Dear Hope Nation,
[First, a disclaimer: Because of my open talk about suicidality in previous letters and elsewhere, I don’t want any of you to worry about me. I’m not contemplating, thinking about or toying with the idea of killing myself. What follows is just some writing about depression. It will pass, just as this pandemic will pass, just as all things will pass.
If I were feeling suicidal, these are some things I’d do:
- Call the suicide hotline—1-800-273-8255. As a veteran, I’d hit the number 1 to be connected to the Veterans Crisis Line.
- I’d contact my therapist, letting her know it was urgent
- I’d call a close friend, my recovery mentor or anyone I trusted—just to talk
- If I had weapons or other means of suicide in the house, I’d dispose of them or at least physically distance myself from them.
- Call 911
So . . . not going to kill myself as long as there’s still a tomorrow to look forward to. Really.]
Today, or maybe just for this minute, I’m living in depression. I can label it as a feeling that, like all emotions, will be transformed into another feeling, but that doesn’t change where I am right now—depressed and unfocused and unable to complete a damned thing. Here are some of the symptoms I’m experiencing:
- Like a dog, I want to be any place but where I am. When Lucy is in the living room, she wants to be in my bedroom, where the door is shut. When she’s in my bedroom, she wants to be in the yard. When she’s in the yard, the forest behind us feels sooooo inviting. And on and on.
Likewise with me, when the dark dog of depression is visiting. On the porch smoking, I feel I should be in my office. When I start to work, the kitchen calls my name. In the kitchen I know I’m getting fat, so I want to go for a walk. And on and on and on.
- Everyone I need to talk with, either on the phone or by Zoom, feels like the last person I want to talk with. It’s not them—it’s me. Just picking up the phone seems like a day’s work.
- I’m hungry but no food is the right food. Although we went shopping over the weekend, and have all kinds of snacks I really, really like (smoked oysters, anchovy-stuffed olives, cheese upon cheeses, etc.), nothing looks good enough to eat. I know eating something might make me feel different, if not better, but I can’t bring myself to eat.
- The only music I want to listen to is music I absolutely shouldn’t hear, from weeping George Jones ballads to the overwrought emotions of The Smiths to Lou Reed’s two opuses (opi? opera?) to despair “Berlin” and “The Blue Mask.” Instead, I should listen to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” or the Monkee’s “I’m a Believer,” but they’re so depressingly uplifting I can’t stand them.
- Writing is painful, as though the words are hard cheese pushed through a fine grater. A sentence may come as painfully as breech childbirth, but it’s not followed by a twin, fraternal, identical or mirror. In Camus’ novel, The Plague, Joseph Grand is an aspiring novelist who struggles for the entire book over writing the perfect first sentence of his novel. I identify absolutely. No word seems right and the act of typing is exhausting
Here are some things I should try:
- Writing a gratitude list
- Going for a walk
- Making a good lunch for myself
- Taking a nap
75 minutes later
Wow! That’s all I can say. Being an odd man, I tried items 1, 3 and 5 and somehow (magic?), once I had a cup of coffee things seemed not so bad bordering on okay. My own tips tried on my own depression worked. This time.
Serious chronic clinical depression will be part of me, I’m afraid, for the rest of my days. At least I don’t remember a time in my life where depression wasn’t at least an onlooker. I take medication, which so far has kept me out of despair, and would not stop taking it for any reason.
If you’re suicidal or have been depressed for more than a few days, follow the checklist at the very top of this letter. Things like going for a walk are no substitute for professional help. On the other hand, if you’re just starting to sink or feel blue, try meditating or making a good lunch. Even if you don’t feel better, you’ll still feel better for having done something. Really.
You matter. I matter. We matter.