I have just awakened, and before I drift away again, I shall tell you what I had hoped to impart in yesterday’s epistle.
You never told me what you thought of the dream I had, but I don’t blame you; you have enough and more on your mind, and it seemed such a silly, sleeping story.
But, Bridie, I keep having the same dream — or versions of the same dream. One aspect is always the same: I walk alone, but you are with me, or I am you, or we are one. I’m never sure how it works, but in the dream it now seems quite natural. And now that I think of it, this odd fusion seems like what Dr. Torres described in your father, doesn’t it?
And, Bridie, I become more convinced that there is something to these dreams, some message I am missing. Perhaps it is a wish born of my frustration at being confined here when I want so urgently to be with you!
Last night, in the dream-world at least, everything was wild, wild, wild. The wood was wild; the tame trees of our childhood stared from their knots wildly; the mist swirled with a contained wildness, as if it took enormous will not to fling itself out and up through the treetops; the pond itself was wild, with waves flinging themselves on the shore like an ocean in miniature.
And I/you/we were wild ~ wild with a strange freedom, with a compelling seeking, with a desperate hope driving me/us along paths familiar and ways that were strange. It felt exhilarating, dangerous, right.
And then I woke, full of disappointment ~ no, anger, wrath even ~ at how useless in the real world I am to one who has stood by me so
We seem to have stepped into the world of fairy-tale and legend. Thank you for not leaving me in suspense a moment longer than necessary, but how bewildered I still feel. How much more so must you feel!
While it is fortunate that your father shows no signs of brain fever, a diagnosis of some problem would, at least, have helped make sense of the mystery. Intellectually, I can comprehend her description of how she perceived your father, but how startling it must have been for her to see a different person look back her out of each of your father eyes! No wonder she hurried off so!
But to give you on remedy, no course of action, but only those strange words about ash again. What could she mean, “You’ll find it if you are meant to find it, if you are the one”?
I have more to tell you, Bridie, but it will have to wait until tomorrow because I am
Today is/was/would have been my father’s ninety-second birthday. With my mom’s death ten months ago, most of my focus has been on that more recent loss and the attendant (and apparently never-ending) responsibilities. But I still miss my dad.
He died back in 2007 of cancer, but he was the soul of our family and I sometimes, even now, find myself reaching for the phone to call him.
Dad was a generally gentle man, but he always reminded us that he’d been born on the day Caesar was murdered. I think Dad hoped that being born on the Ides of March might give him an alluringly dangerous veneer.
When I was very young, my father would, once in a while, take me into Los Angeles, I think to give my mother a bit of break.
I remember a day when we went to Angels Flight, “the World’s Shortest Incorporated Railway.”
I remember holding tightly to my father’s hand because the car was so crowded and we didn’t want to get separated by the press. I was too small to see out the window and we were too packed in for Dad to be able to pick me up. (Maybe he was worried he’d drop me out the window.) Nevertheless, it was all so exciting and I was out with my father in the city and what could be better than that?
With my Dad on my mind and my inbox over-flowing, I was trying to catch up on my e-mails and saw that Jake Parker, the instigator of the annual Inktober challenge, has started issuing weekly prompts: Inktober52. So I took a peek to see what he’d posted, and saw that the first prompt was “Flight.” I guess because my dad was already on my mind, the word brought up the image Angels Flight and my memory of that day in L.A. So with the childish skills I have, I combined the first five Inktober52 prompts into a rough remembrance of my journey on the World’s Shortest Railway:
I can just see you sifting through the ashes in your father’s fireplace ~ a desperate Cinderella with no ball to attend. How did you father take to your post-incendiary exploration?
I share your disappointment. The logical part of my brain told me ~ tells me still ~ that it was silly to look for answers in the ash. But the part of my mind that is both hopeful and worried harboured overgrown expectations that some sign or cure would be there waiting ~ some vial with a curative potion tempered by the fire.
I applaud your intention to visit Dr. Torres. After the way she departed so abruptly, I’m not sure I would have found the courage. I hope you can see her today. The weather is lovely, I see from window, and it will do you good to get out for a spell. I am, as you know,
Phobias: who doesn’t have a few? I have my share, but triskaidekaphobia isn’t one of them. In fact, thirteen is my favourite number, partly because I think it has been unfairly demonized. so here are some things to respect about the lovely number thirteen, gleaned from around the internet:
I swear I heard your shriek before I finished slicing open the envelope! But I can’t blame you. You have had shock after shock, and there’s no way you could have seen this one coming.
I was so relieved when Dr. Morgan found a psychotherapist so quickly. You write that Dr. Morgan knew the — was she a psychologist or a psychiatrist? — counsellor was into some alternative practices, but that she had no idea the woman was a curandera! I suppose I wouldn’t have thought to ask that either.
