Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . *

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. . . Think I’m Gonna Go Eat Worms! [Note: no actual worms were harmed in the making of this photograph.]

Yes, it may be true that no man is an island–we all depend on others far more than we even recognize or comprehend–but conversely, every one of us is his or her own unique and seemingly isolated version of Three Mile Island at times when it comes to having personal meltdowns. It starts right at birth, when most of us scream and complain at having been removed from that ever-so-pleasant resort and spa, Mom’s innards, and ejected unwittingly and unwillingly into the cold, cruel world, and it continues, however sporadically, throughout our lives. We are such fragile creatures.

The majority of humans, happily, are not subject to this dark reality for too large a percentage of our lives, but it’s more common than is commonly discussed that we have trials, tribulations and the varying degrees of inability to cope with them that make us question, if not our sanity, then certainly our ability to rise above what’s bad, get a grasp on the good, and move forward regardless of feeling worthy or curable. Depression truly sucks–not just in the vernacular, but in the sense of pulling one down into a bottomless abyss like an evil and irresistible vortex.

I’m not referring, of course, to ordinary grief or sadness. We all get hit by those monsters at times. We flounder, we suffer, we recover. It may be deep and painful and take a long time to rebound from sorrows of even the most normal sort, but we do, eventually, learn how to go on living and being and take part in the doings of the world. Generally, that sort of difficulty or tragedy even tends to gradually heighten the sense and appreciation of what is good and joyful once we’ve experienced and survived the dark and can see the shining contrast of even a modest pleasure with what appeared insurmountably grim from its midst. True clinical, chemical, physiological depression, well, that’s a different thing.

It resists the most persuasive and intelligent logic. It batters self-worth and love in the most brilliant, gifted and accomplished sufferers. It tears at relationships of any sort with other people or with action, with one’s wit and will to survive. If it doesn’t make one outright, actively suicidal, it can simply kill through atrophy and attrition: sufferers have described the state of longing intensely to kill themselves but having no strength or energy to do so.

Why would I talk of such dire and dreary and horrid stuff, even think of it at all? Because I am reminded sometimes of when I used to be there. My worst bout of depression was perhaps aided and abetted by various situational and temporal aggravations, including the typical catalysts and intensifiers of real-world health and happiness threats: the onset of my spasmodic dysphonia, job problems, the murder of our good friend. These were of course widely different in intensity and timing, but to someone like me, their interaction with my evidently wonky endocrine system or whatever combined forces of chemical and biological imbalance were building in me meant that when I hit bottom, no amount of thoughtful and heartfelt reasoning with myself could ‘fix’ me or my situation.

I am one of the true Lucky Ones. I finally felt so brain-fogged, so unable to resist the pull of that deadly sucking, enervating, soul-destroying feeling of pointlessness and ugliness and being unlovable and incapable of doing anything meaningful or good–well, I got so needy that I actually let others help me. That was it. The only way out of the hole was to grip the hands reaching in toward me and let them do all of the work of pulling me out. Part of it was accepting these helpers’ assurances that they did indeed believe in me and in how I felt, that they loved me and knew that I had worth and potential. Part was letting others lead me around and taking their advice and simply letting go of what little shreds of ego I had left enough to say that I would do better in following an educated and experienced prescription for improvement than I’d been doing on my ever-weakening own two feet. And a part that was essential for me was loosening my grip on my insistence that taking prescribed treatment–both psychological and chemical–without trying to create or control it myself was a sign of weakness or failure. It took, in fact, all of my strength and intelligence to recognize that any strength and intelligence I had couldn’t save me.

The luck involved is clearly that together we (my caregivers–medical and personal–and I) did find the combination of therapeutic treatments, behavioral changes and chemical re-balancing medication that not only unlocked my present emergency state of depressive existence but ultimately proved to let me feel fully, wholly myself for the first time in my life. I know that this is not a cure but an ongoing process for as long as I live. And, having lived both ways, I am more than happy to take on that responsibility. It’s a privilege.

What’s most beautiful of all, for me, is that when it happens (as it has in this last couple of weeks) that several occurrences and situations conspire to remind me of this my past and how it shaped my present life and self, it also reawakens in me the profound gratitude for all of those complex minutiae that converged so miraculously well as to make this life possible. To make my continued existence at all possible, perhaps, but particularly such a happy me. What seemed like the most disastrous and irreparable of confluences instead conspired to make just the right blend at the right moment that finally offered me a rescue.

