Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

canstockphoto11195013It is my nature to survive, to push through barriers, to stand my ground, to lose repeatedly until I don’t, to get up every time I fall. I am fortunate in my resilience. I am fortunate in my persistence. I am fortunate that depression is something with which I’ve learned to live.

Many people I know are being treated for depression, social anxiety, compulsive disorders. Maybe I’m drawn to them or them to me. I can nod knowingly when they talk about the panic attacks, the rollercoaster and the dark “what if” moments. And I know, too, that I can say aloud “I am depressed” in their company and not be told to turn that frown upside down.

I chose, many years ago, not to take a pharmaceutical route*. And it is not something for which I feel pride. I am simply too scared to mess with the devil I know. Instead I do constant battle with my own mind. It’s exhausting and demoralizing and I wonder at this stubbornness. As I crawl through these heavy moors, I tell myself one more day, one more day, until the day comes when I stand again and the skies clear.

In my early 20s, several years after my father committed suicide, I sat in a huddled ball on the bathroom floor and tried to figure out how to kill myself. One by one, I eliminated avenues. Too messy. Too remote. Unlikely to do the trick fully. Too undignified. My father sat in his car in a garage and lost everything. I didn’t own a car at the time. Or a garage. I harrumphed wryly at my dramatic posturing. I obviously did not want to die. That was the last time I considered it an option. It is not a trifling thought.

So, much like many things in my middling life, I go through depressions halfheartedly. I know the shades and tones of my depression by heart. If it’s hormonal, I just need to wait a day or two and ride the wave. If it’s situational, I need to apply my rational mind to dispel my misconceptions. If it is heavy and ponderous and disguised by high function and pleasantries, the message is that I need to make a change. This is what they mean when they say someone has “depressive tendencies”.  But they miss the subtleties, the nuances, the negotiations, and the fatigue.

The depression that has hung on for the last several months is a perfect storm of life changes, weather and hormones. It is a comfortable depression, nursed behind smiles and helpfulness. It tugs at my sleeve, beckoning me away from people, conversation, commitment. It calms under repetitious video games and shallow sitcoms. It temporarily purrs when fed mindlessly with mashed potatoes and cheese. It can be bought on occasion when surfing the Amazon devil.

It has laid me low. I have felt like prey in a carnivore’s mouth, flailing against the inevitable and wanting to just let go. But I have never let go for long – to stay still for too long seems dangerous. It’s a fear that has kept me pushing when I perhaps needed rest.

I lay in bed at night, restlessly turning over bits and flotsam of that day’s conversations. I think about the day ahead and realize it looks like so many others. But I know I don’t need novelty. I need just the slightest shift of the kaleidoscope. If I turn this way or that, things might look differently. A new perspective will perhaps change the grayscale to color.

I’m chasing my tail. I wonder that I’ve never caught on. I can’t think my way out of this dark, brooding mood. And I am embittered and disappointed with myself. I can’t rationalize away the sense that my life has been a series of steps forward and back, back and forward. And if I looked down, I’d realize that I’m in the exact same place I started.

That’s all a lie, though. It’s my depressive mind circling the drain. It is struggling for a hold, but I see it for what it is – familiar, engulfing, exhausting, but most of all, temporary. I am fortunate that I know it won’t last.

*I am very much aware that depression is an individual experience and support the use of psychotropic drugs, therapy, meditation – any route that eases suffering while still allowing for choices.

Books I’ve Found Useful at Times:

The Mindful Way through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Tao of Natural Breathing by Dennis Lewis

Working Out, Working Within: The Tao of Inner Fitness Through Sports and Exercise by Jerry Lynch and Chungliang Al Huang

Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression Edited by Nell Casey

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D.


Filed under Personal, Uncategorized

53 responses to “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

  1. I love this post but I also want to say, I love the design of your blog! Great job.

  2. Have you also read anything of Pema Chodron’s? I’m away from home at the moment so don’t have them at hand to recommend specific ones…

    Wishing you well x

  3. Michelle,
    Having been there, I wish you well, and I know that you will let the dragon sleep for a while. Because you have done so successfully before.

    I found St John’s Wort to be wonderfully helpful. No side effects and it just seemed to ease the weight on my shoulders. It interacts with lots of stuff, though.

  4. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    I am so sorry about this difficult stretch. Thank you for sharing about it in such a way that I, who have never experienced this, finish the piece with more understanding than I began with.

