One of the things I hold dear from the week my Dad died is his comment to me that he was proud of me and that he was glad to have “his Sam back.” You see, for a long moment in time no one was sure if they would ever have me back.
Normally, I don’t speak of those times very much and especially not to strangers. It is not that I am ashamed, but rather a life long sense of shyness and privacy holds me back. When taking a psychology class in high school, we students were asked to use one word to describe ourselves; my word: private. It is a hard thing to overcome, but with this sudden and disturbing death of Robin Williams, I somehow feel compelled to reach out. Bashert says no one can tell a story as well as one who has experienced it. As the Talmud says, “Save one life, save the world entire.” or as a friend said last night, “Untreated depression is a terminal illness.”
So big breath….
I hail from a nice, middle-class family – the iconic midcentury family: two parents (each of the opposite sex), three other siblings (two older, one younger) and a rotating menagerie of pets. By the time I came along my parents owed their own home and we had a plethora of extended family. My Dad supported the family financially and my Mom supported us all at home. As I said, iconic. Get it? All American Family. Nice people.
But it doesn’t mean anything to the black hole that is Depression.
Using that crystal clear vision know as hindsight, my dance with Depression began early in life, but it didn’t become a slow dangerous tango until the early 90s when I entered my thirties. It was then I no longer had the lead over my own life. Depression slowly took control and by 1996, I was a knife blade’s edge and one signature away from either taking a heavily escorted ride to Milledgeville, Georgia or finding out for sure what happens after we cease to exist in this form.
Another big breath…
Written descriptions can never really reveal the desperation, the depth of despair that clinical Depression brings. So I am going to give something that I have never given before – a glimpse inside my mind of those dark days – an entry from my journals. I have changed names and left out a few references because they concern specific people whom I do not wish to reveal.
As you read these words, remember – I have loving parents, siblings, friends and doctors surrounding me, supporting me. Depression does not care.
11 July 96:
My well of resources is about dry. I’ve managed to hold on until now. Bits and pieces of saving grace have fed my hopes, but I can’t seem to comprehend anything of grace now.
Monday, I checked into a motel because I couldn’t bring myself to return to the house – the questions – the outrage, the suggestions, the sympathy. Too much, too much. I couldn’t be with anyone. I didn’t want to be with myself.
I’ve been on a downward slide for a long time. I’ve told you and others, but everyone seems to think they know me. That I have this powerful inner strength to help carry me through. I’ve said it in words and shown it in deeds. I’m dying.
My inner strength is used up. I’m tired and I want the pain to stop. I’m trapped and very much alone. People say wait to see what tomorrow brings; don’t let the bastards win; it’s a no-win situation, blah, blah, blah…I’ve used the words myself [remember ‘R’?]. It’s all crap when you’re on this side. She should have called the cops. I have many layers and I’ve reached one that doesn’t give a shit about promises, loyalty, or trust. It will be soon. My anger and despair are calling for rest.
I’ve begun making the lists of things to take care of – things that needs to be tied up. Sometimes it makes me queasy, but mostly it gives me calm. So much tension to be (sic) releaved.
My new little knife has become a comfort token. I’ve taken it with me everywhere. It even stays in my hand all night long. It gives a pleasant warmth.
I wonder if any sleep will come tonight? I’ve started my program of aspirin. It would be nice to rest…pack up your troubles in your ol’ kit bag and smile, smile, smile…
Depression is not just sadness. It is a deep, soul sucking despair that cares for nothing but ending the pain. It doesn’t care that you have a spouse or children that depend on you or parents that worry about you. It doesn’t care that you have fame and fortune or not. IT JUST DOESN’T CARE. It is a never ending darkness that steals joy and wonder from inside. Outside the world may seem fine, but inside? Inside there is nothing but the hunger for escape. One does not simply pull up your bootstraps and move on.
