10 Mar 2014, 12:27pm
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A Little Personal History, part 12, death’s doors are familiar

I’ve felt on borrowed time since birth. Not like my friend who was born with anomalies and expected not to make it though her teens.

She made it to her 30s, until just after serving tea for the luncheon after church which she loved, doing the service she loved among people she was fond of. She left and her heart unstitched on the front steps of the church. It was just before Easter 2002.

That could have fed into my sense of transitory life. But it started earlier. I was in the shadow of my father’s life. His friends were mostly a decade older which is fine when you’re 20 but when you’re 50 or so, they start dying like flies. So many funerals. And I went to them all. How many? 1 or 2 or month? I shook a lot of hands. We were well-known among all the funeral homes in the area. How much did we donate in all to the cancer society or the heart fund?

But death comes from all directions when you’re on a farm and fishers are “stealing” cats, foxes catching chickens, a badger and an unwise dog battle leave the pup nearly gutted but recovered and little smarter. Not smarter enough to not get herself in a fight with a porcupine.

And animals were sold to slaughter. And something rabid bit the pony, and something feisty went after the rabbits in the night, frightened a whole enclosure of them to death. It doesn’t take much to scare a rabbit to death.

For all that nature didn’t feel dangerous. I felt more at home in the forest that was nearly destitute of animals than among people who were far more apparent danger. A porcupine and I may eye one another, but there’s a respect. A person would sidle past and give a sneaky pinch or knuckle punch or nasty word and them smile charmingly. Or openly compliment then cut down from the special knowledge of what would deflate me fastest “to make sure you don’t get a swell head”. Animals just needed to eat to live. People are a crazier sub-set of animals.

We are acting out from impulses we don’t always understand. We are each got beasties.

Our coworker had just divulged she’s on chemo and felt alone and scared. A coworker replied, “Everyone’s got something honey”. She pointed and named conditions. There, diabetes, there, husband just left her, her, cancer too. Pointing to herself, depression and meds. A lot is invisible. What are our silences teaching? To compare our insides to others’ outsides?

When there’s a phase of something coming down, is it nature or nature or just passing through? When people around us are living their depression, are we learning how to be depressed, or to navigate with resilience? Example of negative lesson or just a thing not about us?

As Andrew Solomon put it in trying to understand the slow death of depression,

“to interview people who had experienced it, I found that there were people who seemed on the surface to have what sounded like relatively mild depression who were nonetheless utterly disabled by it. And there were other people who had what sounded as they described it like terribly severe depression who nonetheless had good lives in the interstices between their depressive episodes.”

[...] people who are depressed [...] say, “No matter what we do, we’re all just going to die in the end.” Or they’ll say, “There can be no true communion between two human beings. Each of us is trapped in his own body.” To which you have to say, “That’s true, but I think we should focus right now on what to have for breakfast.”

Right. Just get on with it. That’s a strategy. Keep busy. Sure. Let yourself rest. Good idea too.

His listing what depressed people say was to transcript my dad’s speech and my own head for years. It’s nothing I let on about. Except when really down and then I might peep and people would tell me, “no, you’re exaggerating. You’re cheerful, therefore not depressed”. Why talk to unreceptive people? Why persist? I have enough walls to bag my head against. Not currently accepting more applications.

Depression eventually drags outward behavior but it’s not about the outward. It’s not about sad. It’s clear as a glass door to fast-moving nose.

It’s understandable when people try to cheer others up. People want other people to be well. People want to comfort other people, and encourage. It comes from a good place but it gets off at the wrong station when person A bunches up the shame and fear and says, “I am struggling with depression” and person B replies, “nope, you’re fine.”

I found diaries from around age 11 that noted I have panic attacks. I rediscovered panic attacks exist again in late high school, again in university, each time collecting tracts for them. I collated information on depression. I collected a partial set of techniques for dealing. People advise me that I shouldn’t integrate a illness with an identity because that means I refuse to get better. Again, well-intentioned ignorance.

Because I speak quietly or shyly doesn’t mean I’m unsure or uninformed. I have the thick or data and all the circumspect reading. I have to give myself the respect to put my own knowledge on at least equal terms with others. And to live mindfully allowing the range of life and its circumstances, the beauties and the beasties to be seen.

Having a mind watching mind is a shadow spotter of sorts. Or it’s death by a thousand cuts of seeing yourself respond and not being able to redirect yourself to be your shining glowy better self.

To ground in the immediate is useful. Think of the present. Be here, now. Deflect the monkey in the head when it tantrums but return and address the monkey. The monkey probably has something to say for a reason. What is it about?

The tricky thing about feeling well is whooohooo, cured. I’ll never have to have to give that monkey any more rides. But it’ll come back, or another monkey will. There’s something.

  
 
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