    • Thanks, Ellen. It’s one of the more difficult things for me to write about, because I’m so resistant to defining myself. As soon as someone says “depression”, even I have preconceived notions. As I said in the post, I’m very, very fortunate, because I know many people who experience it to a much greater degree.

  5. Gah. I have nothing helpful to say, so I’ll just sit here in support.

    • This is why I find it hard to write publicly about some topics – people aren’t sure if it’s a cry for help. I usually write about things that I’ve gotten a handle on, so just stopping by and saying “hey” works for me – thanks!

  6. I feel for you and relate very well. But I have to tell you…your descriptions are remarkably beautiful. Such a gifted writer.

    • Thanks for your kind comment. The fact that I’m even writing means that it is likely the clouds will lift soon. The desire to communicate seems to be the first thing to go when a depression enters the scene. Strangely enough, it is often the way out as well.

  7. I’ll stop by and say “hey” as well. You said it all well.

  8. I have three things to say:
    I don’t see this as a cry for help or any reason to, God forbid, give you advice. Just saying ‘hey!’
    BRAVA! For your journey, for the way you’ve handled your cross with such courage and fortitude, for the way you keep managing to find yourself through the darkness.
    Brilliant brilliant clear captivating writing. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Alison. It is a difficult thing to describe and for many years, I resisted saying out loud what I felt. I come from some tragic examples of mental illness and for the longest time, I didn’t want to believe that I experienced some version as well. I have been fortunate that for every moment of dark, there have been many more moments of light, of kindness and of compassion. I am comfortable enough in my own skin these days to acknowledge the dark underbelly of my brain and not be sunk by it. Wow – how many metaphors can I fit in a single sentence?! Thanks again for your generous comment.

      • I love this – “I am comfortable enough in my own skin these days to acknowledge the dark underbelly of my brain and not be sunk by it.” Let me just say it shows.And once again – Brava!

  9. You made my heart stop for a moment, but in the purest way, if that makes sense … I will be sharing this with someone I love dearly in the hope that it might offer him a glimmer of understanding at this difficult time. Thank you for this, and for all your posts. You continue to inspire me with every one …

    • I know for each person, depression varies in degree, length and intensity. I’ve lived with it long enough to recognize it and learn some coping mechanisms(healthier ones as I get older), but I know it can sometimes be difficult for my family and friends. The withdrawal and lack of communication can be frustrating and hurtful. I’ve learned to say out loud exactly what I’m experiencing and the people in my life now trust me to deal with it, while checking in on occasion. It has made things so much better in terms of self-esteem.
      Thank you for your kind words!

  10. I want to say something but can’t think of the ‘right’ words… so just to say..I enjoyed reading your post and send best wishes to you.

  11. You write beautifully and can verbalize some of the same things that I feel so much better than I ever could. I know mine is situational, it creeps up on me when I am physically unwell for long periods of time and start to lose sight that things will improve. I have great hopes for the spring warmth and sun though.

    • Thanks, Heidi. Health issues can really trigger depression, I know. And maybe this painful corneal erosion syndrome I’ve been dealing with over the last year has been a contributing factor. And YES to sunlight! This northern living is not for the faint of heart. I have great hope for spring and the garden and for windows thrown wide open – I think we’re due!

  12. John Coleman

    Nice, vulnerable post. I euphemistically call my depression “swimming upstream.” And, yep, it does lift eventually, thank goodness. Peace and good luck, John

    • Ah yes, the euphemisms – in our family it was always being in a funk and for the less fortunate among us, it was called a hangover, since self-medication was in the mix. I’m eternally grateful for the pilot light of hope that continually burns – I can imagine that things will get better and knowing that, feel compelled to wait it out. Thanks John.

  13. Luanne

    Michelle, my friend says that there are astrological configurations that are causing this, that you are part of the current epidemic. That means that this will pass. But, yes, depression that goes on for months needs treatment. You know that we are here to listen to you, but we’re not medical doctors or therapist (at least I’m not haha). Much blog love to you. xoxo Luanne

  14. I read this carefully several times. No, that’s not right. I read to the third paragraph and zipped to the bottom three times. I absolutely respect a person’s decision to not go the pharma route once they’ve tried everything medicine can offer. But to never try it at all and continue to suffer doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, doctors are idiots. Yes, it may take months to find an antidepressant that works. Yes, the side effects may make that drug not worth the effort. But you’ll never know unless you try. The Twin Cities has a good battery of shrinks that are medication savvy. Get a referral and just go talk to them. Talking about antidepressants isn’t the same as taking them.

