Content Warning: This piece contains references to depression, self-harm and suicide, which may be triggering to some.
Blue herons have been stalking us. No, that isn’t a euphemism. There are literal blue herons all around me. I live in Central New York, where blue heron sightings aren’t an especially common occurrence — yet here we are. One has made a nest at my boyfriend’s house, and has been seen flying away over their pond on more than one occasion. It has even been known to wander near the house itself, sitting reverently by the foot of the stairs and flapping away the second anyone walks by. Meanwhile, 20 miles away, across the street from my apartment, we’ve found a long forgotten public park behind a row of suburban houses. Somewhere in the trees above the fish hatchery there, a family of herons have built a nest. Whenever I wander through, I’m greeted with a jurassic screech and a flight of shadowy figures soaring high above.
At first, I didn’t know what it meant exactly, to be stalked by blue herons. But they had to be symbolic, right? I mean, Eli has lived in his family home for 22 years, and never seen them come this close before. I’ve lived in this apartment for two years and never heard anything about them. Then the next thing I know, I can see three on a single trip to a park that manifested itself less than a quarter mile from my bedroom? Come on.
The breakthrough came in September, when I realized that the blue heron is the image on the Temperance card in the Wild Unknown Tarot Deck. In the tarot, Temperance is about deep, alchemical balancing. Not perfect balance, but the act of doing the balancing, the act of moderating. Quelling fires with water and vice versa. Now, looking back on the moments where I saw a blue heron in my life, they were all times when I needed to practice this kind of temperance. Moments where I needed to curb the fires of my passions with the waters of cooler emotions, moments where I needed to balance the good and the bad. I’ve put out a lot of wildfires this year.
It is so easy to say that a year was monumental, and so difficult to say why. But 2019 truly was life changing, Earth shattering, bone-breaking and effervescently joyful all at once. It was the culmination of 10 years worth of pain, uncovered trauma, and heartache, and it started off with a bang. What follows here is a record of that, a timeline of my temperance year.
In January, I was doing alright despite the shitshow swinging around me; on January 13th, 2019, my Grandma died; on January 17th, 2019, I met my half-brother for the first time at her calling hours. I found out about my brother in the summer of 2010. Nine years, three short films, two web series, two wandering years, one degree, one car accident, one failed friendship and one perfect boyfriend later, I finally met him.
My dad told me about my brother in 2010, and asked to keep him a secret from my younger siblings until he was ready to tell them. My dad also, as a result of his own trauma, omitted some vital information about the entire situation when he told me that it wouldn’t be possible for me to have a relationship with him. He didn’t say why, he just told me I couldn’t.
Naturally, my rule breaking 17 year-old ass found him on Instagram three years later, and began to form the foundation of an awkward, fumbling sibling relationship with him. It petered out three months later, when I got in a car accident that left me with PTSD, an enormous well of depression, and deep, deep wounds. Consequently, our grandma’s funeral and our meeting in January has gone down as another enormous moment in my life that I still haven’t fully processed.
Throughout this year, there were moments of triumph. But surrounding each one was a moat of liquid impatience that I needed to get past each time. The events of January sent me drifting away from myself, and they were helped along by my desperate need to arrive at a place in my life, relationships, and career that I couldn’t yet access. I was aching for change, aching for things to speed up. In March I came up with a new book idea that was actually worth some time and energy, and actually exciting enough to get me to write an outline. But it took me until October to actually start writing it.
What’s confusing about all of this is that, on the surface, it was a lovely year. My partner of four years and I went on so many mini-vacations, watched so many Bon Appetit YouTube videos and episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, discovered a magical park across the street from my apartment, and got engaged. But in between all of those things were growing pains. Fights where we figured out how to fight right, work stress so high that we almost became a couple we didn’t recognize. But these aches mostly came from outgrowing things; we had outgrown our 2017/2018 relationship, which was painful because even though we both wanted to be engaged so badly, we knew without saying it that we had to wait for it.
Eli and I fought often about wanting more time together, which is simultaneously the sweetest and dumbest thing to waste time fighting about. In the midst of the worst of these fights, I turned to self-harm rather than actual communication. In May, I walked into my first yoga class in two years, the day after an extreme depressive episode. I was a walking, talking open wound, but yoga helped close me up and heal me properly, and it taught me to love and take care of my body in the process.
