Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And now for something completely serious

So enough of vapidness. Time for a bit of gravitas. It is Lent, after all. Not that I have ever observed Lent. But it seems a good time to accomplish a task I’ve been avoiding.

My therapist gave me an assignment weeks ago that I have not been able to process. Two assignments, actually. The first is to write about whether depression is a choice, and the second is to describe my ideal life.

Is it any wonder I’ve preferred to immerse myself in frivolity and look at pretty boys?

Of course I don’t believe depression is a choice. Who would choose such misery? There’s no payoff. When people think of it as a choice, what they are really thinking of is a bit of the blues, a soaking in self-pity, a stubborn refusal to put a positive spin on things. Those are so very different from depression. Over the years I’ve experienced all sorts of cognitive therapy techniques. Relaxation. Guided meditation. Rewriting your inner scripts. They have their place. Which comes first, the wrong thinking or the depression? Once the neurological switch is tripped, does it even matter?

I don’t know why some people just feel a bit glum, a bit low and others flail about in inner darkness. Genetics? I find that once I’m far enough along, rewriting scripts isn’t very effective. It feels like I’m traveling farther from either positive or negative thoughts into numbness. The numbness is superficial but tenacious. Underneath is a tremendous rage. Wouldn’t you be angry if you were caged and trapped? Numbness is the cage door. That is deep depression, when there is fury inside beating against enormous resistance, resistance so strong that it has drawn all my energy into itself. These are the times I feel the urge to hurt myself crawling over my skin, because that release is so calming and so immediate.

(I’ve never even mentioned my history of self-injury to my therapist. Oh, the things I leave out of my personal narrative.)

I’m thankful that I haven’t felt that way in a long time. I no longer feel the need to sneak the X-acto blades from the workroom supply, just in case. Having children is an amazing deterrent. They watch your every move. And Dear Husband. The few times I’ve slipped he has been furious. He’s so practical. If it isn’t the solution, why are you wasting your time? It’s self-seeking, self-pitying. Find a way out, any way out. For once fear and shame created a positive outcome, and so I have retrained my impulses, which is just as well. And I’m medicated. I can’t dip too deep anymore. I’m buoyed on a pharmaceutical sea.

Choices. When options aren’t available, you simply make do. When I experienced my first depression, my parents didn’t notice. Or they did and hoped it would go away. Or they did and were so afraid I would be like my mother they ignored it. Why didn’t I ask to see a psychiatrist? Did I ask? Did I hint? Did I think it was so outside the realm of possibilities that I didn’t bother? Did I choose not to talk to anyone about it, or was I rebuffed? Did I think it wouldn’t do any good, that they would simply look at me as a freak and send me on my way? Would I have even been able to describe what I felt? What would I have said? I want to die? I hate myself? I don’t understand your world? I can’t fix this? Someone help me?

As choices became available to handle depression, I took them. I’ve found that behavior can be modified, even if you still feel like shit. I have enough experience to know that the worst will pass or at least change. But depression itself, it comes when it will.

Onward then, to my second task. My ideal life. This is hard. I have a notable lack of ambition. I’ve gone through life letting circumstance make decisions for me. Even when I was young I couldn’t imagine myself into any particular life. When kids were starting to think about careers, even in high school, I simply knew that I wanted to study literature. That’s as far as I got. I didn’t want to teach, I knew that. I didn’t want to marry or have a family. Otherwise I had no idea. I wasn’t sure I was going to live past 20 anyway. I’ve gone on having no idea through college and grad school and a number of jobs.

Now here I am in my 40s and it feels a bit ridiculous to be without a plan. My mother used to infuriate me. Her constant refrain until she died was, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.” In my meaner moods I would tell her that if she didn’t know by now, she never would. And she never did. She was hindered by a mental illness far more significant than mine. She refused medication. She refused therapy. Her vicissitudes kept her confused and distracted. Here I am with lots of lovely medication and therapy, but I still have not made any advances as far as life goals.

I have vague impressions. I would like a creative life. I would like to be able to write again. I would like to be around other creative people. I would like to be around very intelligent people. I would like to be at home with my kids. That’s unexpected, and I may be off-base or it may be standing in for a simple wish for more compatible work, but it has been a longing all the same. I would like to homeschool my children, something else I think might be completely incompatible with my personality, and yet… I would like to travel England. I love England.

You see how very vague that is? I want to write poetry, but I don’t want to be a poet, with all that entails. I want to be at home, and yet I am completely incapable of structuring my own time. England…England we can save money for. Travel at least translates into a tangible goal.

I don’t exactly dream big, do I?

Sometimes I have plans. Lots of plans, but small ones. I’ll paint the house. I’ll take up knitting. I’ll finally learn to garden. I’ll do something with the photos. They go nowhere. They skitter away the moment I turn my back. They suddenly don’t seem so interesting. In fact they are dull.

Has a life of struggling with depression, or bipolar disorder, or whatever it is, rerouted my neurological pathways in such a way that I’m incapable of forming a plan, incapable of even dreaming a dream? Is that what happened to my mother? Will I be just as bad despite all my advantages – the education, the understanding husband, the medication, the therapy?

And now, what connection between this serious navel-gazing and the frivolous listing of the world’s hottest actors according to me? What do these fantasy figures mean, and why do they suddenly loom large in my imagination only to disappear just as quickly? What am I to make of such a preponderance of dominating men? Men who are lie detectors and truth tellers. And they aren’t very pleasant about it. In fact, to be in their line of sight is somewhat humiliating, but also thrilling and transformative. In Secretary, the female character is a cutter, something James Spader’s character picks up on right away and redirects into a series of erotic games. I connected to the woman right away, not because of the similar modus operandum or because I have any desire to participate in an s/m setup, but because I like the ingenious way in which he steers her away from despair by going through her neurosis rather than around it.

It all seems terribly anti-feminist. Is that the way it is, then? I respond to a male figure who dominates, judges and directs? Where’s Freud when you need him? Did thinking about depression and ambition trigger my current fascination with certain characters? Perhaps that silly list began with me feeling lost, defeated, and directionless.

What do I conclude from all this. Not much. I’ve always been good at seeing the connections. Conclusions, not so much.


  1. Keep writing honey. I am learning so much about you. They say in Judaism that a person can take one scripture and think endless questions about it until the day they die. It is good to ask questions and sometimes not to come to answers. I need to learn that from you - that it is okay to ask, ask, ask, ask and ask and not always say here is the answer.
    I guess we all have different purposes in life some to ask questions and some who know. I remember as a child and going through the Passover seder and coming the for questions and each young boy ask one question with someone else responding. The questions are very simple but I think in one's asking, like the quetions you might have without answers, it creates conversation. We all belong to G-d and he has given us talents - some to ask and some to answer.

    Rest in peace.

  2. I'm clearly very behind on things, as I'm only now reading this. You may not be writing poetry right now, dear, but you're a writer, there's no escaping it, and you are writing. I think you're probably not even aware of how much your writing here moves people, and entertains them--those are both such important things. Honestly, I think what you're creating with this blog is something to be proud of.