    I know, I know, I hate it when people try to fix me or tell me what to do. I immediately slam the mental door in their faces. But I’ll tell you a secret. If there was a drug that *worked* on my kind of bipolar disorder, I’d swallow it in a second. It *is* exhausting doing it on your own. A little help would be just that.

    • I mulled a response over, hopping from defensiveness to rationalizations, but it just comes down to choice. It’s not something that I want to do. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of addicts. I quit smoking, I quit drinking – perhaps it’s the idea of putting anything in my body that alters my mental state, even if it is a shitty one. And while I chose to not go the pharma route, therapy did give me some great tools.
      Your thoughts are greatly respected and appreciated, even if falling on stubbornly deaf ears! There’s just no pill for that.

  15. You’re a very thoughtful person and seem to realize the different sides of your inner self. I don’t know how long it’s been since your father’s death or other tragedies your have faced, but I do know suicides are very difficult to let go. I wish you the very best. Brains are not easy to settle or figure out are they?

    • I was not close to my father, but his suicide came at a time when I was trying to come to terms with personal problems. It suddenly became an option and in my distraught mind, perhaps destiny. This was nearly 30 years ago, so I’ve had time to come to terms with quite a bit and to realize that I am not my family and destiny is in many ways what I decide to make it. Gratefully, I survived my 20s to live a more stable, less fearful life, but I do live with, as they say, “depressive tendencies” – the word live being the key.

  16. Beautifully written, as usual. And as always, you have made me think, hard. I see in your comment to Writing Waters that you address the additional essential virtue to depressive survival, Living. I think I feel a post coming on, myself…. Thanks for the sharing, always.

    • Thanks, Kathryn. I began writing, relating moodiness to the weather or some other inane thing. But writing always pulls me closer to the truth and I ended up with this post. I find myself edging closer and closer to an authentic life and all that fuzzy self-realization stuff. It would be hard to do that and not acknowledge this darker path I sometimes walk.

  17. “Hey” from this reader, too. Thanks for the reading recommendations, and thanks from the bottom of my heart for sharing so eloquently.

  18. Your writing is always raw, beautiful, and honest. Anytime I read a post from you, I feel like I just had a peek inside authenticity and real life. I won’t go into detail, but I can relate to this. All of it – from the choice of no medication to knowing your own sides of depression. I hope the days pass quickly until things are feeling ‘right’ again.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Caitlin. This was one of the tougher ones to post. I am trying so hard to be honest with myself and writing helps me process that. It reminds me of the stigma even I feel about depression, despite what I’ve learned and come to believe. I feel a bit on the exposed side now and wonder if my writing, even by people I’ve never met, will be viewed through a different lens. I don’t, like most people, want to be defined by one piece of my person. However, I have to let that thought go and just move forward.
      Fortunately, my spirits are lifting and I’m focusing on nutrition and exercise and quiet moments to restore my equilibrium. In this respect, I feel fortunate to have the time and resources to focus on regaining balance.

  19. pinklightsabre

    Nice post Michelle. I echo Caitlin’s comments from above, on the honesty and directness of your writing. Go with it. There’s something about your voice I’ve been drawn to since the get-go. I’m looking forward to reading your ‘mywritingprocess’ entry and looking forward to posting mine, as I’ve put it off. I’ve come to talk to you again.

    • Thanks, Bill. Just clearing the mental windpipes so I can write about fictional characters’ lives instead of my own! Thanks for the update on the writing process hop. I’ll get to work on mine.
      And thank you for the lyrical ending on your comment. Sometimes I think my references, song or otherwise, are a bit dated, but some things just stick in my head forever!

  20. A beautiful and honest post. Well written, as always. I only know depression through one strong experience several years ago. It was caused by a malaria drug and as I had not experienced it before, it scared the hell out of me. Darker than I thought existed. You seem very strong, with both feet on the ground, and you have figured out a way to deal with it, to wait it out, to buy it out and to cheat it. If I knew you liked hugs I would send some, but I know better. So it’s “hi there, I’m right here”.

    • Ha – I’m never going to live that hug thing down, am I? I’m emerging from the fog and am grateful for some relief. Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older and marginally wiser, I know that things will go easier if I just breathe and move through it, instead of trying to avoid it. I’m glad you’re here.

  21. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this, Michelle. A big hug to you! xoxo

  22. This is so beautifully written, so well done. I love that you also included resources.Thank you for writing it. And, I know what you mean. Keep riding the waves… you will be victorious. xo

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