Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Very Limited Way to Handle Sadness

I had some long sad stretches. These days they are called "depression". Mine were caused - partially - biochemically: The spiritual and biochemical phenomenon I called "my first wife" extricated herself from "our" life.

It wasn't even "my" life she left, but a knotted combination of our lives that remained, for over a year after her departure, the same knotted combination of a life I couldn't let go of and the life of the ghost of her. The future we'd created for ourselves in which we were together persisted, kept trying to crowd out of existence any new future I tried to create.

One thing I learned from that period is the long-term folly of depending on memories of happier days to pull one out of the dumps. Depressed, we remember sad things. If we try to remember happy things, soon we can no longer find the joy in them. Drawing on hopes turns hopes gray.

We make our pictures to suit and solidify our moods, so it is foolish to expect cheerful memories to fish us out. There are no cheerful memories, only cheerful rememberers. I must think up a cheerful me to think my cheerful thoughts.

What seemed to work (as a cope measure) was walking and looking at what was there, and that meant walking for hours before, at some point, I would see something, anything (a tree, a house, a pattern of light and shade and motion, kids playing in a park) and maybe even feel something.

The trick was not to be fooled by the lifelessness of all I saw, the way my vision cast a grayness over even the brightest day, to know (take it on faith) that I was putting that there and just keep walking (letting my thoughts plod along with me in their tedious rounds: Why did she have to...? Why couldn't she have...? Why did I...?), just keep walking and looking about and, really, peeking out of my thoughts to notice a sidewalk crack here, a fire hydrant there.

Deadly to remember how beautiful trees were to me once and try to jump-start joy by forcing myself to look at trees; why waste them thus? It's like getting mud on a treasured toy, then, to make it better, pushing all one's other toys into the same mud.

Perhaps this is because the end of a relationship is filled with attempts to force emotions into being. This often happens gradually, so that one doesn't realize it is happening. She turns a fraction of a degree colder, so, without knowing one is doing it, one turns up his heat a fraction of a degree. (One doesn't know one is doing it, because one doesn't want to admit that she's more distant.) And as the gap widens, in tiny increments one increases that effort to make love happen, until, at the end, one is hollering over an abyss to communicate to someone so far away (as if across Grand Canyon) that one isn't sure anyone is there, and all one gets back is echoes.

So as soon as one tries (on such a walk) to make the world beautiful and responsive, one stirs up the the ashes, which turn the world gray and get in one's lungs and eyes. Because it's the same reach, the same enforcement.

(One does all this. One, that lonely pronoun, so appropriate here, like Emily Dickinson's "formal feeling".)

So finding (on many walks) that recalling happier times soon became like sniffing one's own vomit, I learned to be patient with the world, to walk and notice and impose as little as possible upon either my thoughts or what I saw, and I discovered that gradually, increasingly often, I'd find myself right then and there being me again and the world alive around me.

Really what I discovered is that there is no loss, that whatever happiness I'd ever had had been in myself, and that whatever ability I'd had to access that happiness could not be lost. It could be buried, but never destroyed.

And it only takes a second of revival, of suddenly, unexpectedly slipping into that imperishable ocean of joy, of what - it now seems to me - one basically IS; just an instant of it after days of work that has lost its purpose and long rambling walks, just an instant, and loss begins to disintegrate, like the first rumblings of a frozen river at the start of a spring thaw. There are days when the sky is solid dead gray, spitting cold drizzle. And after you walk a mile or so, you see a thin spot in the gray, just a haze of blue, and after another mile, you find yourself under a tiny hole in the gray, visible vertical rays of sunlight surrounding you, and then you put your attention elsewhere for what seems a few minutes, then notice that things are more sharply defined, more brilliant, then realize that the clouds are gone except for a few blindingly white puffs here and there in a sea of gold and blue. It can happen that fast. Does it last? No matter if it doesn't, if the day turns dark again. That dark no longer has the same power to daunt you.

Of all my gripes with chemical psychiatry, my loudest is simply this: Losses and tangles of things said and done that shouldn't have been said and done and all the other mires that spatter us daily coat awareness with smeary muck and cut us off from ourselves. The pills a shink gives us, when "effective", are effective because they coat that smeary muck with a shiny lacquered finish and make it hard to see or touch. In doing so, they impose between us and what we truly are yet another layer -- a layer even more impenetrable than the muck.

Trust yourself a little longer. Trust the world a little more. You are still there. You can still communicate. There is still something there to which you can communicate. There is still a playing field. Better games are still possible.

[Soon after my longest bout with sadness, I discovered something that would have accelerated the recovery process 100 fold and which has, since then, spared me a great deal of worn-down shoe leather. This you can learn about here.]

1 comment:

Pam said...

Speaking of "biochemical blues", when I was a teenager, I used to have bouts of the blues. What is this? I asked myself. I'm usually a happy person. I finally recognised that this happened just a day or two before I started my period each month. After that, when I would get blue, I'd only have to remember to check the time of month. Sure enough! There was a direct link. I later learned that the best cure for the blues was to sing the blues.

Another point of interest: what's all this emphasis on handling depression with medication? Hey, sometimes the world is a depressing place. Pain is a symptom that something needs to change. Depression could be a symptom that would best be handled by finding out WHY you are depressed and handling the source of the depression, not doping yourself up to kill the pain.

And finally, there is a way to handle depression that is lasting and effective, without drugs, and it will change your life. It's Scientology