72 - On Depression

I was asked to do a piece on the emotional, the mental state of depression. This did not come easy since I’ve had some severe depressions in my time. I’ve come through them but remembering them is not something I like to do. Words started to pop into my head upon seeking definitions or some way to circle around this state with words. The first word that came into mind was inertia. The property of a body or state which resists a change in motion – the tendency for a body to resist acceleration and for a body at rest to remain at rest. That’s one of the first things that seems typical. It’s this lack of will, this feeling of defeat which makes it almost impossible to move in a purposeful fashion in any direction. You are stuck in a state of inertia.

Vague thoughts of suicide may come through the head but, hey, that requires effort. It’s too much trouble. I can’t do anything, so I certainly can’t do that. The idea is attractive but you can’t act on it. You’re in a state of suspended animation, if you will. Towards the end of a bout of depression or at the beginning of a manic stage the ability to act on such thoughts is more likely.

Another thing I remember is a feeling of pain, pain very like the pain of grief. Grief over what I don’t know, because everything is now painted black. Everything you’ve ever done, everything you might want to do, everyone you’ve ever know, every action you might want to take, every action you may have done is painted over with a patina of blackness. If you are grieving I guess you are grieving for the loss of hope.

If depression is bad, in a way, in a strange way, it’s comforting too. You don’t have to do anything because you can’t do anything. You don’t have to repair any wrongs you may have done because they cannot be repaired. You’re in a sort of backwater of the soul. If, as often happens, depression comes on the heels of, in my case, a relatively brief manic phase then all of your spiritual energies, all of the vitality of your person has been used up. You’re out of funds at the energy bank. You are tired. You can’t do anything and you shouldn’t do anything.

On the positive side of depression, it’s a good thing to sit and physically concentrate on something really small and unimportant. It’s a good time to sort your button collection or do cross stitch. You can also do crossword puzzles which are sort of an exercise in spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.

I knew a fellow in New York City. He lived across the street and down the way a bit. I met him a few times, didn’t particularly take to him but I’d met him. I was more closely acquainted with his wife. A friend of mine was a good friend of hers. This man was a severe manic depressive and when he was manic he could do anything. He could run for public office. Everything was going to be fine, fine, fine. It was the mirror image It was the contrasting mirror image of depression. It’s opposite. Energy? He had gangs of energy. He could do anything, anytime. He could stay up all night. It made no difference. Then, Boom, came the depression. He’d go into his bedroom. The shades would be drawn. He’d be in there in a sort of personal black hole. He’d be there for months, while he recouped the energy he had so prodigally wasted during his manic phase.

A lady and her husband lived upstairs in my building on 2nd Street. She was a very capable person, a nurse. He was young, so he was still getting in to his professional life. In a manic phase he signed up for all kinds of college courses because he could do anything and time meant nothing and he could cram it all an, an so forth and so on. Then reality hit and he spiraled down. He disappeared for a week. He worried her half to death. Worried about him being gone and about all the money he’d wasted signing up for these courses which he couldn’t take, would never do. They settled it out somehow.

I was never quite that bad. I tended to be fairly mild in my swings. Depressions lasted longer than the manic phases. One thing’s for certain. When this thing comes upon you, this ‘black dog’, as Churchill used to call it, you can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. That’s a fallacy. “Cheer up! Chins up”, and all that jazz, doesn’t have any effect at all because there is no positive. How can you be positive?

Meds help. Meds are essential. I went to a shrink in Toronto who was into Chemotherapy. He felt that the right combination of chemicals, of drugs, and no-one was sure exactly how they worked, you could get back on course. He was right, after a fashion. He used to say, when I asked him about the side effects of these drugs, “Quality of life is more important than quantity of life.” He had a point there, even if it was a rather gloomy one. Meds work. I’ve been on them most of my life. During times when I had depression I don’t think I ever missed a day of work.

