Dear Hope Nation,
“It’s a funny thing about humility/As soon as you know you’re being humble/You’re no longer humble.” T Bone Burnett
I have a similar-with-a-twist experience with depression. That is, when I’m truly depressed, it’s tough to find the energy to describe my situation. Even tougher is believing anyone else cares enough to read what I’ve written. If any reader or critic were as harsh on my writing—or even the act of trying to communicate—as my depression is, I’d be angry or devastated, yet I’ll accept depression’s analysis of me as though it came from experts.
I’m fine now (promise), but earlier in the week I had a visit from my old nemesis, and this is what I wrote:
“I’ve written before about depression, but this is written from depression. Churchill spoke of the Black Dog (although that apparently was a phrase from his Victorian nannies, who used the phrase to describe a foul mood). Lincoln had periods where he felt he was “the most miserable man living.” Right now, and I am no Winston or Abraham, I am depressed, although I have a hard time writing those words, because I feel an obligation to be upbeat and funny. The only thing more exhausting than being depressed is pretending you’re not.
When I speak of depression, it includes sadness of course, but that’s hardly all. In a full bout, my brain works only at about 60%, particularly when it comes to making decisions. Every choice comes down to two options: it doesn’t matter or no one will like me if I choose wrong. Do I want the six-headed monster of Scylla or the whirlpool of Charybdis? Depression makes me ponder this choice over and over and over, leading to a drowning feeling rather than a choice.
Likewise, when in depression, my body aches, life tastes like aspirin and I lack the energy to do much about either. Walking through poisoned jello, I try to make it through the day. At times, my depression is partially explained by external factors. When my dog, Lucy, died a few months ago and I felt depressed, that made sense. When sewage came flowing into Hope, creating a messy and smelly swamp and I felt depressed, that made sense. When I discovered the bags under my eyes are not from exhaustion but from age and I felt depressed, that made sense. When the depression arises from within, it’s as though I’m victim of a self-mutiny.
For the past few days, I’ve had that Black Dog walking around me, occasionally lifting its leg to darken my leg. There is no Dog-B-Gone for this mutt. The only thing that helps is working with another addict or alcoholic, but even that is difficult when I feel like I have little to offer anyone . . .”
That’s what I wrote a few days ago and that’s how I felt. The ellipsis at the end, though, should have continued to another possibility, one which everyone knows but which depression makes invisible. What helped bring me out of that funk was writing a gratitude list, focused on the small joys of life. Simple. Obvious. Almost foolproof.
I am grateful for:
- The smell of raisin toast.
- The sound of children playing at dusk.
- The feel of freshly-laundered sheets hung out on the line to dry.
- The sight of white snow against blue sky.
- The taste of aspirin slowly disappearing from my mouth and my life.
And, of course, you. After all,
You matter. I matter. We matter.