AN INEXPLICABLE THING: Depression

Depression is real, very physically here and enigmatic.  After all this time it remains a mystery to me exactly why it returns.

Granted, there are a few things that I realize I do know, I actually have learned about the illness.  And so for the most part yesterday, I decided to fight because I know I must, even while still disbelieving that it matters if I do battle against it.

It hangs on me —  dead weight.  I go through the motions of my day because if I stopped … well, I fear stopping, getting off this track of ‘life’ would be worse.  I know that too.  It is good that I can cook, show up on time, think (sort of) and write these words. I can do homework-time, do rides here and there (they are almost a relief for they fill up the endless stretches of life being like this.)

I am microscopic fragment adrift in the vast universe, even while the phone is ringing. The irony is in feeling so alone while the phone is mocking me by ringing.   I cannot even will myself to pick up it up.  My mother is calling but I cannot face her.  I don’t have the energy to say what needs to be said.  Years of what is misunderstood smolders around me.  Facebook depresses me.  Why do I need to know who is friends with whom?  It only reminds me how alone I feel.  Grateful, shiny happy people depress (and inspire) me.  Why do some people never seem to struggle?

I hate myself in this moment.  Somehow I thought I was past this.  Past the sinking hole of depression but now I see that I am depression.

A friend says in an email:

“He [Christ] knows how we feel, having been rejected by the ones he loved most.  He would die again if only just for me (or for you).  I’ve also realized that “homesick” feeling is just a symptom of the spiritual divide between us and God.  Those feelings can be put to use to draw us closer to him, but we’ll never quite be home until he returns or calls us there.”

There is something crucial in her last few sentences, an insight that I must try to tease out with my tired foggy brain.  All my life I have felt alone – when I am totally honest.  It is not that I have been literally rejected.  People love me.  I do know that, when I am not so disheartened.

“Have you ever experienced the kind of friendship you speak of when you cry out (in your depression) that you feel alone and so unimportant?” my husband asked me the other day.

I think perhaps this longing is something I need to sit with – too often I am looking to others and to things to fill something that only Jesus can.

I have tried many things to fill that ache over the years from over work, to compulsive shopping, to excessive drinking, and at times a relationship. I know that I so fear that vast ache, that I preemptively withdraw before anyone can hurt, reject or let me down.  I defensively withdraw because I fear that this deep, cavernous place down inside me cannot be filled.    And then I am forced to face my terrible loneliness that only God can fill.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. — Philippians 4:8,9

In moments like this I know, that I know, absolutely nothing.   But a tiny part of my brain or heart understands what this means – to hold on to this Hope for that is the peace that trancends all understanding.

He is with us and wants to fill us.

But, “we’ll never quite be home until He returns or calls us there.”

I was in Love…with Vodka, Wine and Gin

Wine
Image by isante_magazine via Flickr

On the eve of my birth week, I want to take a moment to remember where I have come from, now that I am three plus years sober.   

While purging and organizing books this week I came across a little orange index card that I wrote to myself while I was working hard at accepting my need for sobriety.  I thought I had lost the card and that would have been tragic because the thoughts written on it are very important to me.

About five years ago, I spent more than a year — at two different stages — seeing counselors specifically about my drinking.  At that time, I wrote what I thought of my life without alcohol so far.  I said:

I value my recovery because …..

  • I have an improved mood.
  • I feel strong.
  • I am more present and self-aware.
  • I am more willing to face my feelings.
  • I am more hopeful about the future.
  • I am more in control of my world, actions, responses to life.
  • My relationships are more honest.
  • I am a good role model for my kids.
  • I am a cultural enigma.
  • I am more relaxed socially (less No worry about embarrassing myself.)
  • I have a higher quality of mental engagement.

