Friday, November 03, 2006

Villanelle: Kenyon; Update on Depression


My dog limps, so I wrap his leg with tape
His aging has accelerated now.
It’s months, not years, until his great escape.

My wife, she weeps to see him in such shape;
I miss the playfulness he used to show.
My dog limps, so I wrap his leg with tape.

When he sleeps I don’t know if he will wake.
To die asleep might be the kindest blow.
It’s months, not years, until his great escape.

Sometimes he stares out into the landscape
And stops as if confused, and I allow.
My dog limps so I wrap his leg with tape.

When he squats to poop, his hips will shake
Making it difficult for him to do.
It’s months, not years, until his great escape.

Is it too soon or late for God to take
This creature we so loved from here below?
My dog limps, so I wrap his leg with tape.
It’s months, not years, until his great escape.

Not much to report today. It’s raining here. After the rain a mist will rise among the redwoods like the forest’s breath. The smell of wet trees and earth is the smell of life as much as the ocean’s, though I have long favored the ocean.

My medications have numbed me to a degree, but I can still feel the pit that is my heart under the mist. I try to be useful each day, though there is no pleasure in it. When I prepare to take up a new task, however mundane, my anxiety rises and the chatter of self-denigrating voices begins. I wish I had a nickel for every time my brain told me I’m worthless.
My psychiatrist talks about self-worth as if I only had to inhale it. He has no gift for those with severe affective disorders; talk therapy does no good, however skillful the practitioner. When my mood flips I don’t need it. When I’m in a down cycle, I’ll listen to nearly any suggestion out of desperation, even though I know only time, medication, or ECT will work in my case. Luckily I have a tentative appointment next week with a psychiatrist better versed in managing medications. Perhaps he can make the adjustments I need.

This sputtering depression is now seven months long, my longest since 1996. How I wish I could feel hope again! At least I have, in this most recent dip, been able to feel love for my wife. She is my anchor. If it were in me, I’d get well for her tomorrow, because she sees both me and Kenyon suffering and sometimes she can’t bear it. I’m tearing up as I write this, because one symptom of depression is sorrow over one’s effect on loved ones. You want to spare them the pain. This is a frequent justification for suicide in the depressive: “You’d all be better off without me.” In actuality this constitutes a narcissistic lie, and the act of suicide, outside of a terminal illness, is the most selfish act one can commit. Yet in the deepest of depressions it takes a powerful moral core not to give in to the option. I’m not troubled by thoughts of suicide as much as I was when I was younger and depressed; back then I had to wrestle with the question daily. Now, by long practice, it rarely enters my mind with any force. I have foresworn that option, one benefit of a lifelong struggle with this disease, which has over a 30% lifetime mortality if not properly treated.

Happy thoughts for a Friday, right? But I doubt people don’t come here for happy thoughts. I think they come to read the truth as best I can tell it, or possibly to sample a poem (though in my exercise in form I may at times be writing only verse).

At 3 Kilorats,



  1. Gee, I've never thought of suicide as a selfish act. Selfless, yes. Selfish? Nope. A complete erasure of self. When a person's that far down the black hole, when a person IS the black hole, they're thinking more along the lines of "I'd be better of without me." Usually, the isolation that accompanies a deep deep depression excludes any consideration of the outside world. Sure, some folks leave notes saying I'm sorry or whatever but I always felt that such notes were more apologies to the self. Self, I'm sorry I killed myself. Self, I'm sorry I didn't have the hope to sustain myself. Self, I'm sorry I didn't seek help. Self, I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough to crawl out of this hole.

    I'm kind of surprised that you, a sufferer of depression, a person who has considered suicide, would deem it selfish. But hey, to each his own, eh?

    How old is Kenyon?

    Your villanelle reminded me of my family's beloved dog, Tootsie (who was a Tootsie pie, a really sweetheart, thus the name) who was so old, so grayed and arthritic at the end of her life. When her hips became so debilitated by arthritis that she could no longer climb the stairs at night to sleep in my bed or my brothers' beds, she'd sit at the bottom of the steps and whimper. It's the saddest sound I've ever heard. Reminded me of when she was a puppy, just brought home from the humane society, crying like a baby in her box at night until my mother put a clock wrapped up in a towel to comfort her.

    We all need the sound of a beating heart, of a living thing near us to comfort us in the dark, dark night.

    That poor, dear old dog. She was so dumb and sweet and big-hearted and good and bad. She used to slip out the door and disappear for hours, roam through the woods, run through the fields and roll in the manure at the farm. If we happened to catch sight of her as she was running across the yard, we'd call her name and she'd look over her shoulder as if to say: I'm sorry, but the wilderness is calling my name more loudly than you are.