It takes a massive amount of effort and energy to combat Depression. The person with Depression is not the only one who wears out. It is frustrating and painful for all concerned. Depression is a sneaky jerk and can trick even the most experienced eye. I was lucky and had some very stubborn people in my corner, who just wouldn’t give up on me no matter how I far I fell, faked it, or pushed away. There is no ‘cure’ for Depression, only recovery. It is a lifetime battle often fought minute by minute.
Depression is a mental illness that needs more exposure and not by more loss. If you or someone you love is suffering, please, please get help. We don’t need anymore poster children.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
Nature Boy – eden ahbez
There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and Kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.
Once upon a time, in a previous lifetime when I was falling apart to come together, I was obsessed with playing cards. Solitaire was my constant companion; I played hour after hour, shuffling and reshuffling, black on red, red on black – a coping mechanism to soothe and wait for the world to make sense again.
In my present life, I do not play cards that often. Instead, I collect them. Each deck I acquire, either from a place visited or just an old, interesting design, reinforces the awareness of how far I have traveled. They are markers of all dark things conquered – trophies.
Nowadays, I use many distractions, FB, Pinterest, old videos, but mostly I’m found with my nose stuck in a crossword puzzle book. Codewords, cryptograms, syllacrostics and the occasional word find are my solace and escape today. They keep my mind awake and numb at the same time. They are also a touchstone to my Dad. “Great for waiting,” he said.
That’s what I brought to him in the hospital: a crossword puzzle book. Something to pass the time between the alphabet barrage of testing: EEG, ECG, EKG, CT, PT, EIEIO…
Dad was not the best speller in the world, so sometimes his solutions to crosswords were a bit inventive. We think it has to do with the fact that he really should have been left handed, but back in the 30s left handedness was still seen as well, suspect – especially back in the dirt farm area Dad came from. The teachers tied down his left arm so that he would learn to do all with his right hand. It worked to a point. He ended up ambidextrous – I play cards and use a computer mouse left handed thanks to him – but his spelling was always lousy.
I was lucky to pass the time in conversation, as well as, work a puzzle or two with him that week. The talks were long overdue. We talked and talked for hours. I kept asking if he wanted to rest, but he kept declining, saying he wanted to chat.
We spoke of his love for literature and science. We pondered the energy of the universe – that energy is neither created or destroyed – and how he thought there is ancient energy all around us. He asked to borrow some of my archaeology books so that he could learn more. He said the subject always fascinated him – proper archaeology, too, not paleontology. We talked of passing age milestones; the psychological sense of relief both my sister and I felt when we successfully passed the age of 21, the age his sister was killed by a drunk driver. We talked about the new home Bashert and I just closed on and the things we were going to have to do to our fixer-upper, including the floor.
Dad told me that when he worked for Taylor Furniture as a young man, he hated when people would come in to look at flooring because he would have to move entire rolls of linoleum around from the back of the store to the front sidewalk and then back again. He would go “find” something else to do when he heard anyone mention flooring. That’s my Dad; work smarter, not harder.
We laughed at silly things and I kidded him about wanting his comb, so he could pretty himself up for the nurses. But he had eyes for only one person. Mom.
Mom, his favorite subject. He kept coming back to her. He told me that there was a beautiful nurse on the floor, but that she had nothing on Mom. Even when he was all woozy and waking up from one of the tests he went through, his first thoughts were of her. He wanted to go home because he, “missed his girl.”
On the Friday of his week in the hospital, he finally fell to sleep after Mom and my sister Calico Nell arrived. I guess he felt comfortable with Mom there. I visited with Mom and CN for a bit and then left, giving Dad’s toe a little squeeze as to not wake him, but to let him know I was going. I whispered love and that I really enjoyed talking to him about everything and that I would see him later.
CN told me the next day that Dad was upset that he didn’t get to say goodbye. I thought about calling, but she told me that Mom was visiting on her own for the first time. The weather had been so dicey the rest of the week, CN was driving her in to visit. I didn’t want to disturb their time together. Let him have those moments with ‘his girl’. I’m glad I made that decision. I had my time.
Dad died that night. Massive heart failure due to previously unknown, plaque filled arteries. He died of a broken heart and ours broke in the process.