I hit another low point in June. I was incredibly depressed, but I felt like I didn’t have a reason to be. I mean, in January I’d I met my long lost brother, and I knew I was going to be getting engaged at some point. I had a solid romantic relationship and good food and a new book that I was neglecting but, dear God, I was so bored that I wanted to cry. All the time. Nothing was moving, and it made me feel like my life was stalling. I was still waiting on an agent to give a shit about my book. I was still waiting on Eli to propose. I was still waiting on that perfect job that made total sense for me, that would pay incredibly well and allow me to employ all of my gifts and talents.
I felt pretty suicidal for about two solid weeks in June. That might not sound like a lot of time, but when you wake up every morning wishing you hadn’t, and spend every day wishing you won’t, hurling your body out of bed so that you can get to your depressing day job that pays for the apartment that houses your bed — two weeks is an eternity. There were people in my life (people who aren’t anymore, to be clear) who made it worse. Real live people spoke my ugliest fears out loud to me:
“But you have a partner, you’re in such an incredible place in your life.” People who scoffed at my scraped-up self and basically told me, “Toughen up. You have no reason to be sad.” To a sad person, “you have no reason to be sad” is actually the worst possible thing you can say.
It took an army to march me back to myself. I continued going to yoga continued, period. And then came September, the bright star in the year. I turned 24, and Eli and I finally got freaking engaged, which was validating in a way I didn’t know it would be. In October, I started prepping my new novel for NaNoWriMo; in November, I got to meet my actual other half, my podcast co-host Frankie, in person in New York City. I wrote 20,000 words toward my novel — failed NaNoWriMo miserably, but felt better creatively than I had all year. I started vlogging again, and somewhere along the line, I came back. A pretty thing to put down in words, but a difficult, oftentimes ugly thing to actually do.
On Gourmet Makes, a hilarious and heartwarming series on the Bon Appetit YouTube channel, host Claire Saffitz will have a full on meltdown if the recipe requires tempered chocolate. It’s a finicky process: the temperatures have to be just right, for the right amount of time, or the chocolate won’t set up in that tantalizing, candy-coat way that we know and love. Functional temperance, the temperance of the tarot, is quite the same. It requires the ability to see what you have to do, and the patience to do it well, or else it’s all a waste of time.
2019 has been a year of balancing the heat of anger and sadness with the waters of love, growth, and reconnection. It was a year in which difficult situations have shoved me into the deep end and asked me to grow. I’ve been pushed to my limits, and come out stronger each time. It’s been a year of exasperated sighs and exhaustion, followed by the sweetest relief.
In that time, the blue heron has become a profound symbol and sign in my life; seeing one is a signal that something’s coming, but that it’ll be okay. I’m in one of those fiery moments currently, and have been for a few weeks. I’m exhausted, and ready for the wave of relief to wash over me. I know it’s on its way, and at the same time I recognize that the true lesson in temperance is that there will always be both cold and hot. There is always water to douse the fire. There are always snippets of joy, gratitude, and fun to be found in the middle of stressful, hellish weeks like these.
At the end of a week in which both Eli and I were coping with crippling stress at work, my coworker spotted a heron flying over the wildflower garden behind the library. Two days later, one flew by as Eli and I were getting out of our cars, on the way in to our first consultation with our florist. Lately, it’s felt like too much. There is too much going on all at once, breakdowns occurring even while we’re having so much fun planning our perfect wedding day. But when I step back to think about it, all I can see is what an absolute blessing that is. I get the relief and joy of planning our day, in the midst of so much pain, anguish, and stress. That is our relief, and ultimate joy, and it has made wedding planning that much sweeter. When Eli first proposed, planning was the thing I was most concerned about. I wasn’t worried about the day itself, or marrying him — that would be easy. But planning? What if I hated it and it stressed me out? Instead, I’ve gotten to watch the thing I was most afraid of become one of my greatest comforts. I mean, if I’m enjoying the planning process, the day itself will be a walk in the park—hopefully complete with a blue heron flying overhead.
In the words of my wise yoga-teacher-turned-friend, it’s important to find moments of joy within the moments of stress. Not in spite of, or instead of, but within. They’re something to laugh about, something to pull you out of the storm so you can see it properly. This year was exactly that. Moments of joy wrapped up in moments of pain and hardship. I’m not candy-coating the unsavory details — it’s just the truth. It was hard and wonderful all at once, and I think it might continue on that way. Something in the wind tells me I’ll be okay.