All this is true.  And more.  Today when I look back another thing I am so grateful for is that my life partner, family and close friends never judged me. At least I never felt judged. Especially Tom could have. Boy, oh boy, I made some bad choices.  Tom lived with my addiction for many, many years, continuing to love and support me.  At my worst, he wiped up my vomit and put me to bed.  He pulled me out of parties before I could do something stupid.  All those years he was simply loving.  I never felt that I was a bad person because of my dependency to alcohol.  Not from him, but I did judge myself!

In my head, I was constantly accusing myself.

I cannot count, because it happened so many times, the number of Sundays I spent sitting in church nursing the world’s worst hangover, full of shame and self-loathing.   I am not sure which felt worse, the physical symptoms of being hung over or the emotional beating I gave myself.  I just knew I was living the life of a hypocrite.  I didn’t have the courage to give up on churchgoing all together, but I was miserable being there.

For a long time my drinking made family life feel disjointed and a mess, because it was!

I started in on the wine too early in the evening, so I was too “tired” to do anything else in the evenings, except veg in front of the television.  When it was time to put the kids to bed, I was too tired to read to them, something I had always loved.  That memory makes me deeply sad still, but I will forgive myself some day.  Some things are harder to forgive yourself for like driving drunk with my children in the car, even if it was just a few neighborhood streets.  I did that.  I am utterly horrified to think of it now but it happened.  Why do I admit that today?  Why do I force myself to recall the shameful choices I made?

Because I do have fleeting thoughts that perhaps I could drink again.  And those are lies, but it is all too easy to forget.

Back to Tom, he was unhappy with our choices and (very) willingly quit drinking many times with me, for me.  He encouraged me to quit many times and we did quit a few times.  But it was such a part of our lifestyle that we soon were drinking again.

It grew more difficult as the years went by for me to even consider quitting, as I was afraid that I couldn’t live without it.  And, suffering as I was from major depression all those years, I was self-medicating with the very drug that furthered my depression.  (Alcohol is a depressant but I either didn’t know it or didn’t want to know.)

The first time I went to counselling for my alcohol addiction it was an intellectual exercise.

My mother was in a recovery program and addiction is all over my family tree.  I was drinking too much, but I was not yet the sloppy, falling down drunk that I became.  I was “abusing” alcohol.  I was addicted.  But I had convinced myself that I was managing.  I learned a lot from those counselling sessions, most important of which was that I should quit for lots of reasons.

In order to have that type of counselling you must agree to not be drinking as you go through it.  And I did that, but I was just a dry drunk.  All of my behaviors were still of an addict who wasn’t using.  I didn’t yet believe the things I wrote on that index card.  I had not lived long enough as a sober person.

I asked my counselor at my last session, after five months of sobriety,  “What if I just drink socially?  Don’t keep it in the house.  Don’t drink every day.  Just have a drink from time to time (like normal people)?  Maybe I won’t have to quit completely.”  I was desperate to not have to quit.

At that point I could not imagine being happy without alcohol in my life. 

“Then I’ll see you back here in about three years.”  And I literally thought “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”   That is how far I was into the lie.  Well, I’ve said it before, but it didn’t even take three years.

About a year and a half later I was back and that time I was serious about quitting.  I knew that alcohol had control of me and my life.  I had no power to fight it.  I thought about alcohol all the time.  I was so in love with wine — and vodka — and gin!  I had spent that summer drinking heavily every day and spent most evenings drunk.  I just did it in such a way that I thought I was hiding it from others.

But enough about that.  (Perhaps the rest will go in the memoir.)  Today, I am so grateful for my sobriety.   It isn’t that complicated to figure out if alcohol has power over you.  How much do you think about alcohol? How often do you choose not to drink, because you wonder if you have a problem?  Do you drink every day?  Do you squirm answering those questions honestly?   Although it is certainly not true that every person who drinks too much from time to time is an alcoholic, rather what I think about is, what is the main focus of your life?  Can you live without alcohol?  If you’re not sure , … I would seriously consider talking to someone.

Those are the questions that haunted me and it wasn’t until I quit that I realized without any doubt that I was out of control.

