It occurred to me today that my relationship to gravity has been a conscious process throughout my life. This was no epiphany actually. More of a self reminder.
When I was a boy, I was a chubby kid. I used to be a deep sleeper. Getting me up for school in the morning was one of my mother's most hated tasks. I can remember feeling the weight of gravity, even then, as I pulled myself from bed. I was never fully awake until I was halfway through my walk to school.
Gravity was my nemesis whenever I tried my hand at any sport, even swimming. Balls went down and hardly bounced back or went careening off out of control. I sank like a lead weight in fresh water. Hiking around the undeveloped hills of my childhood neighborhood was punctuated by falling and rolling downhill. Climbing trees was a particularly hazardous passion. I fell from relatively great heights more than once without major injury. My adversarial relationship with gravity changed later.
I entered college a burly 16-year-old. I weighed 220 lbs.and was 6 feet 3 inches tall. In my sophomore year, after three semesters of degree-related courses in science, I devised a Coca-Cola and potato chip diet which melted 40 lbs. off my frame in several months. When I stabilized at 180 lbs., I remember feeling so much lighter and better coordinated. My popularity on campus soared. I enjoyed dancing for the first time. Gravity had been put in its place for the first time in my life.
I now realize that shedding that body weight helped me shed the weight of a depression which had weighed me down since my grandfather's death when I was 11. Shortly after his death, three friends my age also died precipitously. Two in car accidents and one from spinal meningitis. The girl who died of meningitis was born on the same day in the same hospital where I had been born. Our mothers were close friends, and the family lived on the next street. The weight of that period dragged at my consciousness for the following six years.
When my depression lifted with my weight loss at 17, I began my adult sexual life as a homosexual. I had been aware of being homosexual from an early age. My adult sexual activity with older and established gay men saved me psychologically. I was living at home with my parents and attended a conservative Catholic university on an academic scholarship.
I wisely partitioned my life. Monday through Friday were days of long commutes and hard study for my degree in cellular biology. One weekend was devoted to partying with my conventional school friends on campus. The next was devoted to being at home where I helped out and studied. The third weekend was mine. I left home Friday evening with an alibi arranged with a school friend. I spent that weekend dating or meeting new gay lovers. This cycle got me through college with good grades and a modicum of adult maturity, for a 20-year old.
My breaking the gravity of depression allowed me to become flexible and energetic. It took me six years after college to develop the professional nursing career which sustained me for decades. Despite my family's absolute separation, emotionally and financially, due to my coming out to them when I graduated from college, I was able to navigate the urban world and gay society with significant others in my life.
The only up side of experiencing serious depression is the ability to recognize its recurrence before it becomes crippling. My relationship with gravity is key to that recognition of symptoms. Objects, including my own body, feel heavier by gradual increments. I gain a few pounds. I cannot walk as far without tiring. Since I walk regularly, this is a pretty early sign to me that I need to do something.
What do I do when I suspect an oncoming depression? The first thing I do is adjust my diet after assessing it carefully. If I can stimulate some weight loss, I am speeding up my metabolism. As soon as I feel lighter, I know I'll be fine. Yes, I firmly believe that all depression has a biochemical component which is both symptom and potential tool for treating it.
I had an aggressive cancer fourteen years ago. During cancer treatment, I went from 190 lbs. to 145 lbs.. My mirror image resembled a Holocaust prisoner. The bones of my whole skeleton were readily visible. Amazing lessons came from that experience. My lighter-than-ever adult body felt heavier than ever. But my mind and emotional state were lighter than ever. Subsequent near-death experiences from complications (septicemia, cardiac infection, renal failure) boosted me into a body-less state more than once. Talk about freedom from gravity!
It is interesting to me that dissociation of my conscious mind from my body, to the point of observing my unconscious body from above my hospital bed, did not make me feel completely free of gravity. This leads me to believe that consciousness itself may entail some form of mass or electromagnetic energy which interacts with the Earth's magnetic field. The way back from cancer remission from radiation and chemotherapy was indeed an experience of dealing with gravity on many levels.
I am now 66. The intensity of experiencing gravity is naturally increasing as my muscles atrophy and my joints harden. I have found that my relationship with gravity is a friendly one most of the time, as I accept my aging. I have great respect for it. This has allowed me to develop caution in movement. I have been able to adjust my exercise to stress flexible coordination over strength. Rather than curse gravity, if I fall, I take the lesson: Slow down, look where you're going, stay centered. Gravity and I are fine, but I won't miss it when it's gone.