by Kerry Cue
Anyone over 60 or, more likely, 50 knows loss and grief that can also slump into depression. We cannot duck the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ But for some, the shadows of depression appear to fall over them at birth.
I ran into a friend yesterday outside the supermarket. In his late sixties, he has suffered depression on and off from childhood. Meanwhile, Robin William’s tragic suicide was dominating all news bulletins. My friend recalled when, walking past the CBS studios in New York last year, he and his wife put their names into the lottery to be in the Late Night with David Letterman audience. They won seats. And who was on the show? Robin Williams. We shook our heads dumbfounded, yet again, by the inexplicable tragedy of life.
There is an inside and an outside view of depression.
The outside view witnessed by a friend or family member, perhaps, can be quite cynical. The depressed person, bereft of all vitality, appears monotone, unresponsive and self-obsessed. Yet this is depression’s – sometimes unyielding – punishment. It winds the walls in on the depressed person until there is no way to connect to the outside world. Yet the pain persists.
In 1998 David Foster Wallace published a Harper’s Bizarre piece called, simply, ‘The Depressed Person’. It follows a depressed woman’s growing self-absorption. Such a bitter outside portrayal of obsessive melancholia seems all the more tragic as Wallace, a highly celebrated author, committed suicide from depression in 2008 at the age of 46.
The inside view of depression is chilling. ‘The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality’. So began the TED talk Depression, the secret we share by long-time depression sufferer and author Andrew Solomon. Meanwhile, the New York Times recently published one of the most brutal, raw and painfully honest portrayals of depression I have read. A Journey Through Darkness by Daphne Merkin (New York Times, 6 MAY 2011)
Merkin, 60, an American literary critic, essayist and novelist, has suffered, sometimes untreatable, depression on and off since her childhood.‘In some way, the quiet terror of severe depression never entirely passes once you’ve experienced it. It hovers behind the scenes, placated temporarily by medication and renewed energy, waiting to slither back in, unnoticed by others … It tugs at you, keeping you from ever being fully at ease. Worst of all, it honors no season and respects no calendar; it arrives precisely when it feels like it.‘ Both Solomon’s and Merkin’s stories have – if not exactly happy, at least – liveable endings.
Merkin, who had suicidal thoughts and whose long-term Freudian analyst started pushing ECT (Electro Compulsive Therapy) wrote ‘And then, the Sunday afternoon … something shifted ever so slightly in my mind’. And later ‘Everything felt fragile and freshly come upon, but for now, at least, my depression had stepped back, giving me room to move forward’.
Memory is vital to the depressed person’s recovery. If they can recall being happy once, the possibility echoes in the coal-black gloom of their thoughts that one-day they can return to that bright yet unfathomable place. Some depressives struggle to hold onto even one happy thought as if the lines are down in the power network of the brain. Other depressives believe that because their life has been changed by, say, a divorce, they cannot find their way back to that happy state. These are the machinations of the mind therapists address. Nevertheless, one happy thought remembered can deliver Pandora’s gift. Hope.
Beyond Blue Australia: Crisis helpline, facts, forums and resources
Health Talk Online: Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia
Healthtalk online UK: Experiences of depression and recovery UK
Youth Health Talk UK: Young Peoples’ depression and low mood
Healthtalk online UK: Experiences of Antidepressants
MAYO Clinic USA: Depression causes, complications and symptoms
MAYO Clinic: Depression Medication
MAYO Clinic USA: Minimising Sexual Dysfunction Side effects of anti-depressants
Black Dog Institute Australia: Education Resource