Melody

P.S. Other things I have written about my life  drunk and addicted.

Life is Work, Hard Work (but there is a ray of hope)

To want–to strive–to long for more is to be human. Isn’t it?

We are all on that journey of life, which for some comes so easily and for others, I include myself here, is work, hard work.

Jesus says in John 8:32 “the truth will set you free” and that I believe.  It is what makes me a believer.  The truth will free me from my constant desiring, striving and longing for more out of life.

But in the meantime it also can make you quite miserable don’t you think?

As Richard Rohr says, “Medieval spiritual writers called it “compunction,” the necessary sadness and humiliation that comes from seeing one’s own failures and weaknesses … Without confidence in a Greater Love, none of us will have the courage to go inside, nor should we. It merely becomes silly scrupulosity and not any mature development of conscience or social awareness.”

 

Desiring. Striving. Longing. It can become a burden.  And a weight.  And before you know it you are running from the truth, any truth.

What does that have to do with my nearly ten-year wrestling with major depression?  That experience made me into a different person.  I stopped running.  I began to face the past, the present and the future and admitted how scared I was.  I began working on my life. And it was hard work.

But I have become a different person.

I am more content and able to just be than at any other time in my life.  I once was filled with the pain of needing to prove myself, heavy with the belief that I had to be significant and do incredible things with my life in order to be loved.  I thought I was unlovable.   Instead, I am different and happy for the first time in … as long as I can remember.

  • I found my way back to Belief.  I know I am Beloved.
  • I am a more empathetic, genuinely loving and generous person with my time, resources and life experiences.
  • I am able to face my addictions:  alcohol (three years in July), cigarettes, shopping, work, to name just a few.
  • I have forgiven and I have been forgiven.
  • I have learned that in telling my story others are somehow compelled to grow.  It is almost as if knowing what I have been through opens up a place in others to believe that it is possible to be healed.

I took some time this summer to write briefly about my experience and it will be published in a book titled Not Alone — It has stories of living with depression.  The book is available for pre-order.   I hope it helps and encourages others who may suffer with this confusing and difficult illness of depression.

helmet

From the book:

Depression is a very real experience for many people. The causes can be varied. Abuse. Chemical imbalances. Divorce. Rejection. There is no one reason that a person might suffer depression. However, one common theme is that it can leave the person feeling isolated and alone. Because of the stigma that is often associated with depression, people often remain silent about it, never knowing that the person next to them is going through the same thing or has experienced it in the past. Instead, they hide away, believing that no one understands, believing that no one cares.

In this book, the authors break the silence, boldly sharing their stories of depression.  Whether sharing how they first discovered that what they were feeling was depression, telling how they sought help for their depression or giving words of hope that depression can be managed, the authors all tackle the lie that you must suffer in solitude. With courage and honesty, these stories give a glimpse into the depressed existence. While you will not find a cure for depression in these pages, you will find a sense of community. You will find words of hope. You will find that you are Not Alone.

And here are links (chronologically and a list) to other things I have written here about my experience with depression.

Parenting by Free Fall

I don’t think about my father very often — any more. After he died, there was a time when my relationship with him clouded everything I did, or thought, or believed.  Before he died, I had no real understanding of how much he made me who I am.  He and my mother.  Every choice I made, sadly was in some way a reaction to his control over my mind and my heart.  I don’t think he meant to have that kind of power over me, nor would he have wanted it.  But it happened that way because I was so afraid of him.  I so wanted his approval.  And longed for more from him and my mother.

I talk a lot about the mind and heart in my writing because though two different organs they are connected psychologically to  — what makes us  — human.  I believe they make us who we are and it is through our choices (by making up our mind) that we grow into different people (transforming our heart.)

It’s strange to think back. I had no idea how unwell my parents were — as a child I thought they were just being parents.  Thought all parents were like mind.  I had no notion that there was a good or bad way to be a parent.  Nor could I conceive that I might one day stand in some sort of judgment over them and I am still very uncomfortable being perceived that way.

