Not So Depressing Depression

I have heard that the wounded always run toward home if given a choice. I’m not sure what animals or humans are being discussed in that comment, but I know I did. There came a time in my young life when I could only judge myself as completely worn out. I was long gone and far away at the time, but I came home. Home to the Midwest, and yes, to my extended family.

The plan was to stay a short while, gather my strength, untangle my frayed thoughts, and then depart again—take off. However, I found regaining my wings and “flying” harder than I’d thought. I couldn’t seem to track in any logical way all that I thought was wrong with me. I would have said, even then, that my problems were more mental than physical—at least that’s where the root of the problems lay. The diabetes seemed no different than it had always been, while the hurt I felt came from deep inside and was unrelenting. In fact, it did seem I suffered some sickness of the soul. In my recent past, yet one more love affair had ended without much explanation or fanfare from the mister. Because I’d thought our relationship was the “real thing,” I was shattered. And what did I do? I just kept going over the pieces. Over and over. Over and over.

Immediately afterward, though still far away from the Midwest, I’d somehow gotten what I thought might turn into a decent job. Indeed, the job had seemed to sort of fall into my lap, and so I’d tried to struggle up and on out of my “abandonment on the desert.” This kind of relationship mess had become a pattern with me, right? I must be the kind of woman who was professionally capable and on-track, even if forever a failure in my private life. Lo and behold with my new job, though, I was just a poor, young thing jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. That is, if there is a God, I hope that I will never again be made to work with very rich, but very disillusioned and cynical people grasping at wealth and power. Perhaps the keys to wealth in our country include being narcissistic and self-centered, as well as practicing the abuse and misuse of other people.

However, I didn’t enjoy my new job or learn much, other than I sensed that use and misuse of myself was definitely wrong, and no, I did not want to do the same to others. Thank you very much. I left the job, and though I gave notice so as not to leave others in the lurch, I left with no money and no prospects. I just felt I absolutely had to simplify my life and not learn to be “a success,” if being a success meant the use of manipulation and meanness.

Morally correct or not, I went home. Now I see it as the time I really began to consider the meaning of “goodness” in life. At that particular time, at only about thirty years old, I did feel that I had somehow failed—failed on all fronts. My life’s goods were literally scattered across the country, practically from here to kingdom come; my dog was an orphan that awaited retrieval; and my life was a mess, as I couldn’t think of where to begin again or which way to turn. How does one do that when she has so obviously gone awry? I remember having the vision of myself over and over again, sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying to sort out a large jumble of threads that did not seem to lead anywhere or make up any comprehensible shape at all. I literally could not unsort or make sense of the threads of my life so far. No thread seemed to lead anywhere; I had no path.

I suddenly had no future. At least I couldn’t see one I wanted, anyway. Not that “wanting” is a good word for what I felt. My mind, all my ways for coping and becoming, had simply failed; I longed for comfort, but knew not where to turn or how to begin. I simply ached for “meaning” again. Direction. Was there a purpose to life, my life, any life?

Family and old friends, new acquaintances were supportive during this time that I was at a complete loss for words. Finally, with the help of a supportive if temporary boss, I found a permanent job. People said it would turn into a good job, though all accomplishment at that time seemed empty to me, simply a way to make money. And not a lot of it, at that. However, at least I could begin to support myself as the pay got better, and so I tried to piece together some sort of life. That is, I showed up at work every day, though nights were down the rabbit hole—or spent in darkness. Still, with friends far away and family members busy with their own lives, as they should have been, I was also lonely. Ever so alone. I just couldn’t seem to make “a connection” between myself and anything else.

Of all things, I went to church. I think I thought that at least I’d meet good people there, maybe even good men. I did. I have to say, church helped, not because of God-talk, as I didn’t attend that sort of church, but at least I found a good minister to talk with over new future possibilities, and I could take part in more interesting group activities, and more importantly to my self-esteem, I could even help others as they passed through life, trying to work out their problems. At least I found I was not totally alone in this regard. I guess it was important to believe that if I hadn’t yet found the personal or professional success I’d strived for, I at least had something to offer, didn’t I? I was reorganizing my basis for self-respect and self-esteem. I even tried taking on leadership roles in the church and in community organizations.

I can see now that I’d arrived back at a point, a way I’d once believed in as a child. Being good mattered in the world, didn’t it? Being good, not just rich? Being a good person was an important goal, no matter the things that didn’t necessarily come with that achievement. Also, being a good person while in any type of relationship, work or no, had to matter to bring meaning to that relationship, didn’t it? At least, I’d started to write and speak publicly again. I thought if I persisted, I might one day feel happy and fulfilled again. Excited about each new day, rather than trying not to notice the persistent absence of joy in my life.

