Monday, January 09, 2006

Just Me and My Shadow

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.


  1. Dear Alice,

    Please know that you are in my prayers. I pray that you sense that God is with you. I pray that you feel lightness. I pray that you feel the warmth of God's love.


  2. I am so proud of my shygirl. I love her with all my heart. Honey, thank you for being open and honest and know that I will always be by your side.

  3. Depression is such hell...No easy words or easy answers, but lots of love and prayers heading your way. And it WILL clear in time, truly.

  4. My Dear Bad Alice,

    My bestest friend of all time suffers from depression. Her current meds are working just fine and no one would know to look at her that she suffers in this particular way. We've had lots of talks about this over the years but I've never really been able to understand (because depression seems to be a "you had to be there" kind of thing). But your description of the "Black Crow" nesting in your heart made so much sense. Thanks for sharing your journey. I hope you know you aren't alone. I'll be praying for you.

  5. Thanks for sharing the truth, the honest truth. There's is hope and you know where that hope comes from, God. I will pray that you continue to feel better. I've dealt with depression too, and it's a lifelong battle. Right now I tend to medicate with food, so pray that I will seek Him instead of sugar. I am still looking forward to meeting with you and Jeff or at least talking to ya on the phone. I need a good girlfriend. I try to call you later this week.

    Love and hugs,

  6. ((((you)))))

    this was brave,
    funny and sad at the same time
    made me laugh, cry, wince and want to hug you

    I'm glad God put you in my life! Most of us have scars - not necessarily on our wrists - I thank God for giving you the courage to show them today. He will heal them, all the pain and conufsion behind them, He will not only give you peace (((Alice))) but retore the COLOUR to your life - shade by shade

    I shalln't call you bad Alice anymore - because you are so honest. Honest Alice - stepping into the light, and becoming even more glorious because of He who lives within her.

    Be SO blessed

  7. I am glad that this blog provides you a forum. I am reminded of another starkly honest post on another blog that was also starkly honest.

    It is good for us to speak the truth.

    I know the He wants all the best for you. I also know that you and your husband are loving followers of Him. therefore it will all be ok.

    Just know that IU have said a prayer for you and that I am certain others are doing so.

    God bless Honest Alice.

  8. I wish I knew how to help you through this. Rest assured He sees your pain and will be there with you on your journey through this. If there's ever anything I can do to help, please let me know. Been there/done that...

  9. I feel your pain... literally. Depression comes in a broad spectrum of colors, from pale grey to deepest darkest black. And all of them suck.

    Besides medication, the only other thing that makes a noticeable difference for me is sweaty exercise (in my case, running). I hope you'll find something that works for you.


  10. Just a note to let you know I was by for another visit to check on you. Hope all is well with you and the family.

  11. Yep, depression is a Black Crow. Thanks for writing this.
    I remember a Winter when I counted on my calendar the days until Spring. Jan and Feb are the worst months.

  12. yes, the black crow nests. our shawdow is a part of us. it comes out on sunny days reminding us of the dreadful balance of life. thanks for sharing your past. tough to find good capable counselors. blogging is a wonderful forum to dialogue and explore our hearts and minds.

  13. Wow! I don't know you, and it's the first time I've ever seen your blog, but it was definitely not a mistake. Apparently it's a day of confession. As dark and crap everything feels, He'll always be there...with open arms. No judgements, no expectations, no condemnation. He just loves us. And always will. Nothing you think, feel, believe or do can ever change that. And the thing that blows my mind? He walks with us. He WEEPS WITH US. This is true love.

  14. {{{{{{Alice}}}}}}

    I can hear you. I have no words, and I know there probably aren't too many words that can help. Just know I'm with ya.

  15. Dear Alice...I hadn't visited your blog for a bit, so just read this today. But right now I am stopping to pray. I wish I was with you to do it in person.

    Gracious and Loving God, thank you for holding on to this precious girl/woman.

    Please go back with her and heal the wounds caused by the atheist boy.

    Wherever he is, speak to him too.

    Give "Bad Alice" back the pieces of herself that went missing after that.

    I pray the black crow flies away. Away. Away.

    And may the day come when these experiences that are anything but "good" do become exactly that. I pray that you will use the bad things, as only you can, to bring glory to yourself and healing to others. In your good time, perhaps even allowing Alice to minister to others who "self medicate." She would not, I am sure, just teach them relaxation breathing or tell her own life story....ack. Use her to bring your light to others, however that is to be.


    (((((((((Bad Alice))))))))))))))

    You are Brave Alice, IMO.

  16. Thank you for this. It helps me understand my 13-year-old daughter, who has been "medicating" in this way. It's been hard, but she is doing better.

  17. Alice, It's been a while since I stopped by, so I just saw this post. Wow. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I will keep you in my thoughts.

  18. thank you for being so brave and so honest.. much peace to you today.

  19. That was the best description I've read of the Columbia poetry department. I was really depressed when I was at CU. It was a really horrible time in my life. You'll be in my prayers.