Victoria Jelinek


December 21, 2018 – Cheerful Thoughts

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” Elizabeth Wurtzel

lions breathing through a cageI love Christmas because it seems to bring out the humane in people. The individualism of the world is dismissed for a moment as people look outside of themselves to be kind and helpful to others. For most of us, it’s a time of loved ones and good food…ceremonies and lights. For many others, however, it’s a time of year when we feel we must pretend to be happy when we’re not. How does one begin to explain depression to a person who doesn’t know it first hand? How does one explain it even to oneself? As I consider how to describe it, a barrage of words come to mind: fatigue, panic, sadness, anger, confusion, suspicion, hesitation, reticence, loneliness, regret, fear, isolation, hopelessness, self-hatred, and an interminable longing to simply have it stop. It’s bleak.

I’ve suffered depression since I was an adolescent. Now, however, I somewhat understand the ways-and-means to avoid a rough bout of it – defined by me as the inability or wish to do anything but to be left alone to sleep, and when that’s not possible, the desire to achieve an altered state through substances in order to dull my senses and make things tolerable. To avoid these terrible times, I know to do a few things when I can feel it’s becoming hazardous, usually indicated by my having excessively destructive ‘self speak.’ I take a walk outside each day. I write each day. I watch comedies rather than dramas, and read novels that won’t delve into any existential battle or dystopian reality. I sleep more and drink more water. I also avoid certain types of people when possible. For me, I find it too challenging to spend time with people who exacerbate my sense of failure. People who seem happy and say positive things in an upbeat manner all the time. Privately, I find myself feeling that something is even more terrible about me that I’m miserable whereas obviously it’s possible that such contented people exist. At the same time, I have  disdain for these types of people, thinking they’re simple-minded or, worse, they’re false. This depresses me more.

Often, there is an internal struggle as I imagine a choice to either avoid depression or succumb to it. Part of me does not want to make it ‘better’ for myself, to do the things I know will help, but, rather, wants to delve into the monstrous abyss of it because I feel I deserve it and I’m too exhausted to fight. Another part of me thinks it’s utterly foolish to imagine I can escape it anyway. Sometimes I pretend for others that I’m not feeling as I do in the hope that it will go away if I simply ignore it. I know others prefer this. It never works. I went through a period of AA decades ago. One of the things that the group talked about is how those who suffer depression attempt to diminish their feelings through excessive drinking and/or the taking of drugs. Not only does this not lessen it, they asserted, the feelings of unhappiness become addictive (as do AA meetings!). I still consider this, but I don’t agree entirely. Indeed, I agree that unhappiness is a richly complex feeling that becomes habitual. I also think there’s credence to the idea that your brain creates ‘pathways,’ if you will, to well-used ‘roads’ of thinking when in doubt. Certainly a degree of self-absorption plays a role. However, happiness is also a rich and complex concept, with a plethora of words to describe subtleties of the feeling, so by rights, isn’t it equally addictive? The societal pursuit of it seems to be. Ultimately, I think that imagining depression is a choice, one that is created and perpetuated by the depressive person, means the onus is on them for how badly they feel. This type of thinking exacerbates the suffering that the depressive is already experiencing. It also doesn’t seem fair when it’s likely a matter of wonky chemistry and predisposition. Believing it’s ‘simply’ a choice is akin to the archaic and ignorant idea that depression is a ‘luxury.’

Luxury is too fun for it to be likened to depression. While I think there are elements of choice in the sense that the depressive can work to inhibit a full onslaught of depression, moving it from the caliber of ‘high fidelity’ to ‘low fidelity,’ I think it’s a disease that people don’t like to think about despite its prevalence. If one had cancer (other than lung cancer) then people would not blame the one who has it. Despite the progress made to understand and consequently reduce the stigma of depression, there’s still a stigma attached to it. I think it’s because people want those around them to reflect their illusion that life  has meaning and is ‘good.’ One only has to turn to Instagram or Facebook to see that the appearance of a perfect and happy life is a common objective. Ultimately, however, these are idle ruminations because once the curtain of depression descends, logic and reason do not enter. For me, depression is akin to a bad acid trip: one side of me recognizes that the perceptions and feelings are not ‘real’ and that I must simply wait for it to pass. The other side of me feels that my bleak perception of myself and the world, and the ‘inevitable’ outcomes for my emotions, are very real. It’s tortuous.