I’ve had my head stuck in word puzzles ever since. Two months, now. Concentration on anything else hurts too much. Between bereavement, foot ailments and my own discovered hypertension, work has been a struggle. Our house, while coming along is still in flux. Schoolwork sits untouched, unread, unfinished, unwritten. But damn it, I have conquered the Dell no-clue, codeword puzzle. In ink.
Each book I finish stands in a stack, another legion of trophies to mark the passing of dark places. I am not sure how high the stack will have to be before most of the darkness fades, but for now it’s great for waiting.
I love you Dad.
The wires are hot with Miley Cyrus this week. She is being denigrated as everything from Disney Princess gone bad, to Lady Gaga wannabe, to a prime example of usurper and exploiter of black culture. Wow. The power of media and a six minute display of really bad taste.
Black cultural theorists are damning the performance as a parody or minstrelsy take-off on an urban dance fad and the objectification of the black female body. Feminists are stating that Miley is being judged harshly for just doing what male performers have been doing for years. Gay rights activists are up in arms over the opportunistic bisexual displays. Parent organizations are weeping over the loss of the tween-age, innocent icon. Music aficionados are turning purple at the butchering of what was only remotely something called music. Movie lovers are outraged with Robin Thicke’s theft of Beetlejuice’s favorite suit. Animal rights groups are protesting the absurd use of teddy bears as symbols of pornography. It seems Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, by guilt of association and participation, have set off a maelstrom of cultural intrigue.
But you know what? One can take any source and make it into an example of how injustice is done to any particular group. Hell, even with my limited knowledge of cultural and literary theory, I could build a case for the marginalization of the Jews as shown through the story of Three Little Bears.
Yes, there was a plethora of injustices demonstrated from many sides. Yes, Miley stepped into a minefield of idiocy by taking on an “urbanized” caricature. Yes, she objectified not only the black women on stage, but herself as well. Yes, she mimicked the vulgarities done over and over again by male performers. Yes, she took advantage of the current media attention on homosexuality and made it base. Yes, she shot down her goody-two-shoes identity to a degree that side of Montana. Yes, she sang off key and ‘danced’ with less grace than Pinocchio. And yes, she misused the image of teddy bears and foam fingers the world around. It’s all there and then some.
But, personally, I think she’s just a naïve, stupid little girl play acting at what she thinks grown-ups do. And if that is what the grown-ups do in her neck of the woods, then heaven help her and us.
I am a people watcher. Not a professional mind you, no license or training from a top secret English Council, no just strictly amateur here. It is a great boredom eraser. Sometimes, I invent lives for the people or sometimes I just give them fun names and watch their antics. Take the other day when I was stuck in the Financial Aid office of my university.
The Financial Aid office moved to a new location this summer. It was formally housed on the second floor of three story Georgian style mansion built in the early 1800s. Payne Hall was originally a storehouse and makeshift prison as part of the Augusta Arsenal. Housing financial aid there always seemed fitting to me. The new location is just as old, but much smaller and previously used as such varied things as the purchasing office and art studio.
The old office had a high service bar behind which the helpful and optimistic financial aid assistants barricaded themselves against the constant torrent of often simultaneously confused and bitter students. The new office has no such physical impediment. The old office also had seating for about 15 people; the new office has zip, nada, not one seat for those who wait in monetary anxiety.
The new office is not designed to have customers, so when the new semester begins, as it doing so now, the little entrance way quickly becomes crowded and all are pressed together. Ten to twelve people fit in the little alcove if they do not mind invading each other’s personal space and everyone has used their Dial. So it was among these circumstances I was able to get some practice in people watching.
