Monday, February 02, 2009

Best of, cont'd: 7 Kilorats and a Temporary Reprieve

In tracking stats from this blog I've noticed that my "Best of" posts are more popular than the current ones I intersperse in this ongoing review. Perhaps they are more interesting, or better written, I don't know. One thing is certain, however: Depression has a large audience, however terrible it may be, and in my writing about the experience I have granted relief to some, many who have written me privately. Also, we've now broached 2008, where I am finally delivered from a two-year depression. It doesn't get that good yet. Nevertheless, here are past testaments to the struggle.

From 1/2/08: 7 Kilorats

My mind is blank from crying. Crying empties the mind and exhausts the body; it is a blessing under normal circumstances but in my case more of a reflexive seizure. I cried through most of my appointment with my shrink today; I think I conveyed the sense of utter hopelessness I experience. I have withdrawn from my pain medication and am not drinking, the former at my suggestion and the latter at his insistence. Whether his insistence is enough for my resistance is another matter. I fear not drinking; how else can I numb my mind at night in order to watch basketball on television, literally the only time in my day when I feel almost neutral?

In my present state it is hard to stay on one task for any amount of time. I try to read but find myself reading the same paragraph over and over. I am blank. The pressure will heat up again, however, after my brain begins to castigate me for all my failures and derelictions until a lump rises in my throat and the faucets come on again.

I did manage to throw out the Christmas tree last night. Being just a local redwood sapling it was rather sparse, but it never shed a single needle while it was up. I threw it out from the deck out back, and we (stepson Derek and daughter Sarah) put our hands on it to transfer the past year's sins onto its innocent bark as a convenient scapegoat. Afterwords I launched it like a spear out into the woods where it will feed the nitrogen cycle.

I ran across a curious article today in which it was shown that men who cease religious activities are actually at lower risk for anxiety and depression, while women who cease religious activities are more likely to suffer from them. They think it might have to do with different social networking styles. I thought it funny in light of my discussion with friend Eric about Christianity and my depression. Religion is toxic for me in this state, something he has difficulty understanding.

Wait--that little possessive adjective ("my") is part of my problem --I want this to be your depression, too! I should not hog all its glory for myself; you, too, can help carry the burden. So if any of you wish to undertake this, please write me and I'll instruct you in the fine art of breakdowns. Chemistry aside, there are some ways to achieve depression without being born into the disease, but it takes a big commitment.

When you get as bad as I am now, the main survival tool is to accept your depression. Like a winter tree, think of yourself as dormant, not dead. Oh, you feel dead, you feel worse than dead. It's a living hell. No one has described it better than Jesus, who said of hell "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth," except that he left out the anxiety part. Simply put, the emotion of despair includes sadness, fear and anger, the anger usually self-directed. In psychiatric terms this constitutes dysphoria.

What surprises me about this depression has been its gradations; at times I can laugh, at other times not. Twice I had temporary responses to medications. In the past when the worm turned it was sudden and for a long time; I can remember distinctly noticing the beauty of a fern while hiking during another depression, and afterwards realizing that in that moment of aesthetic appreciation I had flipped out of my depression. Nothing had been beautiful up to that moment for the longest time. Suddenly I was well. This is why I don't get psychotherapy--it just makes the disease worse, since the complaints I bring to the therapist are mainly biological in nature. I wrote a poem about this once, below:

Glass Giraffe

When my soul was sanded so raw
the capillaries couldn't even seep,
I questioned the value of pain.
"You must experience your feelings of abandonment
until you are comfortable with them," you said.

When my suicidal doppelganger
turned me inside out, pulling my anus
through my mouth, you said,
"Now that you are stripped of defenses
you have a better chance of changing them."

When I called you up one weekend
to say I was terrified of inanimate objects
like doorknobs and tea kettles, you said,
"Stay with it. Globalized fear indicates
a necessary therapeutic regression."

Finally the antidepressants kicked in
and I felt like myself.
When I left you gave me another card
since therapy was “unfinished”
and I might be back
on your couch or another’s.

I gazed at your office figurines,
crystal leopards and pewter trolls,
porcelain ballerinas and kachina dolls,
and imagined the souls of all your patients
trapped inside them-- those, who like me,
sought relief through words
when only medicines would do.
I could have been the glass giraffe.

