Thursday, January 08, 2009

Best of, cont'd: More on Depression and Grief

On the heels of my last new post, uncharacteristically optimistic, here's a window into the past when I was dealing with the loss of my eldest daughter and an ongoing depression from 9/6/07:

It’s been over a month since Rachel died. Each day I wake up, take my medicines and come downstairs. Before I can pour myself a cup of coffee I start to weep.

Sometimes I wonder if the neighbors can hear me through the open windows but they never say anything. Everyone has their own sorrow to bear. It’s awkward to try to enter another’s; much safer to ignore it. There are rare persons who have a gift for sharing sorrow, who seem able to make your grief equally their own, entering silently, seamlessly, just to be present. I think Kathleen is one of these. And so what if my neighbors hear me crying? They know of my loss.

I saw my psychiatrist yesterday. I told him about my morning anxiety, the fist in my stomach, and the tears that inevitably followed as I got up. He asked me how I’d been when Sarah was visiting; I was, of course, much better, busy taking her around, showing her the wonders of the coast, visiting thrift shops, taking her to restaurants and spoiling her in general. (I pride myself on spoiling all my daughters.) My doctor pointed out how much sadder I’d become since Sarah had left, and that if her presence could affect me so much it was not likely that I was suffering depression, since an external influence could so affect my mood.

Words failed as I tried to tell him what Sarah’s visit meant to me: “Just to watch her, to touch her." And now she’s gone back to her life in Long Beach, and it’s unlikely we’ll talk much since she is a teenager and I’m an old man. She was a great comfort to me as I hope I was to her.

For now I am in uncharted waters. It encourages me for my doctor to tell me I am more in grief than depressed. And my symptoms tend to support that. I can laugh with Kathleen at night after she returns from work. And after my morning tears I find myself able to function. I paid the bills, for instance, on Labor Day, and was not beset by my usual longstanding fears when I paid them.


I’ve stopped crying now for this morning, I think. My shrink told me to “fill up my dance card,” to busy myself with whatever work was interested me. I told him how much I craved a job where I could punch the clock and put widgets and whatchamacallits together all day. The freedom I have to choose my work is frightening; I would much rather have it assigned.

Writing is my main form of work, followed by house husbandry, gardening and two college courses. It's time to take up my writing projects again.

Back when Kathleen had thought to promote me, she bought a number of books to help. Last night I paged through The Wealthy Writer, written by an Australian bloke who was willing to write anything. In doing so he made contact with the corporate world and found himself writing press releases, helping with ad campaigns and the like. He said “corporate clients paid best.” Most of his book was about business, how to establish a business of writing. He did not concern himself with what he had to write, only that he could get paid for writing. His approach didn’t appeal to me; it sounded as if he’d created a copywriting arm of an advertising agency on the cheap. I guess my fantasy of being a writer will always have me in a cabin with a typewriter, where my agent has to don snowshoes to reach me. My great genius should not be troubled by the business side of things.

My desire to make money as a writer, something new, is borne of an ambition to fulfill my Protestant work ethic and prove I can do without disability. If I could accept myself as I am, a man declared “disabled” by numerous specialists, a man who enjoys a modicum of success as a poet and essayist, I would, of course, be much happier.

Self-acceptance is easy for sociopaths—it never crosses their minds. For the neurotic it seems nearly unattainable. Even for the manic-depressive it is more than a question of neurochemistry.

What if I was loved as I am? Perish the thought! I can never be loved as I am, I must do something more to deserve it, and that, as well, will never be enough to appease my inner god, so it is all pointless. Still, when I hold Kathleen I can feel her healing love flow through me and I know she loves me just as I am (though she excepts my feet). Despite her help I have immense difficulty in imagining myself being loved as I am, which is the bedrock principle of Christianity: God loves sinners, period, just as they are, and there is nothing we can do to merit such love. I believe in this philosophy, why I call myself a Christian, but as for the inner experience of the good news, I am insensible.

When it comes to loving myself, the self-esteem movement never held any attraction for me because it had no traction. How can you love yourself unless you are loved? We need some external being to love us so that we can internalize it. This needs to come early in one's life, very early. Even then the psyche may reject it.

Though I believe my parents did their best, how could they have known that I felt unwanted, excluded, a burden to them from my earliest memories?--which resulted in my having to prove my worth over and over again in the hopes of being loved.

When it comes to such questions my friends like to remind me that my dad was an intimidating monster, that they didn’t feel welcome in my house with him around, rather intimidated; our house was the maze and Dad was the Minotaur. That was the cloud I lived under.

Do these ramblings sound like depression?

When I cry in the morning, what do I think of? I don’t think; I simply feel this emptiness open up inside me, an emptiness where Rachel isn’t, although she should be there. It’s a sadness that does not beg for her return so much as mourn the fact that she could ever leave, that she had for so long occupied such a large part of my heart. When I weep I weep not only for Rachel but for the human capacity to experience loss and for all who have suffered loss.

Marrying mortality to self-consciousness is a troublesome match. The latter gives the lie to the former because self-consciousness cannot conceive of its own end, thus has a terrible time accepting the evidence that this is indeed the case. We are mortal; the fiction of life we create, our own narrative, is written with disappearing ink; we can’t believe in our own deaths or we would abandon our narratives and follow Bartelby the Scrivener into a catatonic refusal to credit life at all.

That I weep for Rachel proves that I believe in life, but at the same time reminds me how much of a fiction I must create to live my own life. I can’t, for instance, do anything if I am constantly worrying about losing Kathleen or one of my other daughters.

In trying to sum up what I felt towards Sarah before she left, the best I could come up with was, “Don’t go dying on me.”



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