Name that Malady!

Photo: Something in My Eye

Do I have Onchocerca volvulus, or is there just an eyelash stuck in my eye?

All Other Martyrdom is Naught before Mine

This harsh, persistent pain I have, O Doctor, tell me, please,
Can it be cured by some cheap salve, Or have I some disease
Beyond the scope of modern meds And pessaries and pills,
Like something Biblical in scope, One of those icky ills
You read about in magazines, See movies-of-the-week
About so frightful that you Realize that you’re a freak
To have such creepy plague, To be afflicted so, withal,
That even specialists will cringe And dash off down the hall
To hide behind their file Cabinets until you leave
Because they’re overwhelmed by the Bizarreness they perceive
Upon your person when they see Disturbingly displayed
Such malicious malady It makes them sore afraid.
What say, Sir Doctor? You detect My source of agony?
Who suffers worse than martyrs who Have papercuts, like me!

Photo: Open Wide!

Well, shut my mouth! Maybe that nasty odor wasn’t Trimethylaminuria, but don’t just give me the brush-off.

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.

Hijacking Happiness

digital artwork from a drawingTrouble, as we all know, is highly contagious. I was reminded of this recently both by a television character and by a couple of real-life incidents involving real live people (who shall here remain nameless), and all of them, real and fictional, have a number of similarities, the chief one being their apparent unshakable belief that their suffering is greater than anyone else’s, is incurable, and is probably the fault of everyone else too.

My life is pretty fantastically good, when you get right down to it, so to people who don’t know me very well it might appear that I have no business criticizing anyone else’s way of handling sorrow and pain. But that’s just it: even the most wonderful of lives is touched by trials now and then, and struggle or strife isn’t fairly measurable in the moment. My paper cut seems as dire as your childbirth pangs when I’ve just gotten paint thinner on my hand. I know this to be logically ridiculous in the extreme, but don’t tell me the paper cut doesn’t hurt like boy-howdy at that moment. That would be tantamount to me telling you that since your labor pains will probably be over in short shrift, they don’t compare in any way to another’s battle-for-life with esophageal cancer, so you should just get over yourself. Whatever agony each of us is undergoing is more than enough and not to be belittled. And frankly, since each of us has a history that is tinged here and there with darkness, we do all have a sense, however small, of what it means to accept our griefs and cope with, live with, and go forward with them still present. Real sorrows never truly go away.

And for all of us who can feel empathy, or even more than that, can feel sympathy without having experienced the fulness of another’s troubles, life after infancy (when memory, like the lifespan thus far, is short) can be a perpetual bombardment of such troubles even when they’re not entirely our own.

I, of all people, will readily grant you that some people are far better equipped than others to find ways to survive pain and suffering and to continue living a full life without resorting to out-and-out acting. But that’s just it, isn’t it: barring full mental incapacity, don’t we owe it to ourselves, anyway, to try every possible avenue of becoming whole and happy (and of course I don’t mean that superficial kind of happiness that is either fully false or simply stupid); don’t we? When my personal apocalyptic horsemen appeared at the intersection of a group of the classic stressors (job-related problems, health challenges and the sudden death of a close friend converging on me at the same time) and plunged me into clinical depression, I was fortunate to not only have some of the significant tools (support from family and friends, a great doctor and a good therapist, and ultimately, medication that worked for me) for doing battle with those monsters but also the sense that there was no other acceptable option but to try to do that battle.

I won’t lie; there were times–and will probably be more of them over the years–when I did have to take the tack of that ‘fake it till you make it’ mode, when I simply wanted to quit and lie down and just hope it would all miraculously fix itself, or when I was as sulky and whiny and crotchety and pessimistic and tedious as unhappy people can be. We humans are good at all of that stuff, better than at being sunny and charming. But finally, even in my worst state I knew that was no way to live, and that the important people around me would suffer at least as much as I did, if not more. Thanks to the aforementioned helpers, I am here to tell the tale. More importantly, I don’t dwell in that darkness, even though there’s not much I could prevent or even fix about the troubles that led to such a state of existence. Things just happen. It’s how I deal with them that’ll likely make or break me.

