It's cocktail hour chez Bat Cave, a moment that occurs every other day when I untwist a capsule of Prozac and dump half of it into some iced tea. The other days I simply take the crewed-back-together pill with the other Prozac capsule and meds. For someone who rarely drinks, it's kind of fun to sip sweet nastiness.
How do I frame this blog, which is partly a dialogue with a post I wrote for Psychology Today, "The Perfect Dress," and partly the continuation of a conversation with a friend as well as an answer to another who emailed me, "Any words of comfort to someone finding it difficult to hold on to hope?" There seems to be a spell of the blues going around these days and if there's anything I can't resist, it's poking my nose into people's troubles and trying not to offer advice.
I told friend A. that my mother always said each of us has a ministry. My most successful ministry seems to have been to speak up about Fat Stuff. I haven't been able to do that, however, without talking about Depressed Stuff, which makes me think I am a voice for a certain segment of people, mostly women, who feel disenfranchised or marginalized, unable to locate themselves because of a wall standing in their way.
I would like to reframe that in the first person. I have felt marginalized and unable to find my self because of walls. Those walls include fat, thin, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, overspending/debt, ennui, resentment and anger. If I come up with any other walls, I'll keep you posted.
Friend A. was feeling just as I felt earlier this year that her death would only burden people with her more. I felt constrained from dying by the Three Ds -- Dad, dog and debt -- and also by how much stuff I own that would have to be dealt with. I was convinced enough by the Three Ds that my psychiatrist actually suggested I pay down my debts more slowly.
It's a funny thing about pain -- I really do forget its intensity. I don't quite remember what a menstrual cramp was like or the crippled feeling of a break-up. The freshest pain in my memory is of how sweaty, unsorted, overfull I felt while swimming in sugar in Montana ten days ago. Here is Friend A. feeling as I did in the early spring and I wanted to Fix It. At the time, I blogged against people wanting to Fix It rather than simply listening.
So I parried listening with caveats of knowing better than to give advice while I offered suggestions. But I think it was retelling some of what I wrote about in "The Perfect Dress" that helped the most, as well as recalling the small bucket list I began to amass in my last bout with the Black Dog.
In "The Perfect Dress," I wrote about the notions of deserving and earning and how hung up we are on them. I heard those words from Friend A. today about really letting people's concern and desire to truly help settle into her bones. "I don't deserve help," she said and then iterated her personal string of fuck-ups that exempt her from being taken care of and truly helped.
I'd applied the word "deserve" to a dress I loved that is a size too small. I deserve a dress that fits, I wrote. I deserve to lose weight, to live more healthfully.
Today I expanded that notion. I have earned the right and deserve to feel peace, contentment, solvency, community, creativity, adventure and hope. I don't need to be abstinent to deserve abstinence and I don't need to feel at peace, or un-depressed, in order to deserve peace or un-depression.
I'VE PAID MY DUES.
And so have you.
Some people get front-loaded in life with that stuff, I told Friend A. There were people in my childhood and adolescence who had it all (enter Barbra Streisand seeing Robert Redford in her creative writing class). They were smart. They were thin. They were rewarded for being smart and thin. They were confident. They filled up yearbooks.
I had a 2.8 grade average, weighed 240 pounds, had terrible acne, hated authority, didn't know how to drive and couldn't act comedy. For high school graduation I asked for a car and a shrink. I couldn't imagine what I would do with myself when I grew up any further because I felt absolutely unsuited to any work. The first time I got a A in college, I went to the professor and told him he'd made a mistake. Someone must have gotten my C.
Et cetera and so forth.
This concept of myself has been so persistent that I have a hard time matching years to events. I know that I went to graduate school and started working in publishing in the 80s, became a literary agent in the 90s, but if you ask me when someone visited me in New York or Montana, or when I published a story, I'd draw a blank. I have a few years that stick out -- 2004, 2003, 2001, 1975 -- and anything I can remember I have to do on my fingers.
I paid my dues of depression, dissatisfaction, underpayment, being frightened, writer's block, being fat, being resentful in those years that swim in front of my eyes. I'm working on a proposal about living the rosary right now and the center of it is how much I can't let go of anger, hatred, resentment. It's been ten years since I was fired from publishing: enough, I decided this summer, is enough. I will go to extraordinary lengths to Get Over It, starting with getting over my inability to forgive myself.
So to Friend B, who asks if I have some words of comfort for the hopeless, and to reiterate what I got around to saying to Friend A, I have this answer.
You do not deserve hopelessness. No one does, but especially not if you're part of my tribe of the tending-to-feeling-excluded or suffering from depression. Not if you're under my watch. The frontloaded stars of my high school year book? They can start paying their dues now if they haven't already. For those of us with crummy brain chemistry, we get a free pass. And if that's easier said than accepted,
get mad. If you don't believe in God, rail at the universe or at the people who stifled us. You can't forgive or move on until you get the sources of resentment out there in the harsh light of names and deeds. The 12 Steps would ask you to find your part in bad treatment and that's good advice, but you can start by being justifiably angry. If it's that kind of hopelessness that is the Black Dog of No Particular Poison, shake your fist at the sky, tell God he's a big liar. Then
admit the beauty of sadness, hopelessness, heartbreak. Van Gogh didn't paint because he was happy and Beethoven didn't compose out of peace of heart.
One of the things that made the Black Dog shift this spring was remembering I hadn't read all of John Cheever. Then I remembered I hadn't read all of Angela Thirkell. Soon enough I began to crave a trip to Holland and Belgium during tulip season. I began putting cash in a tin box. More recently I've decided I want to take Tai Chi. I'm beginning to work up a head of steam about the proposal I'm writing.
Friend A. has a Sustaining Relationship in her life. I have expectations of setting up housekeeping with a friend in the Seattle area. This expectation did not keep the Black Dog away. I don't know when this will happen. I don't hear from him enough to walk through each day with the certainty it will. I'm quite sure I weary him, that I am Too Much. It was a depressing thought that was cured in June when I was finishing revising my next book. In that mystical way that writing is, I found myself putting this advice in another friend's mouth in regards to my hurt and uncertainty at my future roommate's silence: Sometimes you have to walk away without leaving.
You might have just read the last and best line of my next book and so have saved yourself fifteen bucks.
It's specific to that situation but also to depression. Walk away from the hopelessness. Think about the things you want to do for your self, what you are hungry for. They say depression is anger turned inward, but I think it's more than that. It's also hunger turned inward. It's defeat turned inward. It's crappy brain chemistry.
Make a bucket list. Appreciate the gorgeousness of suffering and shout that you have paid your dues as far as suffering goes. Know that there are a lot of wonderful smart funny women out here who go through long periods with the Black Dog suffocating them.
If you want, be in touch with me: we'll form a blog of what Friend A. calls Pissed Off Women.
And to Friend B. I say: crying is comfort. Stating your feelings is comfort -- as well as paying it forward because Friends A. and B. were there for me when I was smothered under the Black Dog and now I have a little peace of mind with which to say it's OK to feel awful and it's even more OK to be angry, to want things, to feel alienated. When you're alienated enough and can say so, you might just find out how much company you have.
I'm part of that company. My world would be bleaker without you. I love you for having held me up and I love you for your capacity to hurt and I love the beauty of your reasons for hurting and I love you for having paid your dues.
And now I feel very noble. The veritable Queen of Hubris. And you have every right to call me on it because in the end, even though you won't want to think so, it will be your rage and your hunger than saves you, not my bleating on in cyberspace.
We supposedly don't negotiate with terrorists -- um...except on the local level...