When Blue Becomes Black Redux

In yesterday’s post we talked a little about how it feels to suffer from clinical depression. The content was written nearly a year ago as we pondered our position one day. We wrote it as an exercise in getting some of our perceptions down on paper for our therapist and as a way of helping people understand what the illness is like from an up close and personal vantage point. We were neither deeply afflicted when we wrote it or when we posted it yesterday.

Many of you commented on the post and offered plenty of much-appreciated support. We’re always a little surprised by that because it comes from people who have never met us and who only know us through what they read. We think that gives their support a power that makes it especially precious.

Even though the Poobah appreciates you more than he can say, you should also know that yours is not the only support we get. Mrs. Poobah, the Poobette, the Omnipotent Dad, and even the Omnipotent Pooch all provide unending support and understanding. We also have quite a good therapist and a well-trained psychiatrist who handles the medication end of things. Without this devoted team, grappling with the devil would be so much harder than it already is.

We’ve suffered for many years and eventually went into therapy about 15 years ago. About five years ago we made the difficult decision to begin taking medication. Over the years our condition has waxed and waned – sometimes because of external events, other times because the internal wiring got all floopy. It ranges from the very difficult to the minor annoyance level and we try to take them all in stride.

Our recent post about being a human requiring “will” is partially a result of those personal cycles. As the pattern of our life and illness became clear, we developed the willpower theory. We thought of all the times we were in bad shape and wondered why we didn’t go deeply and permanently off the deep end. After all, we knew plenty of people who had, including many related directly to us.

We’ve always been functional, even when our mood is as black as black can get. We go to work. We play with the dog. We do odd jobs around the house. We live our life. Sometimes we just do it with significantly less enthusiasm than a non-sufferer.

Thankfully, we’ve never reached that stage when we’ve lost ourself completely. We did this because we had the will not to. We never considered collapsing in a heap a viable option. While we sometimes don’t have a lot of “hope” in the sense that many people have it, we have a belief that things will eventually improve and invariably they do. We also accept that sometimes they get bad again and invariably they do that too.

Embracing this concept has been difficult, but we’ve made our peace with it. We appreciate the times when we feel better and we work hard at staying there. When things aren’t so bright, we try to squeeze some sort of useful experience from it. We might learn a new coping mechanism. We may use the depressive’s essentially pessimistic view to identify something we can change as we get better. We’ve learned that there is some good to be had in the struggle and while we wish we didn’t have to do it, we’re also intensely aware that is part of the fabric of our life.

The thing I’ve learned from blogging is that there are people out there who care about us, even we they don’t have to. It isn’t your “job” to protect us and help us, yet you do it anyway. And that, dear and supportive readers, is the biggest lesson I’ve learned lately. You are, quite simply, magnificent.

When Blue Becomes Black

I suffer from clinical depression.

Not the, “I’m down because someone dinged my car in the parking lot and my boss is an asshole” sort of depression. I suffer from real-live, medication-taking, genetically-predisposed, chemically-imbalanced, go to the analyst twice a week depression.

On my best days I don’t feel good, I just feel not so bad. Happy is a very illusive emotion for me.

The depression can come on in many ways, rapidly or slowly, creeping subtly or like the proverbial ton of bricks. When it’s mild, I can grab hold of myself and shake it partially off – maybe distract myself with some mindless activity or watch a stupid comedy on TV until the impulse passes. When it’s bad, it’s very bad.

At its worst, it feels like my most nightmarish bogeyman grabbing me by the neck and plunging me into deep and murky water. I struggle under the surface and fight and flail, but just like a physical drowning, I finally succumb. The emotion makes my lungs heavy, so heavy I can’t breathe. I feel myself begin to float. I see the light above me, but it isn’t some sort of heavenly white like in the movies, it’s the deepest black hole you can imagine. When my life flashes before my eyes, only the bad parts appear.

Many people who know me are probably quite surprised by what I’ve described. They see me as a generally happy-go-lucky sort of guy. One who cracks jokes or tells stories. I’m so adept at this mask that a great many of them have probably never suspected. But the funny thing is, it isn’t a mask. It isn’t something that I trot out to put a happy face on things. What they see is a synthesized version of what I imagine it’s like to be happy. I haven’t had enough experience with the real thing to carry it off naturally. What they see is me, having a not so bad day. A day when I’m using the jokes and stories not to cover what I’m feeling, but to imagine what it must be like to feel what they see.

