Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The Bottom Below
“Do you think you’ve hit bottom? Do you think you’ve hit bottom? Oh no - there’s a bottom below. There’s a low below the low you know You can’t imagine how far you can go Down.” – “A Bottom Below” by Malvina Reynolds Depression has been a part of my life since I was about fourteen years old, or at least that’s when I first noticed it. I felt like I had gone away from everyone to some harsh isolated place where everything hurt, and I felt helpless to get out of it. A few weeks or months later the fog lifted as mysteriously as it drifted in and I resumed my conventional teenage misery and my unrequited crush on a boy named Tom who said I was his best friend and told me all about the girls he liked. That in itself was depressing, but the prolonged periods of gray despair and lethargy that I was to experience over the years were not connected to any apparent outside cause. Depression simply was part of my life, and by my early 20s I was considering depression almost a friend, it was so persistent a presence in my life. Say what you like about depression, it will stand by you when everyone else leaves. At some point I realized that the darkness was likely to move in around October. Later I heard about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and thought that might be part of my problem. I probably should not have moved from California to Vashon Island if lack of light was affecting my mood. Oh well. Over the years I worked hard to overcome my depression. I read books of humor and cartoons, ate chocolate (chocolate again!), took vitamins and herbs, sang to lift my spirits, fell in love or something like love which gave me a few days of feeling good, did talk therapy and group therapy and 12-step groups, prayed, meditated, and walked. It didn’t help that I get migraines, because they can be pretty depressing. Writing a song was the best mood elevator, though that was not something I could do at will. I could work at writing songs and come up with snippets and crippled fractions of songs, and I did that – this is called “honing your craft” - but only when a whole song came through did the endorphins start flowing. Yay! Better than sex, better than fresh corn on the cob, better than chocolate. Better than anything. Ask any songwriter; he or she will tell you. After years of trying everything I could think of and becoming reasonably happy, October came and with it the inward blackness, for no apparent reason. It just came in, like the fog or the tide, and engulfed me. At that point I surrendered to the suggestion of my medical provider of the time, and tried one of them new-fangled anti-depressants. My life changed for the better. I had an influx of energy and optimism. This stuff is great, I thought. Of course there are people who are pleased to say that being on an antidepressant is proof of mental instability. You’re supposed to be strong. Subdue your emotions. Put on a happy face. Pray to Jesus. Grin and bear it. Stop making the rest of us feel ashamed because you’re so unhappy. No, that is simply backwards. The anti-depressant is the treatment for the mental illness. Mental illness + appropriate treatment = better mental stability. Got it? It’s spring now and my spirits rise with the lengthening days. I spotted the first dandelions blooming in the yard this morning. Then I noticed that the forget-me-nots are blooming, and the wallflowers and primroses have been rioting for weeks. My goodness, could I be feeling…happy? I found myself singing Malvina Reynolds’ cheerful ditty about feeling bad, and laughed. It’s hard to admit that so much of my life has been crippled by depression, but even when the worst things do happen and it feels like the darkness is never going to lift, eventually the light breaks in and spring comes again. Every Good Friday has its Easter, and vice versa, to be honest. When my boys were teenagers and a friend of theirs committed suicide, I told them that no matter how bad you feel, if you do nothing at all but wait and let time pass, you’ll feel better. It’s true. Feelings will come and go and come again. Life goes on, and the dandelions bloom. Even with the depression and the migraines and the true grief, I wouldn’t have missed this grand tragic comedy, not for the world. It has been, and still is, a great ride. That’s how I feel on a sunny spring morning.