Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Talk

I just texted my best friend who is going through a mean depression.  I could barely see the key pad on my iphone to do it and I gave a big sniff after finishing that felt like I'd inhaled water.

We had a text conversation the night before last in which Friend told me that he is overwhelmed with dread for no reason whatsoever.  He enumerated the wonderful things in his life but said he doesn't shower on weekends and wishes he'd be caught in a big explosion, a clean quick death.

Since then, I've been thinking of what I can say to Friend.  His depression stems from a deep, well-deserved belief that he doesn't deserve the good things he has.  By "well-deserved," I mean he was trained from the day he was born to think himself a burden, a whipping post, the reason for family anger.  This isn't something you can simply go to therapy or take some pills to make go away.  And I knew, without him saying those things, that they are behind his current downward trajectory.  And I respect that trajectory.

I closed that text conversation by saying "Talk to someone.  And talk to me."

It wasn't a bad way to end the dialogue.  It also wasn't the best.

I have my own version of depression.  A lot.  All the time.  It has its own EKG.  Among the things I've learned about talking about it is that there are two responses that are absolute bullshit: "You don't really feel that way" and "But X, Y and Z are so great in your life!"

So I didn't say that.

But I've been looking at the Fatima prayer that concludes each decade of the rosary and it brings him to mind: " us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy."  I don't believe in heaven but, of course, I certainly believe in hell because so much of my life feels like it.  And his life certainly feels like it.  I don't know why this prayer resonates for him but it's in a metaphorical way.  "Save him from his hell, lead him to happierness, he has need of mercy and the certainty of solace."  I think that's how it plays out for me.

If I were to say I am praying for him, he'd get it, appreciate it, but where he is -- in the clutches of childhood undeservingness and grief over a huge recent loss -- he would also laugh dryly.  "Yeah, good luck to that, France."

I also know, from the many good things people say to me here and on Facebook and in conversation, that compliments are like tiny and ultimately ineffectual life jackets.  I want them -- I need them -- but they don't, in the end, float me.

Which is not to say that occasionally one doesn't make it through, so please don't stop.

I know that depression, grief, dread are fought from within, that the only things that improve them are time, throwuppy, waiting for a new hope.  Right now, I'm going through The Horrors: I learned last night that another dog will not be returning to my roster because the owner is dying.  How will I live?  Will this new gig come through?  What if?  Should I?  Is Daisy limping?  I can't.

The Horrors at least have concrete actions to take.  Put up the damned dogs wanted posters.  Talk to the pet store owners.  Carry business cards.  Look at and be grateful for your savings.  Do.  The.  Next.  Right.  Thing.  Do It Anyway.

But a severe depression?  I admire the shit out of him for getting up and going to his prestigious job every day.  I'll bet nobody knows what he's going through.  There is a sheer rock face on the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier Park called the Weeping Wall.  Run-off gushes or dribbles down it all summer long.  That's how functioning in a depression feels: as though the insides are weeping while you smile, have a department meeting, whatever. 

My father would always slow the car w-a-y down so that we could hold our hands out to catch the water.  It was one of my favorite things about the Park.  Still is.

So how do I hold out my hand to catch his run-off which is internal?  This morning I wrote that I was checking to say that some place in my heart is not empty because he is in my world.

One thing I need is to feel part of the fabric of life.  After so much failure with dogs, one of my clients scribbled "Thanks for another good week" on my invoice for his elderly Brittany spaniel.  I'd forgotten the $5 bill I needed to buy cigarettes and toilet paper the other morning and the guy at the counter said, "Don't worry about it.  Never worry about it."  He did that because I go there every day or so and I'm pleasant and funny and teasing and interested to hear that his small business is succeeding.  There are a dozen of these small things that make me feel better because they make me feel known.  

I can almost live without being appreciated.  But known?  That's amazing.

I want to jolly my friend along.  I want to send him the funniest YouTube videos and flowers and --

But I think, when I go to my darkest patches, that what is best is not to bug him too much, to respect his reasons, which I have the responsibility/privilege of knowing, and to occasionally let him know he has made me a better person.  I'm crying as I write this because I love him so much.  He has given me that gift -- of great love, of pain at his pain.

We are both in need of mercy.  Chances are, if you're reading this, you're in need of whatever form of mercy you believe in -- certain, absolute solace -- too.  As a person who believes everyone but me deserves that solace, may you find it.  And as a person who believes it is not her right, may I come to have faith that it is.

We change each other.


Kathy in Reno said...

Oh Frances-this made me cry. Dealing with depression myself it is so rare to find someone who "gets it". Thank you for being one of those people.

Kathy from Reno

Valerie said...

I want to say that I don't know how you see inside, understand this dark place so well, but unfortunately I know it's because you've been there, you live there too. I wish that weren't so. But I would be lying if I said it doesn't make me feel somehow a little less alone to know that you KNOW, that you get it. That doesn't make me stop wishing you didn't have to, but I guess it's a silver lining.

My heart aches for your friend. You're right - getting up and going to work every day, locking all the misery and just bleakness inside so it doesn't show on the outside - sometimes, when things are just bleak, that can be helpful. It can keep you from sinking too deep. But when you're already deep? It's torture. It's Hell.

I pray for solace for him, too. I'm not sure anymore what I believe or what I don't, but I do believe - or want to believe, anyway - that there's Someone or Something that hears, that feels, or just some energy that responds to our will. So I'm wishing that for him today.

And thank you, Frances. You phrased it so perfectly that I can only echo it back to you - some place in my heart is not empty because you are in my world.

Hilary said...

I'm grateful that I never had to deal with serious depression. But I have had many many anxiety attacks and I think of them as like "mini-depressions"--when I'm going through them life feels so incredibly bleak that it's just overwhelming. I had them as a married person with my husband right there in the room. I've had them all alone as a widow. I have a deep faith in God but when I'm having one he seems so far away it's pitiful. When it's over and it always is in less than half an hour, I feel so normal again. And then I wonder how it would be to have depression and not have that terrible heaviness over in a short period of time. So I have great compassion for all those who suffer from it. My brother lost his wife to suicide (after only two and a half years of marriage). Recently I found out that an old friend of my husband's has depression (I found out from his wife who emailed me). I'd had no idea. Like you said, about the person who smiles on the outside, he was such an upbeat person to talk to. I haven't seen him since then. And I can't tell him I know because his wife swore me to secrecy. He called me one day to tell me that his dad had died and that he was feeling terribly grief-stricken--as though he'd lost his best friend. He and his wife don't get along very well. Who was it who said that we all "lead lives of quiet desperation"?

Unknown said...

I am very interested in and touched by what you write. Keep doing it, please.

Kirsten in NYC