While I’ve certainly been exposed to things and people in my life that weren’t helpful, none of that caused my illness. I was born with some bad brain wiring, it’s as simple as that. A bad roll of the dice.

Sometimes I get angry about it, but not in the way you might think. Sometimes I get angry at the constant struggle and how “unfair” it is. Sometimes I get angry about the strain it puts on my family. Sometimes I get angry about having to take medication and go to the therapist. But especially, I get angry with myself. I get angry that I’m not some sort of Lance Armstrong of the depressed who can say, “I’ll be back, whip this nasty illness, and win the Tour de France.” There are no miracles here – just another in a long string of days that I take one at a time, hoping that I can turn it into another not so bad day. There’s not even a cheap yellow band to symbolize the struggle. If there were, I’m sure it would be black.

Sometimes the anger gives way to shame, especially if I’ve let it get the better of me. I’m ashamed that I’ve lashed out or that I was too weak to stop the anger when I felt it begin to rise. Sometimes I’m ashamed of the pain it causes others or that I sometimes can’t be strong for them. Sometimes I’m ashamed of complaining because I know there are many people much worse off than me.

When I’m at my best, I feel proud of myself for holding it at bay, even if I couldn’t do it without the meds and the therapy. I can almost fool myself into thinking it’s all my doing and that I’ve finally got the beast in a headlock, ready to take it down. When I’m at my lowest, the anger and shame come back multiplied by the years it has gone on, fuel for the beast I can’t ultimately vanquish.

Mine is a limited battle where the best I can manage is an uneasy peace. My life is like a maniacal teeter-totter, always hovering at the tipping point and making me wonder which way is up and which way is down.

I suffer from depression, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

From the Poobah Files: I Hate Hemingway

The following post is a letter the Poobah wrote several years ago to a college friend. We wrote it on a day that we decided to call in well to work. We’re not sure that it is all that great, but we’re tired today and a proper post is beyond us. Besides, we like the story about the professor. We hated that guy.

— Omnipotent Poobah, 1/28/06

October 21, 1997

Dear G,

I awoke this morning at 4 am, besotted with the most ravaging sinus headache imaginable. I drugged myself until I could barely stand and still it kept at me like some angry wolverine. My first, and probably, best inclination was to lay down and sleep it off, but this was impossible of course. Instead I sat and noodled at the computer and lay plans to skip work and sleep it off later.

Well, now it is later. I still haven’t slept and, in fact, don’t have anything to show for the day except for a wrinkled backside courtesy of a long soak in a warm tub. Instead I’ve decided to write. It seems a shame to waste a foul mood and aching head on mere sleep anyway.

I Hate HemingwayIt sometimes fascinates me that I can’t seem to write except when I’m angry or loopy. I’m always quite amazed by those people who can sit down and use their inner discipline to will themselves to do it. It takes that kind of stuff to write for a living and I clearly don’t have that kind of right stuff. If I had to depend on my ability to will myself to do it I’d be a very hungry man indeed.

Come to think of it; I’m not as alone in that as it may seem. That would be the answer as to why you have to be dead to be very successful at art or writing. It takes you a lifetime to scrape together enough stuff to put into a book and it apparently requires you to be a stone asshole as you do it. A pity.

The day began as foggy as my brain. After the sun came up, I went to the back door to sweep it open and gaze upon my usually splendiferous and panoramic view. Instead I was greeted by gray. It was foggy, or cloudy, sometimes you can’t tell which this far up the hill. When I’m in the right sort of melancholy mood the fog is quite nice, but this morning it was just fog and cold and damp and tres unwelcome.

I had to replace it with a cup of coffee. I tried some of that International Coffee stuff (don’t ask why were drinking that stuff, we can’t imagine why – ed.) to see if it had the same wonderfully energizing effect on me as it does on the models who advertise it on TV. Sadly, it didn’t. It soured my stomach and made my head hurt more. Curses! Failed again by Madison Avenue imagery. The next thing you know I’ll find that you really can’t become orgasmic using shampoo.

Fiona (The Omnipotent Dog – ed.) lies at my feet in a puddle of sun that has finally burned through the clouds. There’s a slow rise and fall to her velvety belly. Every few minutes her thick jowls puff up and a tiny “woooof” comes out. Her front paws wag to and fro, engaged in some imaginary rabbit chase. I always wonder what happens in the minds of dogs. If I find the world as weird and strange as I do, I can’t help but wonder what they make of it.