That television character–and the many real-life imitators I referenced–stays so focused on how traumatized and maltreated she feels (albeit by genuinely distressing events and problems) that they become her one-note existence. She has a hard heart because it seems less trouble to close it to others than to be vulnerable to further hurt, but of course the actual effect is that she treats everyone around her like dirt, riding roughshod over their feelings and regarding any trauma or maltreatment they may suffer, often at her hands, as inferior or nonexistent. In turn, after being stomped on repeatedly by her seeming egotism, narrow-mindedness and refusal to set her hurt aside, the people around her disperse as speedily as that unlucky drop of water hitting a sizzling skillet explodes into mist. Those who tolerate her constant vituperation, impatience with their perceived stupidity or lack of sympathy, and her seeming wish to continue forever wallowing in her fury and self-pity, those characters ultimately become uninteresting or even unsympathetic themselves to me; after the ninety-ninth offense anyone sits back and takes without a fight, they tend to my eye to look like either enablers or equally fixed in victim mode.

I think we all have the power to steal others’ health and happiness, at least as much as the reasonably healthy among us should make every effort to take charge of our own. Doesn’t mean perfection is expected, but c’mon, people, if there’s really no going forward with life, perhaps a retreat to a very quiet hermitage would be more apropos than imposing our worst on the rest of the world. Yeah, I said it: get over yourself, Kathryn. Even if it might occasionally require brief periods of kindly deceit, times of returning to fighting off the dark singlehandedly, and the ordinary moments of being a jerk. It’ll mean equal demand on me for repentance, amends-making, and getting back on the wagon. There’s too much life left ahead, I hope, to spend it mired in a grim and terrible past, let alone impose it on others.

The upside of all this is that there is a possibility of turning this kind of thievery to good. Very simply, if I have to I can borrow my equilibrium and contentment from others. Put myself in proximity to saner, happier people than me until I can manufacture my own, and quietly absorb what I can of their good graces. I, at least, don’t want to be the one who steals the joy of anyone else; that only becomes the reason for new sorrows all ’round. Happiness and health can be contagious, too, if we let them. And so we all should, my friends. So we should.

You’re Not Afraid? You *will be*!

digital collage

The Jitters

Remember the years when we were young

And captive among our babysitters?

Sheer terror would reign with its horrid thrill,

The unspeakable chill we would call the Jitters.

Under the bed or under the house,

A mouse isn’t safe when the Jitters gleam

Reptilian fangs and rhinoceros horns;

O! The scorns we would risk to release a scream!

Anything dark and anywhere doored

Could harbor a horde of Jittery creeps;

They hide under blankets and lurk behind stones:

The wrack in the bones that never sleeps.

Do I hear the wind? Did you hear an owl?

Or was it the howl of the restless dead?

The moan of a sailor just as he drowned?

All around are the sounds of the things we dread.

That flickering light! The curtains a-moving,

And both of them proving that something is near:

We’d writhe in our agonies, plagued by deceptions

And all the perceptions of what we fear.

This, you remember, was life with the Unknown,

And all of the fun known as children was moot

Whenever night fell or a stranger came calling;

Appalling how it never stopped its pursuit.

Now deep in adulthood, responsible, sane,

We scoff at the pain of those gibbers and twitters,

Yet get us alone, in a vulnerable state,

And sooner or late, we succumb to the Jitters.digital collage + text

Endless Falling

A whisper in the gloaming just pre-dawn
A shiver or a prickling on the neck
A flutter of the eyelid, quick, then gone
And hope of any sleep is now a wreck

Above me in the dark are broken dreams
Above my brow an icicle of fear
Above the awful emptiness, the screams
In silent agony are all I hear

And under all this brittle disarray
And under skin and in the bone and soul
And under some enchantment, night and day
I know this wickedness will eat me whole

Against the dangers present in this fright
Against the door of Death I’ll knock tonight