Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Digging In The Dirt

I am no stranger to depression - it's been my companion for far too many years. I recognize the symptoms as expertly as I would the symptoms of the flu or any other illness. It comes from years of living intimately with it. I've examined my personal causes, or triggers minutely, made a science of pinpointing the underlying reasons and how to exorcise them.

As a child, when the fighting between my parents would crescendo, or they had just vented their rage at each other on one of us, I would slip away from the house and look up at the night sky, praying for my real family to come and take me away.

In the teen years, unable to pretend I belonged somewhere else, I thought about suicide almost constantly. I wore black from the age of 12 onward, and sat in my room in the dark, writing very morose, very bad poetry. I stole prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet of my friend's mother and stockpiled them for my planned overdose. My parents would occasionally take their heads out of their self-absorbed asses to notice and their loving response was always, "Do we need to take you to see someone?" Not that they ever followed through - not that I would have talked to a shrink if they had. When you grow up in the house of a shrink and see just how batsa they are after hours, it makes it pretty much impossible to trust any of them.

I was actually lucky, in that I had brothers and a sister. I think we decided fairly early on that our parents were totally fucked up in the head and couldn't be relied on. No matter how bad it was, we had each other. My father likes to think he had a hand in making us such a close family, and he's right, but he's also way off base. He was never home, except on the weekends. My mother couldn't deal with four kids alone and saved both our punishments and her resentments for Friday night, and that's how she lost her authority as a parent. Their need to publicly vilify one another led us to form our own family dynamic - one that didn't include them.

As a young woman I tended towards relationships where I put my entire life's happiness into the keeping of another, and naturally, they always seemed to end badly. Then I would plummet into a pit of darkest, most desperate despair, only surfacing to pin my self worth on another poor unsuspecting schmuck.

I was about 24 when I had the epiphany that I was living my life like it was a Greek tragedy, and decided I was really tired of it. It was time to try living life like it was worth it. That was the year I met both Bea and my husband and you know how those stories went.

That's not to say I don't ever end up in that dank, windowless cell known as depression - I certainly do. The toddler years were hell, and there were times I literally hit my head against the wall, trying to deal. But I look at it differently now. I know there's a sunny day outside of that cell. I also know I'm not the only one who ever feels that way, and strange as it may sound, I find that comforting. It took some work to get to this place, in the form of confronting my demons, both personal and familial, but the dark days are fewer and further than they used to be.

How can we appreciate the exquisite joy of being alive, if we've never seen the other darker side as well? Life is a balance of both good and bad, I believe, and in the quest to find wisdom, or grace, or deeper illumination, we have to be able to embrace both sides.

*Note - I wrote this piece after reading of Ray's demise into the dark tunnel over at Nitro Vista. This isn't a solution to anyone else's depression - it isn't even a full confession of the things that set me off. This is simply what came up out of the bubbling swamp that is my mind after reading his post. I also want to say that as an adult I recognize there are no perfect parents and whatever botching of the job my parents may have done, they did their best with what they were given. Family dynamics and dysfunctions often go back many generations, and for what its worth, my parents did break out of their respective molds in many ways.


Lara said...

I love this paragraph:

"How can we appreciate the exquisite joy of being alive, if we've never seen the other darker side as well? Life is a balance of both good and bad, I believe, and in the quest to find wisdom, or grace, or deeper illumination, we have to be able to embrace both sides."

I think too often people are afraid to just feel because sometimes the feelings hurt. Like you, I prefer to embrace both sides. :)

Maggie, Dammit said...

Love the glimpse into your childhood. The way you describe the dynamic with your siblings is quite wonderful.

Hope you are well, m'dear.

Gypsy said...

I hesitate to admit to a fondness for a certain cheesy country singer, but it's so appropriate. Chely Wright has a song with these lyrics:

"So don’t be afraid to cry get down as far as you can go
Let the river rage on by and the wind blow
If you pay your dues in darkness
You’ll appreciate the light
’cause a deep down low makes level feel so high"

Madge said...

to much of this sounds familiar to me. to much.

and everything lara said....

Anonymous said...

I have those moments. I fall down off some mountaintop and can barely pick the needles out of my ass for all pain.

I was diagnosed once, and took some medication that made me . . . feel nothing. No high. No low. No life.

So now I feel what I choose and write about the rest. I examine it all when the ride is over and assess the damage. And then I try and move on.

This is an exquisite post. I too love the way you describe the dynamic between you and your siblings.

Thanks for sharing . . .

Your American Idol! said...

That is one kick-ass post.

Well said.

Jennifer H said...

I understand so much of this. I also loved what you said about not being able to appreciate the joy of life without the experiencing the dark side of it as well. I'm not sure I could trust anyone who doesn't understand this.

I agree with Tysdaddy. Exquisite post.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

Much of what you wrote really resonated with me, and I agree with Jennifer, can you really trust someone who doesn't get it? Those folks are either in denial or a robot.

I am also really impressed with how you have learned to recognize and deal with depression - those times I like to call a "blue funk".It takes a very strong, together kind of person to be able to step outside their cell and identify the source of their depression.

Great post! One of your best, in my humble opinion.

Queen of Shake-Shake said...

I agree that you have to experience both the good and bad to be truly alive.

Great writing!

Julie Pippert said...

Awesome post!

So many good comments!

One time, my acupuncturist said to me, as I was wallowing, "You're depressed, but I don't think you're *depressed* as in something is physiologically wrong with you. I think any thinking and feeling cognizant human would feel depressed in your shoes. You're actually just UNHAPPY, and for understandable reason."

I was 31 years old and that was honestly the first time ANYONE had EVER given me permission to be unhappy---including myself.

Well-intended people give some version of "turn that from upside down" but in general, people don't have the wherewithal in some way to allow another person the space and time to be unhappy, even for understandable reason.

How fabulous your figured that out, how fabulous you wrote about it, and honestly, I agree with Jennifer and Bea.

So often I have said that it's okay to feel both happy and sad feelings, and sad is a necessary thing sometimes, an understandable thing sometimes. I'm surprised how many people are surprised by this concept.

thailandchani said...

This is a very good post.. and I agree with much of what Julie said. One would have to be dead or stupid to not recognize that being occasionally depressed, given the way of life and the state of the world, is perfectly natural.

bandick said...

And now that you've posted lyrics to my favorite Frankenfurter song, I can see quite clearly that you are my bosom blogger.

The problem is that I am now going through the entire soundtrack mentally and can no longer focus on work. I'm afraid I'm going to have to bill you for lost wages, pickle.

hele said...

Your writing touched a part of me that knows the truth of all you said.