Last year, Mr. wOw – while trolling various websites for dispiriting political news – saw this headlined article: “Are We Really Depressed, or Just Human?”
Mr. wOw did not read the piece. It seemed … too depressing. If feeling like throwing oneself into busy traffic, it’s simply a matter of the human state, I have been all too human for about ten years!
To be truthful, Mr. wOw has never been a model of stability; always anxious, insecure, wholly disapproving of himself; a life spent wondering where my brain went wrong and why wasn’t I like other people? But I managed to function, flourish and have fun. (After the fun? Always chiding, always lacerating.)
Never out of touch with what I considered my tremendous flaws, I was buoyed by youth, and then a facsimile of youth. (Then I became Blanche du Bois!)
I had several close friends and many acquaintances who assured me I was worthwhile. My profession – entered into late, in slapdash fashion – encouraged ass-kissing, so I was ever doubtful of flattery. But I drank a lot, spent a lot, picked up a lot of checks. I often felt used, but – for what else was I useful? Anxiety exhausted me but I was capable of rising from each endeavor, to tackle another. Truthfully, I was always depressed. And I drank a lot.
Ten years ago, I was knocked out by a health issue (I’ll stay alive as long as I take my medication) and a job shock – I quit my long, intense, satisfying/unsatisfying employment. I resigned in a state of high dudgeon. Some of that dudgeon was well-warranted. Some of it was neurotic self-destruction, misunderstood motives, crossed wires and simple burnout.
In the aftermath, I received the blow that flattened me. I didn’t rise to the opportunity of my giddy, flamboyant resignation.
Though inundated with positive reinforcement and real job offers, I felt as if I’d lost a limb – several limbs! I’d stayed too long at the fair, and didn’t believe in anything else than what I’d been. (Which wasn’t much, truth be told.) I really was the failure I’d always told myself I was.
What followed – and what continues to this day – was round after round of talk therapy and varying medication. I was caught in the classic mode of depression. Slowly I cut off acquaintances and most friends. I did not answer e-mails. I let the phone pick up messages. At my worst, I tore up letters unopened! All that had been pleasurable was not. I was ashamed of my failure and could not speak of it.
My therapists told me nothing I didn’t already know. Medication had little effect. I strenuously resisted the idea of taking drugs anyway. Why wasn’t I strong enough to heal myself? And why, when I considered depression to be so essentially narcissistic, did I not pull my head out of my own ass? After all, many people would kill for my so-called “problems.”
There were genetic links to my depression – my mother had attempted suicide several times, and her wrists bore the scars – but I never thought about that seriously. She’d suffered so much during her life – and I’d been the cause of some of it – I felt I couldn’t make her responsible for my failure, though she was by this time dead, and beyond any veiled reprimand.
Taking so many pills I rattled when shaken, I returned to my job, defeated. My employer was generous, and behaved as if I’d been away on a long lunch. (It had been a year.) I tried to re-assert myself, but found, as time rolled by, I was functioning only on a bare-bones level. (For me, anyway.) I could not see people; I could not face, with any regularity, my old professional colleagues.
I worked, and sometimes quite well, but with no pleasure, no hope. In time, I became an anathema even to those who were unendingly patient and caring. News flash, Mr. wOw! Other people existed.
But still, there was humor to be found, even at the worst times. My best friend, an extraordinarily loving woman who also struggles with depression, took me along to Bette Midler’s annual Hulaween gala several years ago. I didn’t want to go. I warned her I was down in the depths on the 90th floor. She insisted. We went. I literally brought the room to a grinding halt. Some people have that unfortunate power.
I grimaced. I groaned. Nothing amused me. I ached. My head hurt. I hated my clothes. My hair was bad. My deodorant wasn’t working. I was not engaged at all by The Divine Miss M.
I was roused only once, to remark that Bette’s plastic surgery had been miraculous – a whole new face! Naturally, this led me to a brutal, boring dissertation on my own aging visage.
Finally, my friend – who had professional obligations to the event – said, “Wow, go home. I can’t take it anymore.” I went. I wasn’t upset. In fact I was relieved. Enough of the old me remained to realize I was hurting my friend. Quickly, it became a joke between us whenever we met – “don’t turn this into a Hulaween!”
