Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
It 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.