If you love someone that struggles with depression and you would like to support them, I suggest the following: keep a wide berth. Not really. In fact, try to let the depressive know (without being oppressively cloying) through verbal and non verbal actions, that they’re not completely alone and they do matter to someone. But don’t use platitudes, that’s horrible. Try to be honest. When in doubt, humor always helps.



The Baby Diaries 19
December 25, 2013, 2:43 pm
Filed under: The Baby Diaries | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

“There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” Erma Bombeck

vin chaudWhen my first nephew was a child, I remember thinking that Christmas was definitely for children. He “oohed” and “aahed” at the Christmas lights, the decorations, the colourfully wrapped packages, and his excitement for everything was so palpable that it became infectious for us grownups, making our Christmas truly joyous and warm-hearted.

Now I have a child of my own. And I’m in the French Alps, which is an idyllic setting for the holidays. It’s snowing here as I write, and the chalets everywhere are emitting tufts of smoke from their chimneys. There are Christmas lights along the streets, and a huge Christmas tree in the village square. Moreover, there are all sorts of activities in honour of the Christmas season: Pere Noel (Santa Claus), will pass through the village on a sleigh Christmas Eve and Christmas day; the local community centre hosts animated Christmas films most evenings; there are carollers and little musical concerts with flutes and violins and even accordions; snow “sprites” will ski down the slopes all day Christmas Eve; there is a torchlight ski with the children from the local school skiing in decorative formations down the slopes; there are Christmas story readings at the local bibliotheque (library); and, of course, Midnight Masses in every chapel and church that dots the countryside. Additionally, each of these celebrations provides the additional luxury of vin chaud (hot wine) and chocolat chaud (hot cocoa), courtesy of our local mairie’s office (and our various habitation taxes – fees we pay to live in the province). I intend to take my son to most of these events, even if he can’t quite grasp what is happening. My hope is that some part of his brain will register the festivities, the gathering of people in song, music and celebration, and it will begin his love affair with this season of the heart. At home, I find myself singing the classic Christmas songs to him, such as “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas” in anticipation for his understanding the pleasure of this season.

But I may be optimistic. Just short of nine-months-old, my wee one is able to pick up a toy and throw it, but not to crawl over and grab it, so I’m not sure if his sensory register is sophisticated enough to make any connections between the specific time of year and the celebration. He’s also eating a mushed up version of Christmas dinner, that doesn’t quite give the same pleasure as loading one’s plate full of gorgeous, especially tasty offerings…ah well, it’s an excuse to attend the festivities and to eat to my heart’s content!

 

 



Your First Christmas 2011
December 31, 2011, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

It was your first Christmas this year. Since spending the winter holidays with Danny (your cousin) when he was just under two years old, I’ve believed that Christmas is best when shared with children. The wonder and the magic of it all…the lights, the decorations, the gifts, the music, the stories, the cartoons, and the celebratory spirit shared with family and friends.

Your father and I took you to see the Christmas tree and Maire’s office lit in the town square, and enjoyed a glass of vin chaud while you shook your little legs in excitement at the crowds and watched all the kids running around. We took you to see Pere Noel as he sat in the back of a horse-drawn cart (really!) while you rather rudely stared at the people behind us smoking. We took you to see carolers and a flutist while you played with my scarf. We bought you your first sled and took you out for a wee slide in the first, big snow of the season while you chuckled as Oscar (our family cat) bounded around in the snow and “harrumphed” at us for making you wear mittens. We kept you up past your bedtime on both the 24th (your father’s Christmas) and the 25th (my Christmas) so that you could eat with us while you dangled a straw from your high chair for Oscar to play with.

While you certainly enjoyed the fact that your father, me and Oscar were with you all day, and you enjoyed the ribbons on and from the presents (as Oscar does), I’m not convinced that you understood or cared that it was Christmas, with all the attending activities, and that you got some new clothes and toys. You’d go nude if you could, my little savage, and anything to bite on will do to play with.

Being a spring baby like your cousin Danny (your four days apart in terms of the month born), you, too, will be just under two years old next Christmas. I’m positive the greediness of later childhood will not have set in yet (or ever, I hope) and like him, you’ll marvel at the lights, the decorations, the gifts, the music, the stories, the cartoons, and the presence and activity of family and friends. I look forward to our future Christmases together, particularly in the picturesque Alps, and to introducing you to this ‘season of the heart.’