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 . . . )

 

Elemental, My Dear

photo duo in blue

The elements . . . not just for survival anymore . . .

Let’s face it, no question that we’re deeply dependent on the elements of nature. If I ever had any doubts, this summer has been full of wonderfully explicit reminders. The fiery heat of this record-breaking high temperature streak is scorching the land, making the state as water-starved as it’s ever been and turning the very air into an enemy (friend Patrick perfectly described standing in the wind here these days as being “like I’m standing inside of a giant hair dryer“). Even the water that still exists around here is overheated: fish are being cooked in the lakes. Parched crops are dying and threatening to starve the livestock, which in turn are being sold off before they too die off, and that means whole farms and ranches crossed off forever. At the same time, in other parts of the world, flood and typhoon and hurricane–a surfeit of the water my region is desperate to drink–are equally fierce in toppling crops and towns and livelihoods. These wet winds blow with the same violence that stirs up the dust of our baked clay ground and desiccated, blasted trees’ branches, but when loaded with water their fury takes on drowning power along with the walloping wall of pressure that forces the world into what we would like to think are unnatural contortions–but of course are sent directly by nature.

The elements are also high in my consciousness when I’ve been seeing my partner through a series of outpatient procedures, the latest and most significant of them (nasal surgery) intended to greatly improve his ability to breathe. Let me just tell you that nothing on this bejeweled and stupendous planet will compel me now to steer my current search for vocation (a job will do, but a vocation would be SO far preferable!) in a medical direction! I always knew I was not a natural-born caregiver, being much too self-absorbed to devote my all to looking out for the best interests of another properly. I knew I was, to put it kindly, timid in the face of danger and not especially tough, unless you might be referring to the calluses on my drawing hand. But I also rediscovered my squeamish side, finding that seeing my beloved in the least discomfort, let alone wan and semi-anesthetized and speckled with his own blood, renders me just this side of paralyzed and struggling for equilibrium and air just about equally with his own distress. Not a huge help. Luckily for us both, his medical teams throughout the summer have been truly outstanding and the procedures have all gone as nearly perfectly as one could wish, or we might both have been marooned.

The latter surgery itself was a fresh reminder of the centrality of air in our lives. My spouse, being a singer and conductor and teacher, has always been very pneumo-centric in the peculiar way of such creatures, and has also long had nasal breathing impairment that made a good night’s sleep an unattainable grail. Despite this, it wasn’t until we decided to further investigate the possibility of some of his seemingly mild allergies being better treated that his ENT discovered a whole world of underlying trouble with a CT scan and a little nostril-gazing. A drastically deviated septum, bone spurs on his internasal structures, and a whole “secret room” closed chamber taking up space on one side to further block air passage–it all makes me curious how he managed all of these years on such inadequate resources.

It’s a little like when I finally got the treatment that brought me off the brink of disaster when that infamous foe of a chemical imbalance in the brain couldn’t be corrected with talk therapy and a better physical health and earnest intentions for self-improvement. The minute my meds really started kicking in I began to realize not only that I was capable of being my whole self, but that I could do so without enormous impediments it’d never occurred to me other people didn’t have, let alone that I didn’t have to have them. What a pleasant shock. I am hopeful that once he’s fully recovered my guy too will find a perfectly astonishing improvement not only in his breathing (his surgeon says he wouldn’t be surprised by an 80-90% improvement) but in all of the aspects of life directly influenced by it. There’s no question that being far more fully oxygenated will drastically change his life experience, and I can only expect that that will be for the better.

Now, of course, the post-op life is full of struggling for enough hydration to counter the dry breathing (particularly through the humidifier-free night) constricted by swollen sutured tissues and following the effects of anesthetic, meds and stress. Ay! It’s conscientiously working on deep breathing techniques to counter the post-op blockage. It’s being careful to gently spray rather abused tissues with plentiful healing saline but conversely not to let bath, shower or shampoo water get, literally, ‘up in his face’.

What’s ahead, no knowing. Only that we will continue to learn our respect for the elements both when they attack us in excess amounts and when we long for them in their absence. For now, I will join in the communal rain dance and add to it my own arabesques for more air. Just be glad I’m doing any of my dancing in the metaphorical or perhaps metaphysical sense and you don’t have to watch me perform it, or there would undoubtedly be a surfeit among my readership of another kind of saline. Whether you cry from horror or from laughing yourself to tears is up to you.