Thirteen years ago, a trip to the family physician and a psychological evaluation concluded with the diagnosis that I’m a “depressed” person, as he nonchalantly wrote out a prescription for Zoloft.
I never filled it. The slip of paper went into the trashcan, but the proposed treatment was filed with my permanent medical records… and six months later, my cardiologist asked whether or not I was “still taking the antidepressants”.
Depression has been called “the common cold of psychiatric disorders”… with up to 20% of the population suffering from some form of it, at some point in their lives, and prescription pills are tossed about like Tylenol.
I’ve blogged about my aversion to drugs (especially the mood-altering kind), and how I’d rather feel genuinely miserable than artificially happy.
The thought of someone using a chemical cocktail to play with my emotions just creeps me out…
So for many years, I’ve lived under a misconception that “depression” is a state of mind, which can be overcome by focusing on happy things, and surrounding oneself with love and peace and joy….
*cue the singing animals*
But during a bout of depression, sometimes triggered by an event (such as a potential loss of family income) but also able to strike completely at random and last for weeks, my emotions are far more complicated than simply “feeling sad”.
In fact, it’s as if I’ve lost the ability to feel. Living in a void – a hollow tunnel where sounds echo disjointedly – where the activities of life whiz past like a subway train. And I’m standing at the wrong platform, so life doesn’t stop to let me board.
I’m simply unable to find a “happy” moment, something to laugh about, or take pleasure in.
You know how it feels when your head is drugged with cold medicine?
Where you struggle just to perform basic motor functions, like walking and talking, and you can simply forget about exercising your brain….
Depression can do that to your feelings… it’s a state of emptiness and loss.
Because I know that this sadness is somehow…. wrong. A selfish wallow in the mud, when I should be focused on my “blessings”, and allow myself to feel loved and appreciated. My family is relying on me to remain engaged and maintain order in our home.
My childhood connection with the church also plays a major part in this feeling of guilt, since I was spoon-fed Biblical teachings from an early age about the power of faith being strong enough to move mountains. That anything is possible through God.
Admitting to feeling depressed was like …admitting a mortal sin.
How can you justify being miserable when Jesus loved you enough to sacrifice himself?
Since He “daily bears our burdens”… simply “cast your cares upon the Lord, and he will sustain you.”
*cue the pipe organ*
A tiny, lecturing voice loves to heap hot coals onto my guilt-ridden psyche, by pointedly comparing my sheltered life with the harsh suffering of humanity.
When faced with statistics like these, spending even 10 minutes feeling sorry for myself seems… well, selfish.
All the logical persuasions, the guilt, the self-loathing, and fear that I’ll develop into one of those “woe is me” pity-seekers whose necks you just want to strangle…
I’ve come to a realization 13 years in the making:
Depression isn’t an easy thing to self-medicate.
It won’t simply go away with a hot soak in the tub, an afternoon nap, an epic fantasy novel, or a large slice of coconut creme pie.
Or in my case, 1/3 of the pie… in one sitting… while watching an episode of House Hunters on HGTV.
Trying to focus one’s creative energies during a bout of depression is like wading waist-deep in wet cement.
I have plenty of ideas floating around in my head, and a few of them are rather brilliant…. but trying to sketch them onto paper only resulted in migraines, not masterpieces.
I can’t force myself to paint lavender gowns, lace ruffles, or Victorian dressing tables…. I’m not feeling very elegant and refined these days.
I feel like a tiny creature perched on a giant black rock, floating in the dark nothingness of space.
I’m the only inhabitant of this rock, although I’m sure other creatures exist on other rocks, somewhere… some of whom may be miserable and suffering, and some who may be reaching out to communicate with other rock-dwellers.
But I can’t hear their signals from my rock.
I’m alone and lonely on this big rock.
Though I’m fortunate to not be hungry, thirsty, diseased, or lacking in shelter…
This rock is slowly spinning, but I can’t feel it moving… and suddenly, I become aware that my environment isn’t void at all.
There are other dark objects around me, and one tiny, yet bright, point of light that I strain to see.
A distant ball of fire radiating warmth that I can only imagine.
Instinctively, I want to get closer to the fire… knowing if I could see and feel, everything would be okay. If the fire were hot enough warm this rock, I wouldn’t be lonely anymore.
But it resides 500,000,000 miles away. A speck of light twinkling and beckoning, yet too far to reach.
So I just sit on my giant black rock, resigned to watch the universe slowly expand and drift away.
“Share your deepest secrets in your art, Tara”
~ Jessica Doyle
I knew that I needed to paint something, but all I felt was blackness.
So I grabbed a canvas panel and painted it entirely black.
Then I added my rock. And the point of light.
And while the black paint was still wet, my black and white cat Dominic jumped onto the table and stepped squarely into it…
leaving his fat pawprint floating in my universe.
I surprised myself for not being angry with him… but even more surprisingly, I put down the paint-loaded brush I’d intended to use to cover it back up.
Something about his pawprint hovering over my dark, little forgotten planet…. made me think about life, relationships, God, and the awareness that people still care about me, even if I’m numb to their touch.
There is something about smelly wet cat kisses, their furry faces, and the tickling of their whiskers on my cheek… that always makes me smile and purr.
Now his paw is part of a star cluster ~ The Dominus Constellation.
One more sign that I’m not alone on this rock.