Six months ago – as I felt I was creeping toward agoraphobia – I ventured yet again into therapy. My last time, I swore. “They are all idiots!” I ranted against those who took cash from the crazy. Once more I was re-medicated, once more I struggled with that concept – a drug to make to me feel and behave normally, why was I so weak?
Two months passed. I hated myself, I hated my job, I hated my lover, I hated my house. I was incapable of going out, other than straight to work and straight back, no deviation. I refused or canceled (at the last minute) most invitations. My new therapy sessions cost a whopping $300. I was angry, sad, crushed more than ever by a feeling of hopelessness. And although I would never harm myself – thoughts of suicide were constant.
And then my dear friend of Hulaween fame invited me to what she assured was a small fete downtown, showcasing an odd young singer. This gathering of the outré fell on a therapy day. I called my doctor two days before the event, canceling our appointment – I couldn’t handle two things at once! He insisted I make my appointment.
I said, “I’m too depressed and anxious to talk. Let’s reschedule.” He replied that my emotional state was precisely the reason to keep to the schedule. “I would greatly appreciate it,” he said. I reluctantly agreed.
Within seconds of hanging up, I immediately devolved into a slow burn of resentment and hostility. Of course he would greatly appreciate it! If I were listening to some nut talk for 45 minutes and then the nut handed me a check for $300 I’d “greatly appreciate it” too.
Therapy and seeing-other-humans day dawned. It was warm, I was sweating, I knew I could not whomp up the energy to visit the doctor and then make the effort to go out and interact like a normal person. I left my therapist a childish “I’m sending you your check, you pressured me into this, don’t call me back!” message. Exhausting as this flurry of self-absorption was, I made my way downtown. It was small and reasonably quiet. My friend greeted me with the familiar, “Will this be a Hulaween night?” I saw old pals, and we picked up like we’d seen one another just the day before. I actually … smiled. I could feel it.
Then I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in ten years – an emphatic, powerful personality. I’d met her during the period I was half-assedly interviewing for jobs after I quit. She’d liked me, but saw (I could tell) that I was not assured, motivated or disciplined enough to hire. Absurdly, I’d gone to her with a book proposal.
She was genuinely pleased to see me, asked how I’d been, and when I told her “not so hot” and began to tiresomely elaborate, she said, “Oh, come on. Let’s go out to dinner or for tea or for a walk. Don’t tell me what’s happened right now, but clearly you’ve been through something traumatic.”
We hugged and she said, “I have lived by Winston Churchill’s motto: If you are going through hell keep going!”
Reader, I felt better. (I know this is not nearly as good as, “Reader, I married him.”)
Two nights later, I pushed myself out again to another event. I didn’t break out in hives, sweat (much), agonize over my clothes, my skin, my hair or being caught in backlight – never flattering for anybody over 40.
I am loathe to credit my meds, but I am absurdly stubborn in many ways. So, yeah, they could be working. I certainly don’t credit my therapists – well-intentioned as I think they’ve been. I have never had any moment of revelation. I know too much about myself to be surprised.
Maybe I should credit Winston Churchill?
Seriously? I realized, terribly, that I’d moped and bitched away ten precious years of my life. Ten years! I feel I should be ashamed of that, but I want to banish shame for a while. So I’ll just pretend … I’ve been out on a long lunch.
I don’t know what works and what doesn’t. I wouldn’t presume to give advice, dissuade anybody from talk therapy or medication. Maybe depression is simply part of the human condition? What did the ancients do when depressed? Sacrificed livestock to the gods and hoped for the best, I guess. Mr. W. has been doing better, but he is nowhere near his old standard. He tries to take each day as it comes, but darkness is an old friend, and sometimes eagerly welcomed.
Mr. wOw remains quite fucked up, as he has been since at least early adolescence. All he wants is a return to manageable, functional, amusing neurosis.
Oh, Lord, I’m on my way.
Mr. wOw has been very lucky. As usual. So many are not. Never dismiss depression, in yourself or others. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it murders the soul, and ravages all who love you.