A Hard Rains falling
Our lives improve only when we take chances - and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves. Walter Anderson
From my earliest memories, I recall the agony of powerful depression. It has raised its ugly head in many forms. At times depression will present as anxiety that cripples me with fear so powerful that I cannot leave the house, or at worst, leave the sanctuary of my bedroom. My depression can take the form of persistent rage or anger, and finally the deadliest of depressions faces is psychological and physical pain. Pain, that is so humanly intolerable, that many are driven to take their life, simply to stop the pain. Many academics and observers to this destruction believe that we, whom battle with this illness, want to die. This line of thinking is incorrect. I am able to make this statement with the authority of one who has attempted to slide into suicide on more than one occasion. The reason that a person battling depression, often takes this destructive course is because you just want to stop the pain. You do not want to die, but the question that races through your mind, seemingly on a loop, is; please God, how do I stop the pain?
There are many types of depression, and just as many causes. I trained and practised as an analytical psychotherapist for some years, and last time I looked, there were in excess of three hundred and fifty Depressive disorders. I do not like to pigeonhole people, usually because people just do not fit perfectly into the holes we create for them, however for the purpose of this article; I shall break my rule and label myself as some one who battles with major depression.
I diagnosed myself during my postgraduate training. At the time, I was confused as to how to address this problem, yet the overwhelming feeling was stark white fear. The more I learnt about depression, the greater the fear became. Because I have suffered with this affliction all my life, like most men, I imagined that I would be committing an act of weakness. I believed I would be thought of as mad, or insane in the community.
In the last six months of my course, I was counselling a young man. During the interview, an overpowering thought was ever-present in my mind. I just wanted him to have the courage to jump off his self-protective precipice, into the pain of his life, by acknowledging that right down deep inside, at his core, he felt extremely broken.
After the session, I was strolling through the college grounds, on my way to the on-campus accommodation. The winter greyness of the sky was rolling high above me, pushed along by the cold winter wind. I lifted my woollen scarf, and tied it around my neck. My mind was racing with thoughts of frustration, as I relived the dialogue between myself and the young man I had just left. As a counsellor, I believed that I had failed my client.
An epiphany started to produce an amazing clarity of mind. I crossed my legs and sat slowly on the dewy grass that was still scattered with brown rotting leafs from autumn. The sensation coming up from within me felt as though it was an incoming message. I looked up. My eyes slowly wondered over the skeletal grey branches of the enormous trees that lined my route. Right there and then the message hit with the clarity of a crystal wine glass. Moreover, this instant insight had the subtlety of a four by two across the head.
It was in two parts. Part one was, that the guilt I felt as a counsellor was a self-imposed lie, which I had perpetuated within myself to sabotage any chance of recovery from my own depression. This idea seemed contrary to my understanding, yet felt within to be very true. Because I simply could not think through the meaning of this concept, I therefore filed it away in my mind for further examination. Part two yielded far more immediate venom. The tremendous amount of courage that I was expecting from my patient was a character far lacking within myself. It was expected to come without the merest of fear, for the young man. Yet the yardstick with which I had measured him had now been placed against my level of bravery, and I did not meet the measure.
Soon after that day, I told my senior lecturer about my self-diagnosis. To my shock, he agreed that he had thought that I displayed actions consistent with depression. I did not pursue further counselling, but it did come to my understanding that very few people have a negative attitude towards depression, or any mental illness for that matter. However, I should have pursued counselling, at that moment, at any cost. The price I would pay for this inaction would prove to be substantial.
In the years that followed, I found I would use any substance available to dull the pain, be it drugs or alcohol. The swings of mood became violent and unpredictable. Rage, guilt, shame, and deep blackness ruled my life. The situation was quickly becoming very unmanageable. I came to understand that one could not counsel oneself. I still did not have the guts to seek the help of a psychiatrist because I thought that I new it all, I was the great counsellor. The truth was that I was so fearful of exploring the deep longings and painful yearnings at my core, that I was doing anything at my disposal to avoid cognitive therapy. To slide away the facade that is shown to the world would expose a hideous individual. I had never allowed myself to see behind the mask; therefore, I was not going to allow a stranger to look inside. I was a coward, which took the easy way out, or the path that created the least resistance.
The way most people with my lack of courage walk the path of least resistance is to go along to a local general practitioner, espouse generic comments such as, “I feel a little down lately”, or something similar to, “I’m a little irritated lately.” What ever is said, the bottom line is we just want some pills, and we actually convince ourselves that this is sufficient to fix the problem. I will not speak for others, however this is the story most people begin their counselling sessions with, and this was my modus operandi. An extremely wise old man once taught me a lesson about this very subject. Later, the wisdom of this man saved my life. He said, “The path of least resistance makes rivers, and men, crooked.”
I continued in this manner for some years. At times, I stoped my medication, at other times I would change doctors and thus change medication, and then I would stop the new medication. Therefore, it went on, getting worse with every change. Eventually I was addicted to most things common to operate foolishness. I had an addiction to everything from sex and codeine, and alcohol, to avoiding deep relationships by angering or irritating anyone that got too close to me. Alternatively, there were times when a strong anger or irritation would well up within myself towards others for no genuine reason except that again, these people were getting to close to the real me. Remember I was too hideous to be exposed. The answers to the question as to why I was doing these things are obvious to me now, however at the time, I felt quite justified for condemning others whilst radiating anger towards them, or I irritated this person, or that person due to a “personality clash”. I was oblivious to my unconscious dysfunctional thinking that was destroying me. I had avoided pursuing the lessons begun beneath the trees that cold winters day years before.
Fear of inner pain had become my master. The fruit born by serving this master became much more than multiple and hidden addictions. The relationship between my wife and I had begun to falter. I lost the ability to work and earn an income for my family. I often laid naked, and unwashed on a mattress in the corner, crippled with fear as much that I could not move, as day moved into night, and on, then again, for what seemed like an eternity.
I clearly remember the day that the finality arrived. I slumped onto the small single bed in the spare room at the back of the house. Lying on my back spread eagle, staring, wide-eyed, straight up. I was attempting to avoid the pain that was rampaging through my mind. However, to an observer, I would have appeared quite well. I am in no doubt that if someone had entered the room, I would have sat upright with a superficial facade of a smile that would have camouflaged the agony within, moreover depression is unlike most chronic illnesses such as cancer, or emphysema, for example. Though once it has killed, it becomes quite evident in hindsight.
Please read part two for the insightful conclusion.