You say that at first the examination seemed to go well, but when the new doctor looked at your father’s eyes, she turned pale, and — and here I am not sure, because your writing falters — I think you wrote that she rushed out, promising Dr. Morgan a report. Is that right? And that as she. Left, you heard her repeating, “The ash, the ash”? How strange!
Write me back and let me know if I have read your missive correctly. I am sitting here,
Please don’t cry. I can see the teardrops on your missive. Of course I have not forgotten your father’s antipathy towards psychiatrists, but don’t let his prejudices corrupt your thinking. I know your mother’s therapist couldn’t cure her, but sometimes mental illness resists treatment. And you know your mother’s depression played no part in her death.
You and Dr. Morgan needn’t tell your father that the counsellor is a psychiatrist. Merely tell your father that Dr. Morgan wishes to consult with a colleague for a second opinion.
Sometimes I think I can begins to discern a pattern to your father’s behaviour, but it’s more like a tapestry than a linear flow. Get the help you need, and do not allow your father’s illness to suffocate the beloved friend of
If you’re one of the few people who might be reading this, perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been away for a while. I wasn’t really abducted by aliens — that would have been all over the tabloids, right? — but I often feel as if I get transported to a place where I inexplicably lose time and all memory of what I was supposed to be doing.
It’s hard to know how to dive into this post, not because I don’t know what to write, but because others, especially Jenny Lawson and Wil Wheaton, have already said it better than I ever shall.
You’re back? Great. That was a pretty awesome speech, wasn’t it? OK: here we go.
I am Ruth Feiertag, and I live with Chronic Depression.
In many ways, my life has been very different from Mr. Wheaton’s. I rank among the least famous people on the planet. I do love Star Trek, but I never even got to be a neon-skinned alien with tentacles or antennae lurking, uncredited, in the background. But he and I do have some things in common. In my own way, I also have been fortunate. I have always had a place to live, enough to eat, clothes to wear, access to health care and decent schools, and almost all the books I wanted: you know, the basic necessities. I grew up in a stable home with parents and siblings who loved me. I went on to create a family of my own. Pretty damn lucky.
But like Wil Wheaton, I live with chronic depression and anxiety, what he aptly calls “the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation.” (I also have myalgic encephalomyelitis, the condition formerly known as chronic fatigue, and a couple other door-prizes I’ve discovered or picked up along the way.) I’m offering up my story, in part, to add to my voice to the chorus1 of those trying to defuse the stigma around mental illness and, in part, to explain what happened to my Inktober tale.
Again like Mr. Wheaton, I got the message early and clearly that mental illness was a shameful character flaw, one that would redound to my family’s shame. My mother was particularly expressive on this subject. Over the years, even well into my adulthood, Mom told me that psychologists only mess people up, that they always blame the mothers (thank you, Dr. Freud), that they take children away from their parents — a prospect that frightened me horribly. People who have mental problems, my mom would say, need to be tough and get past to whatever they might be attributing their depression. Mom made it plain that if we ever sought help for mental issues, she would be the one to suffer.
To be fair, my mother’s fears were not entirely unfounded. She did have some damaging experiences, especially with school counselors who were quick to fault my mother for things beyond her control. It was not Mom’s fault that I was (am) shy and socially inept, tom-boyish and gawky, just as it was not her “fault” that I used to be tall for my age, liked books, and was good at catching lizards. My hair-cut, though — that was ENTIRELY Mom’s fault.
My anxiety manifested young. I got kicked out of nursery school for being so shy and anxious that I couldn’t make friends or interact with the other children. I remember standing on the margins of the playground, hoping equally that no one would notice me and that one of the other children would ask me to come play. I think I was there about three weeks before the teachers told Mom to keep me home. Mom attributed my behaviour to selfishness. There was a baby, and Mom said that I didn’t want to let her have time with him.
Grammar school was a little better. After all, public schools can’t kick out students for being socially awkward. I spent a lot of recesses tucked away in odd corners, reading. But my anxiety was still powerful enough to give me stomach aches. There was a day in first grade when I my stomach was cramping up painfully, but Mom insisted that I go to school anyway. She did tell me, however, to let my teacher know that if I didn’t feel better after a while, the teacher should let me call home.
Mrs. Persons was one of those firm teachers with high expectations and her opinion was immensely important to me. I was so shakingly nervous about conveying Mom’s message to her that I immediately burst into tears and couldn’t speak with any coherency. Mrs. Persons sent me to the nurse, the nurse called Mom, and Mom came to get me, and she was not amused.
