Uncertainty and Hope

Beloved, let us sit down together in the shadow of the oaks; let us take deep draughts of fresh water from the clear, swift stream. In the scorching heat of the middle of day, let us take refreshment like the dragonflies that skim the water’s edge, and be restored by the caroling of birds in the distant shade.Digital illustration from a photo: By the Cooling Stream

The days are long and our work makes wearying and seemingly infinite demands, and we know that this will not soon change. There is change of many sorts ahead, this we know too, but what it will be is yet beyond our imagining. Thus it has been, and so shall it ever be: we travel our paths, seldom knowing quite where they lead, and we labor in darkness the while. Some days, the destination is sparkling joy, and on others it is marred by sorrow and strife; at times, the mists of uncertainty part and the way ahead becomes clear, and at others it remains quite fully obscure.

Photo montage: Beloved, Let Us Sit

What I know, Beloved, is this—that no matter how hard or easeful is the road and no matter what the destination holds for us, we walk our way together, you and I. We may long for clarity and even for the strength to wait for it, but in the meantime we will take our stops for breath along the way, sitting in shade when we may and drinking deeply from the icy stream, traveling always hand in hand no matter what the journey brings.

Suicide without a Corpse

digital illustrationMichelle, a writer I greatly admire, just offered a post on her blog, wherein she details some of the characteristics of her daily experiences in life as a person with depression. As always, she makes me think. It’s not simply that I, too, am such a person—albeit one whose version of depression is as unique, individual as hers and everyone else’s—but that there are a few aspects of depression that, if not exactly universal, are amazingly common. First of these is that being sad is not depression. Sadness is to depression about like a paper cut is to getting an ice pick stuck in your eye.

I will not belittle the paper cut, real or metaphorical. Pain of the physical and the psychic sorts will always be relative to our own experiences and our own moments, and pain of any kind is inherently unpleasant and undesirable. That, I think, would be hard to argue.

But I might also say that it’s less accurate to equate sadness with depression than to call being sad, however jokingly, being “differently happy”. Sadness is a passing, ephemeral experience of the sort where the last scoop of one’s favorite ice cream flavor has been dished up and handed to the person just before her in the queue. Depression is when she has the dish of that flavor sitting right in front of her and not only doesn’t have the strength to reach over and take a spoonful of it to eat, she thinks she isn’t a good enough person to do so, if she can form such a solid thought at all, and if there were a super-powered sleeping pill that could put her peacefully to sleep forever sitting right next to the ice cream and she longed beyond words to die, she mightn’t have enough strength to reach over and take the pill either.

Suicide is a hideous thing, if you ask me. It’s tough enough that anyone would hate or fear her life and self to the degree that she sees no alternative but to end it, but of course she either knowingly accepts whatever horrible consequences her death will have on the entire rest of the universe, starting with the people who love her or she is no longer capable of recognizing that there are such people or consequences or caring about them. Beyond that, it inevitably is simply messy in the practical and logistical and legal senses. Someone will have to clean up after the fact, and the suicide doesn’t or can’t care that this will require others to deal with her corporeal remains, the legal messes she’s left behind, the tasks unfinished, and most of all, with the incurable suffering that follows when survivors realize that they couldn’t save her, might indeed have been utterly forgotten by her in the abysmal darkness of her depression.

Every individual’s best response to depression is as different as his or her version of the ailment. I am one of those whose unique combination of depression and other physical and emotional characteristics and components resisted all non-medical interventions until despite my vigorous resistance to the idea of chemical treatment I learned that that was the only useful method for me. Rather than diminishing my sense of self, it allowed me for the very first time in my four-plus decades to experience what I now believe is (and yes, probably always was) my true self. It still required being dedicated to a variety of other forms of non-chemical rehabilitation and therapy; talk therapy, meditation, and my practice of various arts and exercises mentally and physically that please and heal me all contribute to my wellness along with my meds.

I was fortunate in a way that many clinically depressed people are not: I never seriously contemplated committing suicide. I would go so far as to say that I considered it as a rather detached philosophical argument, inwardly, but I never reached the point where I so lost my will to oppose the idea of killing myself that I could let go of all the external reasons not to do so, those messy consequences others would have to undo or survive. If I valued myself so little as to want to be dead, I suppose it could be said that at least this made me think it would be that much worse of me to impose so terribly on those around me for something that wasn’t directly their problem. This sort of tautology clearly says to me that I wasn’t in imminent danger; I was busy arguing myself out of something that I didn’t really have the strength to do anyhow.

What I didn’t recognize in the midst of all of this soliloquizing was that I was committing a form of suicide, if an invisible one. True, there would be no stinking remains turning into human soap and sliming the rubber gloves of some poor janitor, no internecine paperwork to be sorted by attorneys and opportunists. But the burden on the world around me would have been just as heavy, the struggle of my loved ones just as inexorable, if I hadn’t rather literally stumbled into the intervening care that brought me to this lovely resolution where I find myself dwelling so comfortably today. Because, in my depressive brain fog and fear and self-loathing and ennui, I was rapidly forgetting how to be alive. It’s quite possible, I discovered, to die without stopping breathing, without even losing all conscious thought. A walking coma, an animate death is entirely possible in the midst of true depression.

And for that reason, I am all the more grateful that by virtue of being surrounded by people who helped to guide me in that direction, combined with being blessed, lucky, fortunate, or whatever combination thereof you prefer to name it, after my years in the dark I fell into the combination of elements that conferred a kind of wellness on me that I’d never known before. I am among you today not just as a happy and contented person, full of gratitude and amazement at what a good life I have, but also as a testament to the unfathomable differences and distances between existing and living, between something indescribably yet terribly akin to sleepwalking through life and waking up every day a little bit more…alive.

Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . *

photo

. . . 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 . . . )