For the first part of my wait, it was pretty much your usual college kids making sure all was good with their scholarship and grant money. Our local university is in the middle of a hostile corporate takeover, so it is plain to see why they are worried. The move is not going smoothly.*
After a while, and outside of all the PDAs some individuals started to stand out. The No Child Left Behind Family, Baby Dyke, Junior Businessman, the OMG sisters and Chickie Babe. What can I say? I was there for a long time…
The No Child Left Behind Family consisted of at least five kids, I think, there may have been more. It was hard to tell as they continually floated from inside to out and back again. They were all pretty interchangeable, except for the kid in the wheelchair stuck in the corner and left to play games on a phone. I never did discover who was there to talk to the assistants, the mother or any of her brood.
Baby Dyke came in with a YMCA swim instructor t-shirt and life guard red swim trunks. Tall and thin, she sported a mohawk that fell into soft curls in the middle. Even this girl’s hair could not be straight. She carried all extraneous objects in the waistband of her shorts. Phone, wallet, keys, each was pulled in turn when needed. The reason she stood out to me was really one single comment. Upon being told she would need to supply a copy of her last year’s W2, she said and this is a direct quote, “You mean the IRS keeps copies of that?”
Junior Businessman came decked out in a three piece suit. Truly, an entire three piece suit and a briefcase to top it off. I am not quite sure who he was trying to impress. The whole point of financial aid is that you need money. Looking like Alex P. Keaton really doesn’t help your cause.
The OMG sisters are at every university function so I am not surprised I saw them that day. I am pretty sure you have seen them – they are the girls who upon seeing another member of their tribe squeal at a torturous frequency level followed immediately by a high pitched repetitive screams of, “Oh My G-d, it’s you!” These vocalizations are usually accompanied with the waving of hands then followed by a round of ritualistic maneuvers mostly involving a-frame hugs and kisses that are thrown in the general direction of the intended recipient. It can be a painful thing to witness.
The coup de grâce of the afternoon was Chickie Babe. CB made a grand entrance in low cut, form fitting, sherbet orange dress, with matching platform 4 inch high heels and oversized, bronze, woven, heart-shaped handbag. She had flatiron brown hair with just the right swoop at the bottom. Her smartphone was blinged out with a multitude of shiny little rhinestones, which I thought would be uncomfortable to grasp, but without pain there is no beauty, as I am told.
CB owned the place. She put herself square in front of the door so that she would be the first thing seen to all who entered. She kept her head down just so much, while creating obviously important text messages with an imperious flourish yet able to keep an eye on her audience. When a friend came in she dared not associate herself with the OMG sisters. She merely put out her hand and said, “Come stand with me, Darling.” “Darling?” We live in Georgia, for goodness sake – no one says, “Darling” unless you are referencing someone’s grandchild under the age of twelve or a homemade handicraft we are not quite sure of.
Up to this point, CB had merely elicited a raised eyebrow and slight smirk, but I tell you I had to turn away not to laugh at her next move. When Johnny Olson announced her name as the next contestant on “Will Your Financial Aid be Approved,” CB sidled up to the desk and proceeded to lean over the desk giving the lovely assistant full perusal of les doudounes. As with Junior Businessman, I am not quite sure what this was supposed to accomplish. The assistant was not a cop who pulled her over for a minor traffic violation and was clearly not impressed with the display.
From her bent over position, CB whispered to assistant that well, she did not have her student id with her and that she wanted to know…the assistant interrupted her and asked in a bored voice, “Name?” CB looked somewhat taken aback then gave her the name, but still whispering a mile minute. The assistant read off whatever magic computer revealed and as if she could not believe the statements, CB grabbed the monitor and turned it to her face. The nonplussed assistant sat for a heartbeat then reached up and slowly turned the monitor back around. CB did not get the hint but craned her neck further around to look at the sacred words.
I do not know what the assistant finally whispered to CB, but with it she was able to wrest CB from her personal space. CB stood up adjusted her clothing, checked something on her phone, tossed her hair and with as much dignity anyone can muster on 4 inch platform heels walked out of the office. The assistant crossed her name off the list and called the next contestant, who thankfully turned out to be me – Smirking Old Lady.
*(http://nation.time.com/2013/07/19/cash-strapped-universities-turn-to-corporate-style-consolidation/) – read the comments for the real story.