[I feel when I write about my mom and dad, I have to give this caveat every time:  I know my parents did the best they could with what they had.  I figured that out through lots of therapy.  I do accept it now.]

Listening to a radio interview yesterday of Anne Sexton’s daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, I was struck once again by how very dysfunctional my home life was growing up.  If you don’t know, Anne Sexton was a poet, known for her confessional verse who won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1967, a year after I was born.   She suffered through out her life with clinical depression and after many attempts,  killed herself when she was 45 and her daughter Linda was 21.

While I listened to Linda talk about her relationship with her mother as a love/hate and like/dislike, oh how much I related as it is unpleasantly close to what I experience today with my mother.

I love my mother dearly, but I can’t figure out a very good way to be with her. I want to be in her life. And I try, sometimes.  And at other times not very hard at all.  I know that I must be a better daughter.  And that she is a widow.  And I have all that weight on my shoulders which I want to live up to.  But often we hardly see one another and she lives ten minutes away.

Certain things she does hurts me, over and over again.  And no matter how much I have learned to not take it personally it is hard not to do so.  For example, it is not personal that she does not show up to things that are important to me because she got sick or is not “up to” it or is genuinely in some physical pain.  She’s done that my whole life and it feels personal!  But it’s not.  I think she just shuts down sometimes.  I believe it is because of my father’s treatment all those years — her brain blitzes out and she just can’t “do” life.  It comes and goes.  Sometimes she’s all over me.  And then she’s gone.

I simply want to escape the pain of not being able to understand my parents and how they treat me.

For Linda, growing up it was taboo for her to talk about her mother’s suicide attempts.  For us it was forbidden to talk about my father’s rage, my mother’s illnesses, and later the drinking.  There were so many secrets.  I wrote about that in a poem to my sisters titled A Sacred Contract and that’s what it was.

Linda Sexton said how much her mother’s depression and suicide attempts hurt her.  I’ll say it.  These are the things that broke my heart early on in life and God is beginning to repair. My father’s rages.  My mother’s obvious misery.  My father’s belittling and constant picking at her and us.  My mother’s frequent sinking into illness to “get away” from him.  My father’s work and frequent travel with subsequent fatigue.  My mother’s constant “support” and appalling attempts to build him up when he was in one of his Funks of insecurity and fear of failure. I think because if he fell apart the whole thing — our lives — would fall apart also. At least that was the threat.  That was the fear.  That tsunami was constantly just off the coast for years.

Relationships with parents are difficult and complicated.  On the one hand we know how we are so like our parents in their dysfunction and we castigate ourselves for it.  There is a level of shame involved that must be overcome.

Forgiving your parents for being who they were. And forgiving ourselves for being so like them or for choosing not to be like them any longer which also somehow becomes a betrayal as well.

No Boundaries.

Linda went on to say, as she put in her book Half in Love, another dilemma of living with such parents is that there are no boundaries appropriately set up by the adult.  And so the child feels unsafe — life feels precarious all the time.  My father’s rage was so unpredictable.  Even while it was on some level expected, it came at unexpected times.  If you cannot count on or predict the bad, on some level you cannot believe in the affirmation and love.  I don’t know why.  You just can’t.

And yet I worshiped my father.  There I said it.  And it is true.  Just as others did, I did.

And that was also my betrayal.  I worshiped my father and came to unfairly loath my mother.  It’s twisted.  She suffered from his rages more than anyone.  She endured.  She protected us by holding that fragile matchstick house together all those years.  But I saw her as the betrayer of us after all those years.  Thinking somehow she should have left him.  And what would have become of us if she had walked out on him after one of his thousands of verbal beatings over the years?   All I know is now.  Now without him we are a fractured family.  We don’t know how to be with each other.  We are all alone in our lives together.

Parenting by free fall.

