Depression has the unfortunate side effect of making the world all about me. Like a bad toothache, depression is impossible to ignore for very long; it narrows my focus until all I’m left with is the darkness lodged in my psyche. I’m on medication, so now I am functional. Unhappy, but functional. My concentration has improved. I can get work done. Sometimes the physical tension of this is so great that tears seep out. Depression is a burden on the soul. The following is shameless self-indulgent confession.
I remember my first encounter with depression. It was my junior year of high school. I was smitten with one of my friends, a senior. He was an atheist, and a good debater. I kept in my personal cupboard a few unexamined beliefs about God, Jesus, salvation, goodness, love, morality, and the way the world operated. He took out every single one of them and smashed them. This was a very strange experience, to look out at the world unprotected by any creed, to see, well, Nothing. Why get up? Why have an opinion? Why anything? Why be?
I read the Bell Jar. Doesn’t every depressed teenage girl read the Bell Jar? There were no pills to overdose on in my house. I wasn’t savvy enough to know exactly what would make you overdose. I read somewhere that if you slit your wrists you have to make the cuts vertical rather than horizontal. Perhaps, I thought, I could do that. It seemed a rather painful way to go, but perhaps razors were sharper than I thought and flesh not so resistant. I found the blades for my dad’s razor in the bathroom. I made a few cuts on my arm.
This isn’t going to work, I thought.
Fuck, I can’t even kill myself.
I made a few more cuts, and then some more, until my arm was crosshatched. And then I stopped.
I felt better.
Small cuts like this release opiate-like substances into the brain. Self-medication was never so easy!
Except I had to wear long sleeves all the time.
You might wonder if my parents ever noticed that I had turned into a dour, joyless, self-injuring freak. Nope. They were too busy tormenting each other.
IF they worried about me, they worried about sex. They were afraid I might be having sex with the atheist boy. Which I wasn’t. Unfortunately.
Unexpectedly, one day at the end of the school year, the darkness lifted a bit, and then a bit more, and I had a relatively happy senior year. And I could wear short sleeves.
And then I went to college. On the one hand, college was a liberating experience, to be free of my crazy parents and the petty crap that goes on in high school, to find like-minded people who actually had conversations about books and politics and art. On the other hand, I was a painfully shy person. All my thoughts lodged in my throat. I wanted to love and be loved, but that was too intimate to bear.
I had to wear long sleeves a lot.
Since there were free counseling services, I went to see a therapist. Funny me, I was so secretive about my little “self-medication problem” that I never even told my therapist, a somewhat sour fellow that I don’t even remember. Then there was the nice woman therapist who taught me relaxation breathing. Uh huh. Then there was the intake therapist who caught a glimpse of my arms and freaked out so much I thought she might commit me. She decided I was beyond the reach of a college counseling center and foisted me on a psychologist in downtown Atlanta. I always think of him as the gay therapist, because he was. He gave a new meaning to talk therapy. I heard more about his life than my own. I still have one of his books, Mae West Is Dead. I made him very happy by deciding that I was actually a lesbian. It seemed to explain a lot of things.
And then I went to New York to be a poet. This is the perfect vocation for depressives, and New York is the best place to be if you have any abnormal traits. Everyone has a therapist and everyone is nuts. I can’t remember meeting anyone who was happy or well adjusted, at least not in the poetry department of Columbia. We were like guests at a Jerry Springer show: incest, child abuse, rape, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide attempts, spouse abuse, homosexual but conflicted, homosexual but no longer conflicted just really pissed off. My problems paled in comparison. But I wasn’t really capable of looking on the bright side.
Eventually I ended up at the Mt. Sinai outpatient psychiatric clinic, where I was introduced to the miraculous properties of Prozac.
Ah, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors . . .
This is IT, I thought. This is what normal feels like. Wow.
I wasn’t sure I had felt like this before EVER, even as a child. Definitely not as a child.
Fast-forward to here and now. Which isn’t so great. Getting better, perhaps, but not so great.
My therapist says I need to see myself as God sees me.
Well, yeah. Duh.
And I should pray for guidance. Uh, since I wasn’t so clear on how that worked before the Black Crow came and nested in my heart, I sure don’t know how it works now.
Oh, and if you’re worried that I might be “self medicating” again, I’m not.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.