it’s not easy. The last couple of days, I’ve felt like I’m drowning.
Today, my husband saw that I was struggling. He gave me a squeeze and I had to fight back tears. I knew I needed to work out- it had been days since I’d done so, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“When was the last time you hiked up that ridge?” he said, pointing to the one beyond our backyard. It had been awhile. He volunteered to watch the kids and sent me on my way.
It felt so good to be outside, in the sunshine. My mood became linked to my elevation gain. The higher I climbed, the better I felt. I told myself I would hike as high as I could go, and then stop and take a moment to reset my thinking. As hikes tend to do, every time I thought I had hiked to the top, I would notice another peak, just a little bit further. I kept going, the movement and fresh air washing through me, breathing new life into my tired spirit.
At last I reached the top. I stood drinking my water and gazing over the city. It was late afternoon, the sun over the mountain, an hour or two before beginning its’ decent into night. I told myself that I should take a proper moment to absorb my surroundings and center. I lowered into a sitting position, and closed my eyes to feel the warmth on my face.
A voice inside me said “take off your shoes.” My own voice replied “now, that is some hippie shit. I’m not going to sit on a mountain top, meditating with no shoes.” The inner voice reasoned “you gotta do something.”
Fuck it. I gave over to it. I took off my shoes, and smiled at the sensation of the breeze on my toes. I laid back on the ground, my arms and legs wide resembling a starfish. Heck, if I was going to go for it, go all the way. As I laid there, I attempted to quiet my mind but that has always been my greatest challenge. Bits of conversation, some days old, repeated themselves over and over in my exhausted brain. I took to repeating “relax, let go, relax, let go.” At last, I could.
I opened my eyes, and the first thing I saw were two orange butterflies chasing each other across the blue sky. I swear, Arizona has the biggest, bluest sky I’ve ever seen. I guess because it rarely rains, there never seem to be any clouds to break up the view. Just blue, blue, blue as far as I could see.
The pair of butterflies were joined by their families- maybe eight to ten in all. Some still and quiet, blending into rocks. Others darting among the weeds. I lingered and watched them for awhile before putting my shoes on to climb back down the mountain.
A minute or two after resuming my walk on the trail, I heard a sound. After a moment’s thought, I determined it to be a coyote- not an unusual sound when you live in the desert. But then others began to chime in, a chorus of coyotes. Now this was a song I had never listened to. Over a couple of minutes, the sound changed. At first, the stereotypical howl, but blending into squeaking and almost laughter. I wondered if there were babies vocalizing, perhaps for the first time.
I was reminded of a friend who used to mountain bike a specific trail because at its’ end, she could see mountain goats. The trail was difficult and unrelenting work, but the pay off was to see the goats.
This same friend would sometimes write a word on her hand, so she would be reminded of the word throughout the day and contemplate the story. I decided I needed a talisman to assist me in my struggle over the next few days, something to remind me of the peace of the mountain. I grabbed the first rock I could see. I grasped it tightly in both hands, closed my eyes, tilted my head to that blue sky and repeated “draw happiness in, draw happiness in.” I resumed my walk, clutching that stone. I knew any time I held it, I would be reminded of this journey and the peace brought not from a drug but a walk.
I have no idea if I will return to medication. If I do, I am at ok with that. But tonight, I’m on an upswing. I intend to make it last.