Sunday, May 30, 2010

This is Depression (Sunday, 30 May 2010)

I can't sleep. I feel like I'm burning up and itching, like I need to get out of my skin. I feel my life is worthless and pointless. I have nothing I can say of any interest. I feel like I know things I ought to share, need to share, important things, but I can't say them. I feel my efforts are futile, my skills inferior. Even if I could share these things, who would care? I have no children, no future, nothing to survive me when I'm gone, nothing to work toward. I've lost my passion, my zeal, and now I write like a textbook even when I'm trying to describe the bottom falling out of my world.

Even as depression skews my perspective it also expands it to encompass everything. I feel there is no depth of nihilism and destructiveness to which humanity will not sink, which bodes ill for the future of life on our little planet. The greatest act of pollution of our age triggers not mass protests but mere dismayed interest, a shrug, a change of the subject. Like rats in an experiment, we are learning how to tolerate anything, no matter how bad. These are the steps toward totalitarian dystopia, one additional tolerance for the intolerable after another, until we lose the ability to react properly to anything that matters. How we have shrunk in our powers for good, as a species!

I feel that none of this is real, that this is a feeling, a mood, that has swept me up before and will sweep me up again. I feel that I know my way out of this labyrinth of temporary despair, but that it doesn't matter, that in depression nothing matters.

I thought at first that this was my emotional overreaction to my friend Mike's just criticism that the public journal entries I was writing were boring, but I've realized that this isn't what's causing my tailspin. I have a lifetime of engaging positively with even harsh criticism to back me up on this.

Instead, this is an unexpectedly powerful reaction to a loss of faith.

During my two-week vacation with my niece Elizabeth, I had briefly mustered a fragile faith in the idea that my nieces and nephews value me, want to know me better, need me in their lives. I had not realized what a change this was for me, to think that someone in addition to Beverly and Linda gave a shit about me. In publicly journaling, I was trying to write for them, for my nephews and nieces, the ones who inherited the demons of our family's past and wanted help in the emotional alchemy needed to create a healthy future for themselves. I thought that I could show the life strategies and meaning that underlie even the most seemingly ordinary parts of our day-to-day lives, how everything is connected, how everything matters and is part of a larger pattern.

But Mike's right. I can't do this. Where I should be telling compelling stories, instead my writing sucks the life out of the things I describe. My struggle for equilibrium, to thread my way through mania and depression without resorting to drugs, should be a powerful story that has meaning for millions of people who struggle with these twin curses - including many people in my family who I care about and worry about - but instead I reduce it to dry, boring narrative. Instead of the Midas Touch, I have the academic touch - every subject I turn my hand to collapses into intellectual dust.

Mike thought I could just skip the journal and get on with telling the stories that will make up the book I wanted to write, the story of our family and its astonishing struggles - he thought I could skip to the good stuff - but what Mike didn't realize is that I can't even try to write that book without that faith, that hope, which is gone again. It's funny, because in the entry "Journal" I even put my finger on this problem and explained the leap of faith involved, but I guess he thought I was writing for rhetorical effect, not warning about the fragility of the endeavor. Unless I have faith that this matters to my target audience, there will never be any of the interesting stuff written. It's a Catch 22, and not the only one in my life.

Well, it's done now. I doubt that house of cards is going back up any time soon. For now, I'm done with Verbal Medicine, and I'm back to writing only what I can't tolerate keeping to myself any longer (though now here in Live Journal instead of publicly), to writing what I have to write in order to heal.

I had planned to sleep my way through this depression tonight to reset my mood and start over tomorrow with a new perspective, but unfortunately in just a couple hours it has entrenched itself deeply enough to destabilize my sleep cycle. I can't sleep now, which is going to destabilize me further. Damn this delicate balancing act! It's frustrating as Hell trying to keep everything lined up enough for my life to cohere when it's so easily disrupted.

Still, it is what it is. This is the hand I've been dealt, and I have to play it. If I want to leave anything of value behind me after I'm gone - assuming that's even possible, contrary to my present mood (speaking of leaps of faith) - then this is the balancing act I have to stay on top of, no matter how frustrating it is.

1 comment:

Rick Marshall said...

Originally I posted this privately at Live Journal. When I decided to return my journal to this more public venue, I debated posting this particular entry.

The truth is that depression skews one's perspective powerfully, and I decided the best way to illustrate that truth was to reveal it in action. This is the kind of experience most depressed people hide for fear of other people's judgment. When we hide these parts of ourselves, what we fail to realize is that the culture of secrecy itself is sickening. Alcoholism, sexual abuse, psychopathy, violence at home, and many other severe forms of illness can only flourish in secret. One of the most important things you can do to heal is to illuminate the dark places in your life, to openly and authentically acknowledge yourself, warts and all.

When you acknowledge depression you can begin to understand it and eventually learn to predict its course, to know that the abyss is temporary and can even be illuminating. For example, it was largely because I could observe my strong reaction against taking down my journal - the depression itself - that I came to realize I needed to continue journaling publicly for it to accomplish my goals.

Often, our emotions are clearer about what we need than our thoughts are (though this is not always the case, of course) and depression in particular can help clarify the things that matter most to us.

What I wrote in this entry was how I felt that day. It's not how I feel most of the time, and because of my studies of depression even at the time I wrote it I knew it was a temporary perspective. Your depression is, too. Learn to work with the ebbs and flows in your life and you may also learn that depression can be a gift that can bring you powerful insight.