7 Kilorats,


From 1/7/08: A Temporary Reversal

A Pacific storm (note the oxymoron) has caused a power outage at our place for five days, typical for the Mendocino coast in winter. Thus I have not had an opportunity to blog since I last saw my doctor. And lo and behold! From the depths of darkness a medication adjustment has raised me back to the world of normality for five days now. I quit drinking any alcohol and insisted going off of my long-acting oral morphine for my chronic disk pain, as either of these could possibly be contributing factors to my unresponsiveness. And in tears, telling my doctor what method of suicide I'd prefer while promising no intent, I said, "Can't we try a stimulant?" So, the doctor put me back on Abilify, which had stopped working, and added Adderall, a mixture of amphetamine salts. I took them the same day and felt better immediately. But what do I mean by better?

My depressive thoughts quit circling like sharks in the aquarium of my mind; my body felt normal, with normal energy; I had hope, I began to think of future plans; my crying spells stopped--just like that! Amazing. My fear is, of course, that this new cocktail, like the two others that worked then ceased working, will cease working as well, or that I'll develop tolerance. Or something. But maybe, just maybe, the third time is a charm.

It's a strange sensation, however, for one's body and brain to feel normal while the memory of the last nineteen months of horror remains in the center of my chest like a rubble-lined pit from a nuclear blast, my heart being ground zero.

My last post was signed with seven kilorats. That's the highest I've recorded in this blog, though I've been lower than that in previous depressions. I feel almost plastic in a way, the mood switch being so sudden and my heart still dragging behind me like an anchor. I am aware of the former emptiness in my chest but do not acutely experience it; my unutterable sadness suddenly feels like a phantom limb.

Suddenly the idea of a God of love seems imaginable to me. My religious torment has lifted. And in thinking of my correspondence with my Christian friend, I have to confess before God and man: My disease is more important to me than my religion. I can't help it. If my disease is not controlled I can't do faith except in a hollow intellectual sense. I can't pretend to be more virtuous than this.

As a man dying of thirst thinks only of water, so the severely depressed thinks only of annihilation, of an end; he is beyond hope of getting better but determined, at least in my case, not to kill himself because he remembers, as through a fog, recovering from previous depressions.

One thing I did to mark this miracle was to reverse my garuda. A garuda is an Indonesian mask carved in the form of an eagle-faced gargoyle, said to be the eagle who is the mount of the god, Vishnu, in the Hindu pantheon. It is meant to keep evil spirits out of a household. But I had hung it above my front door facing inwards when we moved into our new place on April 1, 2006, the day my depression began. As a visible sign of improvement, as an incarnation of hope, I have now hung the garuda on the wall facing the door. Now he looks out at the world and protects me and mine.

What was best about this change is that my daughter, Sarah, was visiting from LA and near the end of her stay she got her Papa back! And Kathleen got her Craig back. And I have myself back, though it will take time for me to trust the sensation of being me.

For those interested in a longer meditation on brain chemistry and personality, I recommend Listening to Prozac. We are all much more chemical than otherwise. If you were spared the gene for this devastating illness, you could never give proper thanks for not having it--and I am glad for you. If you suffer, all I can say is: hold on and keep seeking help. That's all I've done.

I'm tempted to sign this "kiloneutral" but am afraid to make such a claim for so short a period of recovery. Let us hold today's labeling in abeyance.




  1. There's a ripping good yarn inside you regarding your struggle with depression. You should consider formalizing it in a nonfiction book. Your educational background, your remarkable insight, and your wonderful ability with written communication would make the project, I think, a perfect storm for you and your readers.

    Very much enjoying "Unexpected Light". I'm reading two or three poems a night before bed and am finding the experience very satisfying, this from a person who does not normally read a lot of poetry. (My favorite so far has been "Mom's Passing".) You have the rare gift of exquisite clarity in your writing, strong and beautiful.

  2. Dear Richard,

    Nothing makes a poet's heart sing more than having someone relatively unfamiliar with poetry enjoy the writing. "Mom's Passing" was, btw, nominated for a Pushcart this year. It took me seven years to write it.

    As for depression, there are a lot of books out there worth reading, one reason I'm not tempted to write mine as yet. "Darkness Visible," "An Unquiet Mind," and "Noonday Demon" are three I highly recommend.

    Thanks for commenting. Someday I may discern which Richard you are, and if I know you.



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