Victoria Jelinek


XXIII: Blue Dog Day

Depression is melancholy minus its charms – the animation, the fits. Susan Sontag

depression long roadMy mind has been playing tricks on me all day. I almost convinced myself that my bad liver was a result of my candy intake. Seriously. For a moment, it seemed real. So real, that it almost justified my drinking at 9am. The rest of the day, I’ve been thinking that I’ll try to make it through fifteen more years. That’s the goal. Ten to see my son off to university, then five more years to have fun, do what I want, potentially decimate my body. Then, like a cat when its ready to die, I’ll quietly go off somewhere by myself. These morbid thoughts give me comfort. I think, “I can make it through today…” Then, “I can make it through the next year…” Then, “I can make it for ten more…I think…” “That’s all, that’s all…” But that “all” is everything.

It’s horrible to feel this way. It’s heavy and dark and bitter and mean and uncomfortable. I want to escape me. Barring that, I want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head and just pass time. The day, the year, the ten years, the fifteen. However, there are always people around me. My husband would interrupt this. Not because he would be concerned, but because it would annoy him that I was in bed ‘lolling about’ while he was taking care of our child, our house, and ‘business.’ Then, of course, there’s my son. My precocious, sweet, talkative boy who hums and sings to himself as he skips up the stairs, heads out the door, or plays by himself. He zones in on me like I’m a beacon whenever he’s home and demands I engage with him. Not in a pushy, aggressive manner, but because he likes me and wants to show me things, talk to me about what he has seen or done, and to hear what I have to say about it. He’s still cuddly, even as I can see the man that he will become, and he’s way too big for me to lift up. I try to engage with him. To pay attention to what he’s saying. I try to put a smile on my face. I try to pretend not to be me for him.

It’s entirely for him that I’m not drinking and inhaling to my heart’s desire. Or staying in bed all day. Or running away to somewhere else more suited to my real self. Somewhere dirty, large, and anonymous. He’s the reason I stay. He’s the reason I try at all. He’s the reason I will make myself go to the grocery store to get food, even as I absolutely dread the inevitable prospect of running into someone I know. He’s also the reason that we have any semblance of a social life. As an only child, or a “unique” as the French say, he wants playmates. As a naturally curious and social boy, he wants company and activity around him. As he’s still very young, he can’t arrange them or go by himself, and his father is unconcerned with having a social life, happy, instead, to be a homebody. So, I must arrange ‘play dates’ and social plans. Then, I must stay for a “hello,” and a “how are you?” and sometimes a cup or glass of something to be friendly. However, I find these interactions very hard. I feel as though I am perpetually masquerading as a ‘normal’ person, and consequently, am such a fraud. I don’t know how to have small talk when I’m sober, and I know people don’t want me to launch into “serious” talk, which is a “downer.” Having to interact with adults and children alike is painful and anxiety provoking for me. And now there’s no reprieve from the stress of it all.

Moreover, ‘the slings and arrows’ of children and their parents’ politics are very hard for me to observe, digest, and remain calm about. ‘Cookie cutter’ type kids and their parents are popular. They’re confident about asserting themselves. The kids spot the ‘Achilles heel’ of any child and exploit it cruelly. The other kids gravitate to these types. Prompting me to wonder if there isn’t some truth to the idea that people, in general, do like dictators – someone to tell them what to do and how to be. Tennessee Williams notes in “Night of the Iguana” that humans are the only creatures that won’t do anything to get out of a trap, such as bite off a foot or an arm. The kids ‘fisty cuffs’ are generally all forgotten relatively quickly, but it’s terrible to watch when you consider that these human propensities begin early. Ugh, and the little clusters of cliques, with those who are the ‘henchmen’ to the popular kids often being the meanest. Girls seem to be the worst. Or the best, depending on how you look at it. I think of the film “Mean Girls” frequently. Even among the hierarchies of adults. I hate observing these dynamics. It ‘winds me up.’ It makes me feel like I’m in grade school or high school all over again. I hated those years. I felt like a captive.

I keep looking for justice and signs of human thoughtfulness: to notice the person who picks up after himself when leaving the cinema. Or notice the car that uses only one parking space. Or notice the person who lets someone in front of them in the line at the grocery ‘cause they only have three items and the other person a trolley full of goods. Or see ‘the chancer’ get fired summarily. But it’s so hard to do when I feel so fucking bad. And, it often makes things worse ‘cause I don’t see these things everyday and then I’m angry. Then, like the masochist I am, I sling abuse at myself for being “so negative.” I tell myself that it’s MY fault that I see the ‘bad’ things about people in the world! I’m sending out that ‘energy’ and it’s causing a reverb by bringing negativity to me!” “If I could only change my perspective then it would all be fine. All would be different.” “It’s how I see things that’s the problem.” “It’s me. I suck. I’m horrible, beastly, angry, critical, and judgmental.” “I should relax and not think “too” much.” Problem is, the only way I don’t think too much is to ingest a mind-altering substance. If I’m to make it another fifteen years, I can’t. It’s already ‘dicey’ that I’ll make it that far with what I’ve already done to myself.

And that’s when I want to spend my day in bed. It’s then that I see little point in venturing out into the world. It’s then that I return to the idea that I’ve had a good run and I’m eager to be done with it. I’m tired of watching imposters get ahead. I’m tired of bullies dominating society – both on a micro and macro level. Of mediocrity reigning. Of the rise of pride in ignorance and the consequent disdain of intellect. Of no one really giving a shit about anything. I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of me.

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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.