I suppose I wouldn't have spent four years writing a novel about depression if I didn't feel I had something useful to say about the subject. All the writers' manuals say to write what you know, and me and depression have been pretty tight over the years. Real BFFs. So inseparable, at times it was downright sickening.
Depression may disagree, but in my mind, our first encounter came after the birth of my daughter. I stayed in bed, ate Oreo cookies, took care of my gorgeous baby girl and cried when I found myself alone. I never thought of hurting her or me. I just couldn't leave the bedroom. If my husband or my little boy wanted to see me, they climbed onto the bed to chat. It was one of those beguiling situations where I didn't realize something was wrong until it was over. Until I came out of the bedroom one day, and saw my husband playing with the kids on the living room floor and decided to join them. It was like emerging from a cave. I was nearly blinded by all the light I had missed.
We had a reunion three years later, Depression and I. This time it was circumstances, rather than hormones that brought us together. There was someone in my life who, for whatever reason, needed to remind me of my flaws on a daily basis. Not surprisingly I began to agree that yes, I was a major loser, incapable of doing anything right. After a year of that, I started to develop PMS. Boy, did that help matters. Every twenty eight days, my usual level of self disgust and hopelessness kicked up a few notches. I would drive through my picturesque suburb, imagining what would happen if I drove the car head first into a retaining wall. But my babies were young. They adored me. They were too young to see what a loser I was. I managed to move on.
Fast forward eight or nine years. A big, New York literary agent had taken me on as a client and was trying to sell my novel. They approached all the big publishing houses. They expected to sell film rights. I was riding high, close to realizing a lifelong dream. Fantasizing about fame and glory for at least eight months before they decided to call it quits. A lot of editors had a lot of good things to say, but thought it was too “mid-listy” to make an offer on. Which meant it did not have best seller potential. And apparently only those authors they saw as potential bestsellers warranted publishing.
I was approaching forty by then. The individual who seemed determined to destroy my self esteem tore into me again. It didn't seem to matter that my failure to get published had left me devastated enough. I needed to know that I was a failure in other areas of my life as well. That bout with depression- whoa! That was a doozy. I would literally yell at myself for being a worthless idiot. I cried on the drive to work. I cried in the bathroom and in the middle of the night. I cried while decorating the Christmas tree that year.
And yes. As before, I wanted to die.
But by this time, my kids were older. Long past that Mommy-is-my-sunshine phase. I was convinced they'd be better off without me. Which is why it's off base to call a suicidal person selfish. They think they're helping, bless their hearts. I figured I'd be missed for a while, but people would eventually shake their heads and move on, seeing my suicide as further evidence of my ineptitude. As far as religious guilt went, I never believed God would turn her back on a child with a fatal case of despair. I sure wouldn't.
This time, there was nothing to stop me. The realization scared me into getting help.
Years later, my attempts to find treatment for a depressed family member introduced me to a surprising number of mental health professionals who seemed unmotivated or unqualified to help people. A suicidal person needs immediate results. A game plan. A good doctor will do more than listen, nod and send you a bill. They will challenge your belief system and disagree with you.
I struck gold right off the bat. My doctor was new and young and hungry and smart. He taught me things. And those things eventually became part of my worldview. It is our worldview, I've come to realize, that impacts our ability to resist and survive depression.
When I sat down to write about depression, I decided to use gardening metaphors. With gardening, there is so much about the cycle of birth and death and the journey from darkness into light that mirrors our human experience. In the excerpt that follows, Melanie, the heroine of my novel, Manifesting Daddy, reflects on the progress she's made in her journey through depression.
Until recently, gardening had been my spiritual salvation. It had been, or so I’d thought, the only area in my life where I could plant a seed and trust it to grow. Nothing else was in my control. No outcome could be improved by my inept, barren hands. Soil alone was my womb, my god, my redeemer. My back yard, my sanctuary. The sole proof of my relevance.
Now, Juniper’s lectures about rebirth and reincarnation trailed like vines through my thoughts. Pitchfork in hand, I thought about second chances and how I stood ankle deep in my own second chance. I thought about the parts of me that had to die before I could reach this place. Husks I’d had to shed. Layers of dirt I’d had to penetrate to see this day. What I’d gotten rid of, what I’d slipped free of and left behind was no more me than the pitchfork in my hand, or my shoes, or my body. It was a worn out collection of thoughts and fears that I’d stupidly accepted as real. But I couldn’t be too hard on myself when nearly every living soul had drunk that same punch at some time or another. “Be careful what you wish for.” “No good deed goes unpunished.” “Shoot for the moon and you just might reach a star.” Gloom, doom and limitation are built into the highest of human hopes. And somehow we con ourselves into believing backlash and setbacks and blind alleys are part of God’s plan. We can only get so far. This is how prayers are answered.
When people speak of reality as in “They need to face up to reality”, the assumption is that reality is bad. Life is supposed to be a heartbreaking struggle to endure until we die. I think statements like that are self fulfilling prophecies far less powerful than uplifting, life affirming statements. As long as we believe it's the bad stuff that's real, how do we in turn view ourselves? As a collection of our failures and cellulite dimples and missed opportunities? We don't have to go far to find plenty of churches happy to reinforce our self disgust. Frankly, the fruits of that worldview don't impress me.
I still feel down from time to time. But I stay vigilant, because it's far too easy for my thoughts to slide back into that well worn groove that's all about what's wrong with me instead of what's right. About what I have not accomplished as opposed to what I have. I turn away from that ugly funhouse mirror we call the truth, and try to see myself the way I'd see my child or a friend or someone else I dearly love. And when stress piles on and circumstances seem bleak, I know that, like all bad things, they will pass.
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