Turns out that eating worms is the very nourishment that makes some birds healthy enough to sing their hearts out with the pure delight of existing. Last week I was out walking and saw a ditch full of drowned worms, lured into and killed by stormy waters. This week I was walking the same route and the sky was filled with the most spectacular warbling, chirruping, musical bird songs I could hope to hear. Coincidence? Very possibly not.digital illustration from a photo

(* from the old campfire song Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . )

 

Calling All Saints and Superheroes

What’s that sound? Is’t the alarum-bells? A cry for aid? Say what, you texted me??? Sorry, wrong number!digital image from a BW paintingIf you came here looking for heroism, you are decidedly on the wrong front porch, knocking on the wrong-est door ever. For saintliness, try someplace down the block or around the globe. Any superhero cape I’ve ever owned was made for Halloween out of an old bedsheet (and the accompanying tights are, ahem, waaaay too tight now), and my halo’s batteries ran out when I was about four seconds old and discovered how to scream. Not out of rottenness, mind you, just out of excessive sheer humanity. If there is such thing as having feet of clay, why then I’m a virtual Swamp Thing. Believe me, I’m not proud of this; I’m certainly not bragging about such lowliness. Just stating the facts.

What I see in my mirror is a craven coward and a self-centered dilettante, one who delights in not taking responsibility for others’ well being and who has not the skills, the innate gifts, nor the desire to be a caregiver. Even when those whom I adore most are ill or suffering, I have such tiny reserves of kindness and such a short attention span that even the people who know me are likely to be surprised to be reminded of the depth of my depravity in this regard. I come from a good and kindly stock of nurses and teachers and home caregivers and pastoral and community leaders, and all sorts of people who have taught me by their shining examples how to show compassion and patience, and yet it didn’t really ‘take’.acrylic on paperBut if I’m truly forthright, I must also say that I am very reluctant to change. There is a part of me that does participate in the festival of guilt that is so liberally sprinkled over much of humankind, those who have even the most modest codes of ethics or morals or simple consideration for the existence of others. But I do not enjoy the company of that humble and self-effacing part of me, not at all. I stare at it until I feel sufficiently gloomy to assure myself I’ve not yet lost all contact with my fellow beings–and then I hasten to hide from it as quickly as I can. My better self reviles the mean Me that, while it worries about the well-being of my family who are so very far away, especially when as now, they are dealing with genuinely traumatic things like Mom’s surgeries and recovery, is still not-so-secretly relieved that there is no easy way for me to be called upon from 2000 miles away to be physically present in a sickroom or assist with things-medical and daily caregiving tasks that intimidate and frankly, discomfit me. I am squeamish. I’m impatient. I’m afraid of all things I don’t understand and incredibly resistant to being called upon to attempt to understand them, let alone perform any helpful deeds based upon them. I am desperately fearful of seeing anyone I even like, let alone love, in pain or unhappy.

Sometimes I can suck it up and pretend to be better than I am. I embrace as best I can the skills and tricks that have been taught me over the years to overcome many of my lifelong social fears and inhibitions. Even the remove of a telephone call is sufficient to get some people through at least the emotional demands of others’ needs, but since I’ve told you I have a sizable and lifelong phobia and dread of telephones (yet another inexplicable, and not very helpful, character trait), that’s not a really big boost for me. In writing, I can pull off the disguise of a better person very slightly more convincingly.

This all leaves me with the rather bitter knowledge that I am no better than I absolutely have to be to get by in any situation. I have to direct you elsewhere if you come looking for an example of How to Do Things when it comes to generosity, selflessness or compassion in action. It’s all hard, hard work that, if anyone is genuinely predisposed or programmed to do it, failed to take root in my DNA, and has to be forced on me. Here I am, smudged face and all, and as dependent as a baby on the goodness of others to make the world a better place. Can I get around my own resistance to open-handedness and gracefulness enough to be a decent person? Only the rest of my life will tell. I’m an optimist, so I hope that I’ll turn out better in the long run. I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, if you’re looking for a Rock you can depend upon, I must send you elsewhere–but if you want to join with this paltry grain of sand to build a beachhead, I’ll gladly welcome the inspiration and the good company. As you can see, I can really use the reinforcements.oil pastel on paper, digitally painted