Monday, May 25, 2009

Sketches of Clinical Depression © Megan Snider

But thy strong
Hours indignant work'd their wills,
And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
And tho' they could not end me,
left me maim'd
And all I was in ashes.
Upon thy glimmering thresholds,
when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.
--Tennyson, "Tithonus"

This poem, about an immortal, is immortal. One of Tennyson's absolute masterpieces. It also happens to be a glance behind the black curtain of Depression. It is not intended this way, I am sure. It is an epic recounting of an older tale.

For the sake of documentation, I will release yet another one of my man-created labels for mental illness. I have recurrent Major (Clinical) Depression with Psychotic features. Now, remember what Psychosis is-- it's not a psychopath-- it's a break from reality. This break is caused by panic attacks. But that will be a later entry.

Depression is hard to describe without being too cliche. On the surface it looks like a numbness, a loss of ability and function. This is partly true. Depression seeps so easily into the cracks in your psyche. Depression does have a voice, but it is flat and listless, tired of the eternal life that is too long just as Tithonus decrees.

I recently changed the personal message on my cell phone. It used to be in German because I love the German language. I switched it back to English. When I replayed it, I was shocked by my own voice-- no affect, no rising tone. It was beyond tired; it didn't even sound defeated; it didn't really sound like anything. It sounded like nothing. People with Depression are surrounded by nothing. In one of my poems I wrote the line, "Forever never finding(...)" I think that might be an apt comparison to Depression.

I wanted to put off the Depression blog because I knew it would be difficult to write.

Scientifically speaking, researches have discovered that during depressive episodes, the hippocampus actually shrinks in size from neuron damage. The claim is that with treatment, the normal size will return and everyone will live in a fairytale forever after and so on. Amen. Unfortunately, my Depression is drug-resistant. My brain has been fried by almost every anti-depressant made in the U.S.A.

So, where do you go from there? There exists these thoughts, these issues of wanting to be pulled to the grave or to be put down like a sick animal or to go to sleep and never wake up.

I actually hate the sound of birds chirping in the morning.

Depression is not a facade; it is not put on. If Depression were a mask I had been putting on for all these years, then I would have pulled it off decades ago.

Melancholy is appropriate for a writer, I suppose, to some degree.

Once you scrape past that surface of numbness, you expose the twisted nerves pulsating and on fire with memory, regret, guilt, and even anger.

Perhaps numbness is not quite potent enough of a word-- hopelessness would be much better.
The mentally ill believe the depressed thoughts they have-- all the black scenarios, the threats of harm, and the prospect of a future that stretches out before you as a vast, vast...wasteland.

You learn little tricks to shove your desires away, little techniques to suppress wishes and hopes that you believe can never come to fruition.

On of the most interesting line of a song lyric I heard was in the Goo Goo Doll's song "Name" where he sings, "Don't (sic) it make you sad to know that life is more than who you are?"

If good intentions and will were enough to tame the world wild world in my brain and fulfill my dreams, then I would certainly meet those obligations. Unfortunately, life is made up of strife, struggle, pettiness and put downs. After a while, you no longer want to participate in this stage of actors playing out their roles in life. So you hide in you bed, you stay at home, you neglect your personal appearance, and you basically rot.

Depression is not a matter of "having a stiff upper lip" or "marching on" or "pulling up the bootstraps" or (as the Germans would say), "Kopf Hoch".

There's no way you can fool yourself into being happy when your brain is turned inside out by chemical imbalances. Would you tell a man on his deathbed that hope would restore him to life again? Would you tell him that if he only tried harder, he would be able to survive for many more years? These kind of comments and thoughts trivialize Depression and mental illness. Tithonus, in the poem, begs that the gods take back their gift. Is life a gift? Can you wish it back? Depression certainly makes you want to do so.

Rumination is also a part of depression-- never letting go of those old scars, those old souveniers you always carry with you. Yet again, I must quote a Goo Goo Dolls song that says, "And even though the moment's passed me by, I still can't look away."

I think that is how a lot of depressed people feel. The constant things that hurt us keep on being regurgitated but never truly purged. In this respect, maybe the gift that Tithonus wanted to rid himself of was not immortality, but the memory of mortality.

© Megan Snider

Read Tennyson's epic Tithonus here:

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