About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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Thursday
Sep272012

The Scarlet D

"Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self- to the mediating intellect-as to verge close to being beyond description....if the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to a failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience. For myself, the pain is most closely connected to drowning or suffocation- but even these images are off the mark."

-William Styron Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

 

William Styron's book found me at the Boulder Bookstore this past weekend- when my husband and I went away for a night, and realized that we had not been away by ourselves for THREE YEARS.  WHAT????

No wonder I bought a book on depression.

I found Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, and when I read the back cover, somebody said that Daniel Smith's book is doing for anxiety what William Styron's book did for depression. So of course, I went and bought William Styron's book, and then proceeded, much to Michael's sheer delight, to read this sexy piece of literature out loud while we drank the house chai and lounged supine on pillows at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

No wonder we only get away once every three years.

 

It's fascinating to read an articulate account of depression because, as Styron says, the mediating intellect has such a hard time putting into words what happens to someone who is depressed; add to that "the schism between the believers in psychotherapy and the adherents of pharmacology-resembling the medical quarrels of the 18th century (to bleed or not to bleed) and this almost defines in itself the inexplicable nature of depression and the difficulty of its treatment" (11).

Most of my close friends (an incredible bunch of gifted, beautiful, artistic women) struggle with varying levels of anxiety and depression; while depression can affect anyone, it seems to me that it most often strikes the artists, or those with an intuitive, prophetic (or what you might call a seeing) nature.

Styron says the same, "Despite depression's eclectic reach, it has been demonstrated with fair convincingness that artistic types (especially poets) are particularly vulnerable to the disorder" (35).

 

When I began to suspect that what I was experiencing was more than the doldrums, or hormones, or the baby blues, I asked my friends to describe their own struggles. With furrowed brows, and lots of umms and uhhs, mostly all they could articulate was a darkness, a heaviness, a weight.  I asked one friend to give me a scenario-like an action that expressed her depression; she talked about fear of being left alone, fear of falling down the stairs while holding the baby in her arms, a deep despair brought on by something as simple as running out of peanut butter, or hitting her elbow on a door frame...but still, a serious lack of articulation.

Depression is such a personal struggle; it's so difficult to "name it and claim it," (to borrow a little charismatic phraseology out of context).  

To quote Styron again, "it is much too complex in its cause, its symptoms and its treatment for unqualified conclusions to be drawn from the experience of a single individual" (34).

 

In my endeavor to find words for my experience, I do not pretend to know what anyone else has experienced, or to claim that I know the true depths of depression, or that I have any "advice" to dole out about symptoms, or treatment.

I simply want to share my story, in hopes that it might shine some light in some small corner of this very large, very dark, cave.

I also hope that if I try to be very honest in my telling, if I own this struggle without guilt or shame, it might make it easier for other people to talk about depression without feeling like they've got the scarlet D emblazoned on their chests. 

 

There is this feeling, and Styron says some of it happens for the simple reason that we call this disorder depression, rather than the evocative Melancholia (a word that appears in English as early as 1303, and was used much by Chaucer), that people who are depressed lack a certain strength of character or will. 

As if people who struggle with depression are a weaker breed, or maybe it's their fault- maybe something I've done, or left undone, has caused me to be a perfect target, and really, I need to stop moping around and snap out of it.

"Depression is used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness" (37).

It seems there are some illnesses that just aren't taken as seriously as others- from the very little experience I have, I've observed chronic illness getting a bad rap- illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. There is this undercurrent of disbelief, like it's the person's fault they're experiencing illness. Like they might be hypochondriacs, or complainers, or exaggerating to get attention. Like if they had enough inner strength, they could power through.

 

I can only imagine how horrible it must feel to not only struggle with debilitating illness, but to be constantly on the defensive, having to prove that one has the right to be sick.

Depression is not a rational beast. It does not submit to logic. Not that my logic isn't working- I am aware of how ridiculous my depression is considering the incredible blessings in my life-hence the guilt and the shame. I don't need anyone else to heap those burdens on me, I've got enough self-loathing to go around (another hallmark symptom of depression).  

I can't rationalize myself into good mental health, add to that the difficulty in defining what it is I am experiencing...and you can imagine how hard it must be for people who are depressed to feel understood, or taken seriously. 

I guess what I'm saying can be summed up by one of my favorite quotations: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

 

Currently, depression is my hard battle.  

We're all fighting battles.

Why don't we use the strength we have to target the enemy, rather than each other?

 

 

 

References (1)

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  • Response
    The Scarlet D - Home - Trinity Wilbourn

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