on Breaking the Depression Cycle
Sunday, February 05, 2017
A short little bit from a poem I recently read that I cannot get out of my mind:
It is as if
a steel clamp
Had seized upon
one square inch
of a flattened
Canvas map then
The painted landscape
thrown into shadow,
A life is not
It is not meant
to fold, to be
A narrow ring.
(from “Portrait of a Hanged Woman” by Monica Youn, Blackacre)
I have been reading a lot of poetry lately. I want to search out the ones that break me open, like this one; poems that are not about anything like what I am experiencing but that also resonate because they are, somehow, exactly what I am going through.
(Also songs, but that is a different post.)
I read this sitting in the pink chair that I scavenged from my mother’s house. This chair was in my bedroom when I was a teenager, and it was the space of refuge, the comforting place I went when I was caught in the dark. It’s covered in pink velvet, and when I scavenged it I did so with the intent of having it reupholstered, because by now it is bedraggled, more grey than pink, raw wood exposed on one edge, trim dangling—but I cannot bring myself to do it. The texture of that fabric against my fingers, even now nearly thirty years later…that texture is what it feels like to be cracking along my unaccustomed creases.
So I sat on the chair and I read poems and I remembered myself at 14 and 15 and 16, stuck in darkness, and compared that darkness to this one, and I realized how similar they are.
Almost the same place.
Except, I know now, at least, the triggering points. Sometimes, depression just arrives, blackness seeping in slowly until you are filled. Sometimes it is like a switch, the wave of a magic wand, the difference between one blink and another: not there, there, and the suddenness this time is because the last bit of my resistance has been broken.
I was up above it.
Now I’m down in it.
(A life is not this supple.)
For three weeks, I have left my house only for necessities: work, the grocery store, the driveway but only to shovel snow. I’ve stopped going to the gym. I didn’t snowshoe in our fresh snow. I haven’t visited any neighbors or friends or family. I even took a few mental health days from work.
I didn’t do anything besides stay home and eat unhealthy foods. Entire bags of chocolate, far too many hot drinks. Spaghetti and butter, English muffins and butter and jam, hash browns cooked in butter with cheese melted on top.
The darkness got denser and because of that it got harder to do anything and because of that the darkness got denser.
The chocolate and carbs that brought me brief little sparks of light made me sad, settling on my thighs and chin and belly, and I could only find more light with more chocolate, more carbs.
I played music but I didn’t sing.
I made things but I didn’t connect to them.
I wrote, but nothing real.
I cleaned the house, I cleaned every 8&*@!!($^[email protected] corner of my ^&%%$*(@ house, I decluttered until everything was empty and then I didn’t feel accomplished but just…empty.
Then I had that moment, sitting on my old pink chair reading poems, and somehow that was enough. Just barely enough that, half an hour later when my husband walked into the (clean) house and said “let’s go to the gym,” I could say “OK.” I could pull on some exercise clothes and find my music and watch and shoes, and even though I slogged, I slogged through that workout (ten minutes of elliptical, ten minutes of the side trainer, ten minutes on the rowing machine), even though it was boring and uninspiring and ugly…I moved. I moved my body and some of the darkness moved too, like black, thick chunks of ice on a lake in winter at midnight during a new moon cracking, at last, just a bit.
A shift. Barely perceptible except I could perceive it, I could remember what it felt like to breath, I could put a stop to the endless cycle of darkness.
I would say “hopefully” but I don’t even have any hope yet.
I’m not even sure I should be writing this. What a crazy person she is, I hear all you readers saying. (“All you readers!” There are far more readers in my head than in real life I know.) Exposing herself like this. It’s weird, right? It’s a plea for attention, it’s sort of lame, it’s actually fairly pathetic, who talks about this anyway?
Who talks about it.
No one, or not many. And that makes it worse. Because it is not just that I am locked underneath all that dark ice. It is not that whatever my painted canvas map had been, it has been yanked through the smallest opening, it has been cracked and torn and everything colorful made meaningless.
It is that I am utterly alone.
And maybe if I talk about it, someone else won’t be alone. Maybe if I say: depression is a vicious cycle and the only person who can stop its downward spiral is the depressed person—maybe someone else will also have a moment in their (metaphorical) pink chair. Maybe their (her) cycle can break, too.
It is hard to speak out of the dark. It weighs so much my voice feels impossibly heavy.
But this is part of it too. Part of breaking the cycle is, for me, writing my way up out of it. Writing what is real, and hard, and ugly, and painful. Maybe I will never share publicly what pushed me into the dark water, what broke the last of my spirit and started the cycle.
Maybe it doesn’t matter how it started.
Maybe it just matters to know that I can end it.
With letting myself feel what I am feeling.
I confess: I’m still down here in the dark. I still feel like everything has been ruined in irreparable ways.