As a mother, after all these years I see how this way of growing up gave me “no map for how to be a mother”  as Linda Sexton put it so well yesterday in her interview.

I have struggled so much with the confusion of that reality.  At times, saying I should never have become a mother.  What was I thinking, thinking I could be a Mother?  Sure, I can do the driving, and wipe away tears, help with the homework (not math!) and in the classrooms.  My mother was a great homemaker. She cooked exceptionally well.  I’ve gotten than from her but kids can survive without it.  And she loved to garden as do i.  She was a terrible cleaner, as am I.  It is not that I cannot clean, I just do not.

But shouldn’t home be “a self-sustaining world unto itself.  And mothers world-makers?” as David Griffith says in his essay Homemaker about his mother.

The fact of the matter is that I feel about as able to be a parent as a Mime.

I copy other people.  I try to mimic Mothers that I admire.  But I am mute.  And a fake.   I continuously hit some strange, solid and impenetrable internal wall.  I cannot break through it to discover what it would mean to be a “normal” or “good” parent.  A good mother.  I have not found the answers in parenting books either.  They are not the answer.

It’s something deeper.  I don’t trust myself. And beyond that I do not even have words for it because I have never experienced it.  There are missing pieces of my soul, my experiences, my character and person.

How can I ever hope to be a healer?  Because that is one word I do have for motherhood.  

Mothers are meant to be healers.

I am left with the knowledge that my only hope is that The Healer will infuse me with the Spirit of God.  Then and only then, there and only there something good will come.  I have to trust in that.

I have to set all my hope in that.  Because left to my own devices there is only fear, insecurity, depression, addiction, rage, and broken hearts.  There is only an inability to love, to connect, to nurture, to receive, to cohabitate  — to be human. I am not being overly dramatic although it sounds so.  When all you knew was rage you are unable to be normal.

I wrote this poem i 2004 after my father died.  It felt like a betrayal  then, when the words came out of me they were as much of a shock to me as to others I think.  But now I see that they were s t e p s toward my own healing.

Good Dad.  Bad Dad.

I shed no tears today
for the warrior who has fallen.
Taken down by Cancer’s sword.
My heart is full of memories,
good and bad.

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Constant worry.
Constant change.
Who could have foreseen
the Cancer overtaking his mind;
that became my liberation
in five short months.

The danger –
of loving too much;
needing tenderness,
and all the things Daddy’s are supposed to be.

PAIN. FEAR.
Emotions jangling around inside me
like some kind of white noise;
pushing their way into my conscious thoughts.
Invaders, threatening to undo
the weak hold I’ve found on The Good Life.
So many memories
good and bad,
bad and good.

Who was he? Why was he MY dad?
MY tormentor.
MY warrior;
Finally broken,
beaten by the Cancer
that was to become my friend.

Betrayal, these thoughts which plague me.
Broken; the unspoken promise
to keep our secrets to the end.
How do I remember?
How do I stay true and honest,
when the Truth causes an ache
too strong to feel,
to face,
to bear.

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Who was he in the end?
A Demon? A Saint?
Now simply a Muse?
Remembered, but no longer feared?
Thought of in furtive,
anxious moments?

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Who is he to me now?
A man driven to despair
Living a chaotic, frantic life.

Not the Good Life I choose,
Not the legacy I will repeat.

Good Girl. Bad Girl.
Who will I listen to?
Who will I believe?
I am the woman I choose to become
today, tomorrow.
These are the Good Days
that I can change.
Yesterday is dead.
Burned in the funeral pyre.
Vapors.
Mist.
Dust settling around me.

Good Girl. Bad Girl.

Good.

Bad.

Good.

I certainly don’t know what it means to be a Mother.  A Daughter.  A Sister.  A Wife.  A Friend.

I

just

don’t

know.

But I can only take this life one day at a time and hope in God.

None of us can rewrite our history.  Nor should we try.  It makes us who we are today.  And for me, it makes me strong enough to write tomorrow.