Why does Fiona suddenly jump up and run like a demon though the house at a terrifyingly high speed (we finally figured out that she does this when she farts. – ed.)? Why does her tail fascinate her so? How can she find such obvious and utter joy in gnawing at a bone for hours on end? People say cats are enigmatic, but I think dogs are really the mysterious ones. Cats act the way they do because they are just high-fallutin’ furry little pricks. Dogs act the way they do for some more mysterious and less obviously mystical reason. I can’t help but believe that if I could figure it out I’ll have cracked the nut of life.

My reading continues. I’m still on Hunter Thompson’s book (Proud Highway – ed.). The word tome certainly describes the thing. It is big and heavy and full of words. I still find it amazing though. The man has written 20,000 letters and saved them all. I can’t imagine saving 20,000 anythings. The letters really are a unique insight into HST (Hunter died by suicide last year – ed.) as a person – a way to cut through all the hype that has grown up around him over the years. Still, I think some people are beginning to take this way too seriously. I found a Website devoted to serious discussions of his works and the meanings therein. There is even one that features a psychological profile that ties into the things he has written. All the whys and wherefores, just like a site devoted to Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Personally, I think such literary criticism is really bunk. It’s a place for pretentious and tweedy old English professors to make it seem like their opinions count. I suppose I shouldn’t be so harsh on this topic, but I’ve run into so many of these self-anointed old shits over the years they now make my skin crawl.

I had a professor of modern literature in college who was a self-professed “Hemingway expert”. I’m not much for self-professed experts in anything, especially Hemingway, and this old coot certainly rubbed me the wrong way. His lectures were interminable. He droned on in movie-casting-perfect monotone as students dropped off to sleep across the class. He began the year by telling each of us – in his earnest tweedy professor way – that there were no rights or wrongs in his class. Opinions were what counted. You would be graded on how well you expressed them.

Late in the year, we had to write a lengthy critique of a Hemingway work that now escapes me. I set to it with no particular relish because, quite frankly, I loathe Hemingway. I think he is one of the most overrated writers of this century. He was too full of himself and his titanic struggles with life. I think I’m borne out in my opinion because the Father of Machismo was too chicken to keep going until he died naturally. Instead he cut it short with a shotgun to the mouth (oddly enough, just like Hunter Thompson – ed.) in Ketchum when his popularity began to wane.

In short, I said as much in my essay. Now, I’ll admit that it was not one of the most stunning critiques ever written. I didn’t much like it myself, but that wasn’t supposed to be the point according to the dear professor – the opinions were. I got the paper back with a huge D scrawled across it. His only commentary was a short note to the effect that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that my opinions had absolutely no merit in his “expert” eyes.

I was enraged. If the old fart wanted to give me the D for handing over a poorly written paper, so be it. But, this “your opinion has no merit” gig was a bit much, especially after his stunningly long and boring lecture about no rights or wrongs.

I chose the inopportune time of the final exam to make a case of this point. I challenged him as the other students sleepily wrote soppish essays of undying love for old Buckshot Mouth. I told him I would happily accept the D for poor writing – hell, even poor penmanship – but I was standing my ground that Hemingway was a boor and a hack. We volleyed over it for several minutes. Me expressing my “unmerited opinions”, he expressing disbelief at the overturning of his scholarly life.

In the end, he elevated the grade to a B because I got him to admit that he didn’t know Hemingway personally (so therefore didn’t have a real clue as to what he was all about) and that he hadn’t even read the short story he had assigned (despite being an “expert”). He also seemed to cower at my suggestion that I would take the argument up with the dean, a “personal friend of mine” (proving once again that connections beat expertise any old day). It was a fine performance and I look back on it fondly. Not so much for the improved grade, but because I was able to get under his skin. There’s always a certain satisfaction in that – especially when the pompous are involved.

Having told this story, it makes me wonder where my aversion to authority comes from. I’ve certainly had my run-ins with plenty of sanctimonious windbags, but probably no more than anyone else. Perhaps one day there will be a Website devoted to my inner psychological workings and I’ll be able to find out. Oops! Silly me! I’ll be dead by then, won’t I?

That’s it from my little corner of the world.

Now it’s your turn,

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