In depression you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you can have faith. You have faith that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even though it’s very far away and you can’t see it. So, you just put one foot in front of the other, on faith. You keep moving and keep some kind of normalcy going in your life. To do the dishes, to go to work, one foot in front of the other, step by step you create momentum. To think of going to work is an impossibility. You couldn’t possibly get there but one foot in front of the other, one step at a time through the morass and then, almost miraculously, there you are and you’re working because work is a routine. It’s something you memorized a long time ago. You don’t really have to think too much about it. You just do what you’ve always done. That works very well with the inertial state.

Surprisingly, whether you’re up, down or sideways, people are so involved in their own personal universes they almost never notice. They just don’t notice that you’re whacked out with depression or up there in the manic phase. Actually, they may notice the latter because not too many people are actively doing stuff for the good of the office, as I used to do. It all works out in the end.

In depression you don’t have much appetite. Your appetite is depressed too. Your sleep cycle is affected so you tend to sleep too much and nap a lot in depressed phases, or stay up too much if you’re manic. This sleeping is, actually, a good thing because I think the mind heals itself during sleep.

A girl friend of mine was very depressed because her on and off affair with Bob the Boob (I don’t remember his last name. We always called him Bob the Boob) had ended. The romance was ended and she was feeling very depressed. She was living at that time in a hi-rise apartment building, fifteen or twenty floors up. She would go out to her balcony and think about suicide. I had talked to her. I knew the symptoms of depression. I saw what was going on. I saw that she could no longer go out. She couldn’t be with people. She couldn’t go shopping. I just recognized the signs.

I told her the story of another Bob whom I’d once been married to. In Detroit. In a fit of depression, he jumped off a bridge over the Detroit River. Perhaps, showing a certain amount of sense, he jumped too close to the shore. He did indeed land in the water, not over his head. He wasn’t swept away or anything. What he was in was up to his ass in mud. A cop had to come in a boat and drag him out and get him to shore. The cop go his uniform all dirty and he was really, really mad. As a sort of mantra, my friend, when she went out on her balcony and contemplated leaping off, she would say to herself, over and over, “Up to my ass in mud! Up to my ass in mud!”. This wasn’t a very appealing prospect, so she never did jump.

Another thing that tends to go with depression is fear of crowds, or fear of being in a public place. You feel like you’ve got this huge spotlight beaming down on you, burning you. Anyone who comes close to you burns you too. It’s bad. If you’re talking to someone, even someone you know fairly well, you tend to look down and not to meet their eye and to talk in a rather low voice.

My partner in New York City was unemployed. He was suffering from something, more like an anxiety-related illness than depression, but I recognized some of the symptoms. He was a con man by nature. I told him how he could con people into thinking that he was in a depressed state. I told him about the lowered voice and looking down and thinking that nothing will ever work out well. Everything you do is wrong and there’s absolutely no hope, and on it goes. Blah, blah, blah.

He went to the doctor. He was good at following instructions. He presented such a silhouette of sorrow that he was immediately diagnosed as having clinical depression. They got him to do some shrink stuff. They didn’t put him on meds or, if they did, he threw them away. They got him to go down and try a college entrance exam. He was nervous about that because he wasn’t that smart. I went with him and I figured, as long as as I was there, I might as well try out too, so I got my high school equivalency and then entered Pace College on a grant, which really pissed him off.

What really threw him for a loop was abstract thinking. When they asked him the equivalent of “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” He just about flipped out since he was so literal-minded. “Because they both host quills.” was a non-starter in his mind. His imagination could not deal in abstracts.

What they called anxiety attacks are not so good. I’ve had them. It becomes difficult to breath, and your heart races and you get very uptight. Eventually, the attacks go away. He had a form of that, the anxiety form. He had that kind of depression and was actually helped by the medical attention he got.

I thought this particular podcast would be hard to do because it’s not something I like to talk about. There’s a shame attached to any form of mental illness. You’re not supposed to confess to it. You’re supposed to hide it. I don’t hide it that much. I don’t get up on a platform and announce it but most of the people I know well are aware that I’ve had it over time. I’m in a pretty good spot now, going into my golden years and doing what I do. I don’t miss working in an office at all. I’ve got my own work to do here and scripting these Podcasts is very much part of that. I think I just wore out my depressive bouts and over time they diminished until they disappeared entirely. Might have something to do with hormones that weaken over time.

Wavy Line