Who knows what my life or my psyche will look like on the other side.
But even just knowing that—even just saying “the other side.” That reminds me it wasn’t always dark and maybe the light will come back.
And maybe I am not alone.
But it SO needs to be talked about. Thank you for writing this and your bravery in sharing it. It WILL help someone else (I am sharing it with her).
Posted by: Margot | Monday, February 06, 2017 at 01:17 AM
You have readers and you have friends out here pulling for you. Your writing is beautiful and thought provoking and heartfelt and so much more. Keep assending from the water. You may be touching more lives than you know
Posted by: Jill B | Monday, February 06, 2017 at 07:29 AM
Your writing is beautiful. I'm so sorry you are going through this pain. Sometimes we have to keep moving inch by tiny inch toward the light until one day we are there. Take care and thanks for sharing.
Posted by: CarrieH | Monday, February 06, 2017 at 08:31 AM
Writing this is like the seed struggling up through the darkness into sunlight. You can't see the light yet, but it's up there. So sorry you are in such a tough spot right now.
Posted by: Laura | Monday, February 06, 2017 at 02:06 PM
Maybe there is a gift in the voice speaking to us out of the dark. Maybe the lack of other visual images makes us hear and attend to your voice so much more strongly. Maybe, for right now that darkness makes your words the most important thing we pay attention to. We are here, and we hear your words and your courage to speak and write them. I thank you.
Posted by: Anne-Liesse | Monday, February 06, 2017 at 05:15 PM
Posted by: mellieundershaws | Monday, February 06, 2017 at 08:35 PM
Love this poem, and you know I always love a good NIN reference (this song has spoken to me so many times over the last few years!)
Love you. Glad you are finding the light, keep looking for it. Also, when you were talking about the velvet chair and the texture of it, I could feel it soooo clearly. Do you remember mom's couch before she reupholstered it, when it was the print Grandma originally had? I can still remember loving to rub my hands over its velvety islands. Or our white bedspreads with the knots that would make your hands feel numb if you rubbed them hard enough on it. The things you don't realize you can remember, even years later. I'm glad you haven't reupholstered the chair just so it could bring you that comfort.
Posted by: Becky K | Tuesday, February 07, 2017 at 09:59 AM
You are not alone. I'm so glad you went to the gym with your husband. Baby steps, Amy. Be kind to yourself. (((hugs)))
Posted by: Keely | Tuesday, February 07, 2017 at 09:13 PM
My friend Jordan Chaney is a poet and he says this about depression-reposted from Facebook.
I know that a lot of people suffer from depression and feelings of hopelessness and this time of year is particularly bad. I wrote this for you...and me. Feel free to share it with people in your feed. (But don't tag them, it's a very sensitive and personal subject)
DEPRESSION IS A LIVING THING.
It feeds on guilt, regret, fear and shame.
It draws the blinds and hides.
It thrives on poor diet and
negative self-talk, among
other debilitating habits.
It survives this way, but like
a snake eating it’s own tail.
Want to kill it?
Smother it with optimism,
self-love and self-forgiveness!
Depression despises open windows
and a clean home. Open the windows,
organize your environment! It hates
motion and productivity of any kind.
Shoot arrows like that at it!!!
It shrinks in the presence of
small goals met—Depression wants
to live but it will ultimately
perish if you attack it first.
Posted by: Carla | Wednesday, February 08, 2017 at 06:12 PM
I always love your openness. I wish I could help pull you out of the darkness, but you're so right - only the depressed person can pull herself out of depression. I woke up this morning feeling myself sinking. I'm doing everything I know to do to stop from sinking any further. This really helped me today. Perfect timing. Just knowing that I'm not alone. And you aren't either. <3
Posted by: Melanie Bell | Thursday, February 09, 2017 at 11:34 AM
This helps. I never once thought "pathetic," just "thank you".
Posted by: Rhiana | Thursday, February 09, 2017 at 07:32 PM
Thank you for this. I read it. And now we are not alone.
Posted by: Marley | Monday, February 13, 2017 at 02:05 PM
Thank you for sharing. Please know you are not alone and continue to try to connect with others. Bless you.
Posted by: Stacy | Monday, February 13, 2017 at 02:16 PM
Thank you for describing so much of what I feel and the cycles and waves it comes in. I hope that everytime the wave hits, there is something or someone to be a buoy you can hold on to
Posted by: Becky C | Monday, February 13, 2017 at 10:14 PM
Thank you for sharing. I have a loved one who is just starting to experience this. That you for giving me perspective. ♡
Posted by: Mindy | Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 08:06 AM
So, so good. It's so hard to explain to those who don't get it and the worst is when you try to explain it and then just feel like they feel sorry for you. Which doesn't really help, either. Thank you for your voice.
Posted by: Jennifer Lefforge | Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 08:35 AM