Sunday, January 11, 2009

Best of: Cry Me a River

From 9/24/07, while deeply depressed:

I wish I had better news. I wish I could say, “I’m well! I’m well! Thank God Almighty I’m well!”

But I’m not. I’m sick. I’m very sick.

Since Friday, soon after I wake up I burst into tears and sobs and they last all day until my tear ducts are just burned out by nighttime. Even yesterday, when I hiked with Kathleen along the beautiful cliffs of the coastline, I couldn’t stop the tears running down my cheeks beneath my Ray-Bans. I called my doctor but we did not connect. I don’t know how to stop crying. I don’t know what I’m crying about. It’s as if someone left the alarm clock on and it won’t shut off.

I am overcome with grief. Yes, I miss Rachel; yes, I can’t believe she’s dead. Yes, that thought makes me weep. But my grief, my physical expression of grief, triggers self-denigrating thoughts as well: How incompetent and incapable I am. What a failure I am. I couldn't get a job at McDonald's. I would never learn to flip the hamburgers properly. My back hurts always, yes, and my mind seems like a tattered kite hanging from the telephone wire, but I feel as if I deserve to be thrown out on the streets and given a shopping cart. Or perhaps I could join a freak circus. “The Saddest Man Alive,” the marquee would read. The curtain would open and there I would sit, watering the tulips.

I want to look “well” for Kathleen. But I can’t dissimulate in front of her. I tell her of my little triumphs, how I put shelves in the coat closet, how I cleaned out the entire refrigerator. During these tasks I continued to weep. Obviously I can function in this state, though it feels as if I can't.

What am I crying about? I don’t know. It’s like a record skipping. I should have had ECT a year ago, but who knows whether my daughter’s death might have sent me off the deep end again anyway? I took an antipsychotic this morning hoping it will calm me some. I called my doctor again. I try to be responsible about my illness.

Netflix sent me “The Elephant Man,” which I apparently ordered long ago. Terrific movie. I understand John Merrick, as I think most of us do. Not that I have actually suffered as a sideshow freak and been beaten by a drunken handler. It’s just the feeling of being so very different when I know I am not, just as he yells at his pursuers, “I am a human being!” And because he is befriended and loved, he receives more happiness than any of us can imagine—who can imagine being lifted from such a wretched state to become a favorite of London society, and that not because he was a freak, but because he was human despite his unfortunate appearance.

I have a friend who suffers from the same disease, neurofibromatosis or “Von Recklinghausen’s disease.” Like most cases, his is much less severe, though the fibrous tumors have necessitated multiple surgeries on his foot. I’ve never heard him complain about it.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about those rare individuals afflicted with Lesch-Nyan syndrome. Because of one random mutation in their X chromosome, they chew their lips and fingers off and react oppositely in their emotions—that is, if they like someone they may cuss at him or punch him. If they dislike someone they may say something polite. Their hands must be covered with mitts because their fingers frighten them, as they feel suddenly compelled to bite them. Most have no lips, having long since chewed them off. Often they ask their caretakers to restrain them when they feel the self-destructive compulsions coming on. To think that one base pair askew in the DNA chain could result in such specific behaviors is frightening and raises serious questions about free will.

Kathleen tells me, “It’s not your fault. It’s your genes.”

But I don’t know any other me. Just because some genetic abnormality makes me cry for days on end doesn’t mean that that crying feels any less like me. And I don't dwell on suicide, a thought that more hounds me when depressed.

Nevertheless, if genetics is destiny, can I make myself stop crying? Can I will myself into sanity? Of course not. I can’t control it any more than an epileptic can control a seizure. This is not a failure of courage or anything else; it is not a failure at all. It is a biological sentence that differs from grief.

I don't feel sorry for myself; if I grieve, I grieve for the whole world, because I feel as if the object of my grief has become diffused and fills the universe.

If you asked me why I weep, I could only say, “For nothing. For everything.” My sadness has no limit except this body. Still, my state is not like a pure biological depression. It is something new. I have never cried this much when depressed; in that state there is too much of the bitter, metallic despair in me to do so.

I don’t feel inhuman. I feel too human, even if the capacity for sadness is only one aspect of being human.

In writing this I have temporarily stopped crying.

I feel like an emotional astronaut. I try to report the journey and it doesn’t have to make sense.




  1. C.E. - I wish I could weep. I wish I could cry a little. The only time I allow myself to cry is during movies. I watched Into the Wild last week and allowed myself to cry almost the whole day after watching it. I wish I could cleanse myself with tears. I remember, when I was child, after getting beaten - my mother telling me that if I cried she would hit me more. I learned not to cry at an early age. Now, all this non-crying is like a sheath around my internal organs. I expect them to all fail at the same time because of the darkness.

    I owe you an email, btw.

  2. Anonymous11:59 AM PST

    I came across one of your poems called 'what prevails'. I read it and then i listened to you read it. How very beautiful! I followed the link to your blog and I realized just then that I was supposed to see you today.

    I live with depression (for lack of a better word) as well. It's a life not for the weak..

    Regarding your poem 'what prevails', please accept my happy tears as a tribute to your words. It's an inspirational poem that lifted my mood as soon as I read it.

    You are a beautiful writer and I look forward to reading more from you.



  3. Thank you, Linda, glad you were touched, a poet can't hope to do more. Depression is not for cowards, as you say.

    Rachel, your tears will come when you're ready. But in my view the uncried ones are part of what drives us into poetry. In my essay, "Poetry and Morality" I posited that pre-verbal deprivation-- say before two or three--is one things many poets have in common, as they seek to express the inexpressible.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  4. CE. I am not much into poetry, but I love your heart-wrenching prose. I relate. I too am a doctor - of ministry - in Christian counseling, of all things. Now I feel that religion is my enemy, not my ally. I hate this worthless life. Been treated for bi-polar for 20 years. Life sucks. Keep writing. It helps to know that I am not alone.


  5. Dear Nelgin,

    My heart aches at your words.

    When I was diagnosed at 30 and saved through ECT, I cynically remarked that I owed more to Ben Franklin than God. I quit trying to attend church and said, in effect: "I'm not looking for you, Lord; if you want me, come get me." And it took about ten years for me to work through my nature as a bipolar and how it had tainted my religion with false revelations. How terrible, at forty, to realize that your major life choices--marriage and career--were but the caprice of a manic psychosis.

    "Brethren, if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things."

    He's no cosmic bully; he is the River of Life. Let him come to you in whatever shape or form he chooses; when you are ready, he will appear, but God is never in a hurry, and healing sufficiently from the wounds of mental illness is a dicey proposition when faced with the excesses of religion; take care of yourself first.

    I wish you beauty for ashes!




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