    After all these years, I miss her still.

  2. Anonymous12:24 PM PST

    I came back to say that I also have trouble seeing suicide as "the most selfish act one can commit".

    I think, for most, it might be an act that comes from great (and sometimes long-lasting) pain of some sort, and I can't see it as selfish to want the pain (emotional, physical, mental, whatever) to end.

    It may be a simple-minded view, but i sometimes I think the body just gets tired of the mind constantly saying one is worthless and life is always going to be rotten anyway and why not just go ahead and put us out of our misery, and one day, the body acts on its own and ends it all before the mind has a chance to say, wait a minute, let's take a second to think about this.

    still anonymous,

  3. Certainly, ladies, self-annihilation is the impetus for suicide. One wants the self to shut up, one wants peace and quiet. Yet even in that state, who can say that suicide is beneficial to him who commits it? On the whole, humanity has more believed in an afterlife than not. Who knows but that tortured soul enters it in just that state?

    Furthermore, there is the devastating effect on friends and family. A suicide leaves nothing but guilt and anger behind. It harms the few that were still hoping for you, and its mark is indelible.

    It is selfish because no one is capable of judging themselves or predicting their prognosis with the right treatment. It's a short term solution to a chronic problem. It is giving up on life and friends and family just for the relief of your own pain. Is that selfish or not? I can't imagine it being otherwise. In that state is a person justified for ending their life? Not. To endure, to hope, to believe in life when no life lives within us, that is noble, that is more generous to the others who still care about us. Have you ever heard a family member say, "I'm glad he committed suicide. He was so depressed."

    I've never heard it. My dad committed suicide and there was no
    good in it, only a burden for me and our family. It sent my mother into a severe depression. My brothers and I all drank our way through the following year. Even though my dad may have been a bastard, and he was, he was still our dad, and his giving up sent a shock wave through us all.

    To consider suicide beneficial, one must believe life is ultimately meaningless. That conviction might drive us all like lemmings off a cliff if we did not believe in tomorrow.

    Suicide is a bad example, an example of cowardice, not heroism. I don't mean to condemn those who do it, believe me, I completely understand. But philosophically I completely disagree that it is a selfless act; it is a selfish, damaging act spreading only despair and further darkening a world already too dark.

    LKD, your story about Tootsie is heart rendering. Kenyon sometimes whimpers at the bottom of the stairs, but thank God, he can still make it up. He is 11, a golden-lab-newfie mix, about 70 lbs., and a beautiful animal--the kind people stop you in the street to pet.

  4. Anonymous7:15 PM PST

    I have not seen suicide from the painful perspective that you have. I did not intend to imply that it was a smart choice, or a justifiable choice, or beneficial in any way, and I have never thought it was a selfless act.

    I agree, it is a damaging act that leaves horrible devastation for the survivors.

    And yes, To endure, to hope, to believe in life when no life lives within us, that is the noble thing, but to condemn a person who finds themselves unable to endure and to hope and to believe and then chooses to end their life as having committed the most selfsih act there is does not seem right to me.

    It is an act of cowardism, certainly not heroicm, but man, sometimes, there are only two choices -- crummy and crummier. How can we say that someone has acted totally selfishly for choosing the crummier choice when they could have chosen the crummy choice?

    It's your blog and I am still being anonymous so I won't impose my thoughts on this anymore. Truth is, I probably can't really know how I feel about suicide if I have never been touched personally by it.

  5. Your first point was well taken and perhaps I responded with too much force. I have often wondered if suicide were cowardice or heroism; sometimes I have thought it was the latter. But as a doctor and patient, the suicides I've seen were people just giving up, giving up on their support groups, on their medications, just taking a ticket out of here. I don't condemn them; I envy them, truly. But I couldn't do that to my wife and daughters. My connection to them helps keep me on top of the earth, not below it.
    But I do have a taste for worms.

  6. Anonymous8:47 PM PST

    And I am glad you have that connection...perhaps it is part of what helps to keep you grounded in hope and not in worms!

    Who knows why some people succumb to the darkness and others do not? If only we knew that, we could solve a lot of the world's woes, couldn't we?

  7. As someone who years ago spent everyday of 6 months contemplating death and suicide I never considered it to be a selfish act that is until a dear friend committed suicide last month and all I feel is pain and anger that he could do that to 'us'. Obviously he didn't do it to hurt 'us' but that's just how it feels.

  8. Sorlil, I'm sorry for your pain, but it's good to know the experience changed your mind.

    Six months is a long time to be in the black hole; congratulations on your survival.


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