Even worse, when I went back to school the next day, Mrs. Persons shamed me during circle time in front of the other students, chastising me for my “crocodile tears” and accusing me of lying about feeling ill. (That wasn’t even what I had been trying to tell her. I’d been trying to say that if I still felt ill later, then, Mom had said, I should get to call home.) Other than that one instance, Mrs. Persons was a wonderful teacher who encouraged me and celebrated my intelligence, but I realized that she felt I had been dishonest and, on some level, that I had made her look bad, and I was disappointed with myself, verging on being ashamed, for letting her down. I had been bad, not in need of understanding.
By junior high, I was talking with friends about whether I might be crazy. In high school, I would regularly miss a couple weeks of school due to a mysterious lethargy that my parents finally decided was caused by my allergies.
It wasn’t until after the birth of my first child that I saw a therapist. The beautiful cherub we brought home from the hospital turned out to be an adorable demon who didn’t — and as an adult, still doesn’t — need much sleep. For a year, I thought that my low mood was due to an exhaustion that would go away about the time our sleepless wonder went to college. All I had to do was hold up for another seventeen years…
Then, at the children’s used-clothing store up the street, I picked up a local parents’ newspaper that had an article on postpartum depression and I realized that sleep deprivation might not be my only problem.
This was back before health insurance had to offer behavioural health benefits and before we had money to spare for luxuries like counselling, so it was lucky that the article also listed organizations that would help new mothers find the support they needed. The local United Way found me a therapist and sent someone around to check on me every week or so until I regained my balance. It took only a few months, that time, for me to feel like myself again and to start to re-build my hopes and ambitions, and then to work to start bringing them about.
Over the next few years, I had bouts of melancholy that would come and go, but eventually the depression came to stay. I have now spent about a quarter-century living with the sadness, the self-doubt, and other emotional accessories that come with the second skin of melancholy.2
Because here’s what Mr. Wheaton’s speech doesn’t say: about a third of us who suffer from chronic depression are stuck with it. The drugs don’t work — all the ones I’ve tried had side-effects that made me worse, sometimes trip-to-the-ER worse — and counselling doesn’t scare away the depression either. (I have a brilliant therapist. While she hasn’t been able to disappear the depression, she does keep me from living under my covers.) And even those who do get relief from drugs or therapy usually find what some people call the Black Dog (not Sirius Black. This is a different black dog. Sirius Black would be cool) padding along beside them at times throughout their lives.
When my depression and fatigue become rampant, sometimes my mind walls off sections in an arbitrary fashion. And that’s what happened with my Inktober project. I kept up with writing the prompts, but not with typing up my ramblings and posting them. I have, slowly, over the past many weeks, gotten my Inktoberings into shape, and will start posting them, one every couple of days.3
So that’s where I’ve been, sorting out my mom’s estate (a Work In Progress) and living in my head (another WIP). But if you’d rather think I was abducted by aliens, go ahead. That would be a better story. Maybe I was aboard a UFO with aliens who found my Inktober efforts sufficiently amusing to let me bring my notebook and pens. Maybe the depression is just a cover story planted in my brain to account for my absence. Maybe I’m still on the ship and don’t know it, though I’d expect space-travelling aliens to have better WiFi than what we have at our house…
1. Mr. Wheaton, in addition to his NAMI speech, blogs about his depression (and other matters). Sarah Marsh, in the NAMI newsletter, tells us that “Mental Illness Should Not Be A Secret” in a story much like Mr. Wheaton’s. In one of the Rumpus’ Lettersin the Mail, Rion Amilcar Scott discusses the depression-troll that sits on his shoulder and has become a companion. And the Queen of Mental Illness, Jenny Lawson, thebloggess, writes about her own struggles on her blog and in her hysterically funny book, Furiously Happy. (I was going to quote something pertinent from the appendix in the middle of her book, but I couldn’t choose just one.)
2. I do have moments of joy, especially when my children come home, but also after a trip to the bookstore, or during an outing with friends.
3. I saddled poor Hannah with my chronic fatigue, sadness, and self-doubt, mostly to give a plausible reason for the days I couldn’t think up a plot-point.
It’s been six months, as of today, since my mother died. I feel like I’m in a Greek myth-Freaky Friday mash-up: I’m Persephone waiting for Ceres to come back after her half-year in the Underworld. It ain’t gonna happen, but I still rather expect Mom to show up and want to know why we haven’t finished fixing up the house.
To mark the day, here’s one of my mother’s favourite poems, “One Perfect Rose,” by one of her favourite authors, Dorothy Parker:
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met. All tenderly his messenger he chose; Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet – One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret; ‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’ Love long has taken for his amulet One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose.