The Face of Depression

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud

I don’t know how I got the scratch, but it’s suspiciously on my wrist. No feeble attempt to off myself here. It’s just a strange scratch. Probably from our dog. But yesterday when I had to get some blood work done, and pulled up my sleeve for the phlebotomist, there it was and we both sort of winced.

I could have put a band aid over it but that would have been even more suspicious.

The problem is, and what was both alarming and embarrassing, is that the ordering doctor was a psychiatrist, and the sweet girl with her needle, and tubes with their rubber corks, and elastic band to make my veins bulge, could see that right there on the forms I gave to her. Psychiatrist. Then she saw the scratch on my wrist. So.

I tried my best to act normal and un-depressed. She tried her best to act cheery. We were quite the team, both of us reacting to the short line of scab, feigning in our own ways a different scenario, where my blood would be spun in a centrifuge for the purpose of tabbing my cholesterol, and not whatever brain chemicals a psychiatrist wants to know about. Norepinephrine, seratonin, dopamine. Plutonium for all I care, just add some fuel to my brain so that I can see again.

J.K. Rowling said, “Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.”

There are a lot of cool people who have had depression. Maybe you’re one of them. The coolest ones are Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, J.K. Rowling, James Baldwin, David Foster Wallace, and of course Spurgeon because for him it ended well – better than well, because he took his depression, flipped it over, and forced it into some kind of love for his savior and his God. I would like to be like him. I would like to write like David Foster Wallace but I would like to be as godly as Spurgeon. But I imagine they’re probably mutually exclusive.

I’m not godly like Spurgeon, but someday maybe I will be. I kind of hope so. But if it means I have to be depressed and take a ream of paper to the phlebotomist with words like major depressive disorder, mood disturbance, and bi-polar spectrum, and then try to act perfectly normal and watch her act overly cheery on my behalf, maybe I’d rather just be someone placid and optimistic, as happy as Mr. Rogers watching toy trains with puppets in them go through tunnels. 

And speaking of tunnels. Right. There’s a reason they’ve been the go-to metaphor for decades. There is a light but it’s so scary when you can’t see it. Of course you have to trust that’s it’s there and everyone keeps telling you it’s there but you can’t even see the people, who are your friends and care about you, and how much longer is the ride because you are the puppet and it’s not very freaking fun.

I changed my mind. I don’t want to be like David Foster Wallace.

There are a lot of cool people who are not depressed. Maybe you’re one of them. Do not fall for the lie that creative people are depressive people, cursed with some mysterious power. If there’s a link it’s a chicken and egg thing. If you spend long hours thinking of how the earth turns and the people walk on it like bugs you’re bound to experience some form of craziness.

And my cancer has nothing to do with my poor mental health. This is no new malady I have. It’s as familiar as bread, and qualifies me for research studies and longitudinal analysis and every once and a while a whiny poem if find I can lift a pen. The suicidal poet, Sylvia Plath, said her depression felt like she was in a bell jar, like a glass jar had been placed over her so that everything around her was muffled and unable to be heard or felt. A lack of reality. I just say I’m in a bubble. Not as poetic, but gets the point across.

I know I’m an over-sharer but it just never bothers me to be one. My depression is just as easy to write about as my cancer, and while yesterday, my Lord, I felt a pressure like the salty ocean was pressing down on top of me, today I can breathe again.

It’s snowing right now.

Coming down fast, and I can see it and even feel it. Thank you people who prayed for me. God is answering.

When you take communion—when you take the wine—you have to tilt your head back so that, for one small moment, you find yourself looking up to the Heavens. The cup is what Jesus didn’t want to take and I don’t really want to take it either in whatever form I find it in, but it helps to think about Jesus in Gethsemane sweating blood because when the ocean’s on top of me, and the glass jar has been lowered, it helps to think about my first love, the one who knows me, and that even though he didn’t want to, he tilted his head back and drank the wine, so I can to. And it will be good. That cup of wine and that tilting of my head will lead to very good things.

Here’s a poem by Sylvia Plath. Read it, be well fed, it’s brilliant. Then toss it in the garbage for me, okay?

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