1) I assume everybody who writes a personal blog has different rules. Some feel they have a “duty” to tell everything and damn the consequences. I don’t. I have a vested interest in keeping my family and friends happy; I also — believe it or not — have a strong sense of their privacy and mine. All of which means there are plenty of things I don’t write about and will never write about. I do feel I have a duty not to lie, though.
If you think that sounds murky, you’re right. I write a murky personal blog.
2) Twelve years ago, when I was writing a column for the Dallas Morning News, I wrote about something that almost killed me. The writing of it was easy; it was pressing the button to send it in that almost did me in. I even gave it to my husband to read — which is something I almost never do. I hoped he’d advise me against publishing it, but he didn’t. He thought it was fine.
The column was about the son of a friend of mine, a teenager who’d committed suicide. After months of counseling and antidepressants and the constant ministrations of his parents, he hanged himself in his family’s backyard. I wrote about this young man, whom I’d never met, about his depression and about my own bouts of depression. If you’ve ever been deeply depressed, I wrote, you had a profound understanding of how someone could kill himself simply to stop the unbearable pain.
I’d written about childbirth and pregnancy and breast cancer without hesitation — and people had called me brave. None of that required any bravery. But writing about my own tendency toward depression took more guts than anything I’d ever done before.
3) Similarly, living with depression — waking up in the morning, getting up, getting dressed, walking upright — requires a tremendous amount of bravery. Do you know how many brave people there are in this world doing just that? No, of course you don’t. Their shame is too great. Unless you are one of those people, you have no idea.
4) Depression haunts my very earliest memories. Throughout her life, my mother endured crippling bouts of depression. Twice, she had to be hospitalized. Other times, she couldn’t leave her bed.
Once, when I was a teenager, I found an insurance form that said she’d been hospitalized for two weeks after my birth. I’ve often thought about that — how brutal and crippling her depression must have been for her to be hospitalized in the winter of 1949 in a tiny town in northeastern Oklahoma. She must have been a clear danger to herself and to her infant. I can’t even imagine the kind of treatment that was available then, in that time and place. It can only have been barbaric.
5) I’ve never seen depression adequately described in anything I’ve read. Not even Styron’s acclaimed memoir, Darkness Visible, packs the kind of sickening gut-punch depression does. So, how can you ever convey to others what it feels like?
6) Decades ago, when I was so depressed I wanted to die, I remember looking down at our dog and wishing I could trade places with her. That way, I would have been beyond my own excruciating pain. I’ve often thought back to that moment as having been the worst in my life.
Once, I tried to describe this to a friend. She brightened immediately and said, “I know what you mean! I’ve always wanted to be dog!”
We’re not really friends any longer.
7) When you have breast cancer, people bring you casseroles and get-well cards and flowers. They pin your name on their shirts when they run the Race for the Cure. They loudly compliment you.
When you’re depressed, you’re more alone and isolated than you’ve ever been before. A friend and I once tried to conjure up an image of depressed people staging their own race for the cure. We decided the participants would look down at the ground and move very, very slowly. They wouldn’t wear pink. If they were accompanied by music, it wouldn’t be anything peppy; think dirge.
You see? Depressed people often have a refined and dry sense of humor, especially when the joke is on them.
8.) The 21st century may have produced remarkable strides in tolerance — witness, say, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But depression and other mental illnesses are still stigmatized by people who don’t understand them and even those who do. Basically, you have a chemical imbalance, which is no one’s fault. But the stigma remains. You’re not only in deep pain, but you hate yourself for feeling that pain.
9) When I was young, I promised myself I would do anything to avoid the depressions my mother struggled with. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in an era that offers a decent array of antidepressants that have helped me, with few side effects. I realize I’ll be on them for the rest of my life.
10) Sometimes, you write a murky personal blog that compels you to come clean on certain important issues, however painful or personal. I’m thinking this is one of mine.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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