Men didn’t seem to be working out at all anymore. I think after one feels love, even if it proves an illusion, dating just doesn’t quite “hack it” anymore. My job was difficult, and I worked with difficult people. But my new spiritual attitude of getting along for the sake of “the whole” helped. There was even a time when I felt motivated again, because I could incorporate certain social causes into my work. I could work toward equal representation within textbooks to enhance the ways of youth, and I still feel I did well on that. I am a woman who believed in equal rights and threw energy that way too, though of course, the Equal Rights Amendment failed. I agree with the many others who said it failed, because women were just so naïve. Stupid to be idealistic is the message that too often comes across in public or professional life, and it seemed, so many of us then, not just me, were “stupid,” meaning we were just women outside the political process, worker bees as opposed to political strategists. Wage slaves. Our words meant nothing, and no, we could not change or add to the wording of the Constitution. Who did we think we were?

Meanwhile, I couldn’t seem to get paid enough to start school again or start a whole new profession, so I settled for making enough to get settled and start helping my family of origin. Also, I could finally start seeing a doctor now and then. Not that I had ever liked doctors, but I did need prescriptions after all. At first, I tried clinics, but they actually called me at work to ask for more on the bill. (I paid what I could a month). Then I ran into a couple of “women doctors” (no, I’d never had one before) who actually expressed concern about my health, and guess what? I dropped some of the defenses and responded. These doctors seemed more on the compassionate side, as opposed to being controlling. I don’t remember them telling me what to do, so much as offering services and seeing what I was “up for.” By then, I had moved in my life beyond the attitude of “I don’t need any help, thank you.” With help, I had moved into listening, thinking about alternatives, and finding the strength to try again. I just had to get past not only rebellion, but trust issues. Also, I had to move past anger, over what I understand now was such a lot of original hurt. Hurt about my not being whole, hurt about disillusionment in love, and hurt from not being recognized for good work done.

Actually, even physically, I’d begun to hurt some. I felt as if my body, my bluff, my smiling outside, any confidence I could muster on a day-to-day basis was simply a veneer. I had been made of paper-mache, breakable or easy to poke holes in. Just Humpty Dumpty put back together again, but with so many cracks. Life seemed such a struggle. However, at this low time in my life, I’d evidently reached a point at which I could stop simply hitting a wall and falling down. Rather, I learned the way was to chip away at it, gain new understandings, and lo and behold, tie my mind, my spirits, and my body together. Lo and behold, medical personnel and myself began to see eye-to-eye. Together, we shone light into that darkness I was feeling within.

After a number of doctor appointments, one doctor did finally think to test my thyroid. I honestly remember how happy I was to discover that something was indeed wrong with it! My minister was stunned at the time, not having seen anyone express happiness at taking a medication for the rest of one’s life. Of course, I was already on medication for the rest of my life and up to more than one shot a day, so I was glad to learn that the dark emotions that had so often felt dropped over me were not just in my mind. Even a medical tech, one who’d done my X-ray work, called my new thyroid medication “happy pills”—and indeed, they were. Suddenly I had some energy, and I could put a part of it back into this world I lived in. When I was given good things, I could try to give back without feeling so empty. Once again, I hoped I’d feel fulfilled one day. Still wary of joy, I at least tried again. Also, when I laughed, more of my laughter came from deep inside.

With my new doctors, my diabetes care had gotten better also. Still, Type 1 diabetes so often seems uncontrollable. In addition, I had to have a frozen shoulder fixed, my father died, my mother aged, and once again, I had no money for a new career. However, at least I’d published some writing by then. Where my job was concerned, I learned to withdraw from the fray some. That is, if people wanted to fight in the hall—let them. Stop trying to be the peacemaker. Where volunteer work was concerned, I also finally learned to draw boundaries and to say no when I could—so I could suffer less pressure and hurt. I evidently empathized with the downtrodden and wanted a better world a bit too much. That is, I’d always been told I was “too nice,” and evidently I was. Your pain was my pain. Such a sensitive being, I say I learned how to say no, and then I met my husband and learned to say yes.

I can hardly begin to tell you how difficult it was to talk myself into the use of an insulin pump. I didn’t like the idea of being “hooked to” something for the rest of my life. After all, if nothing else, I was newly married and sexually active. What if my husband found me less attractive? But all the good news I read and heard about the pump’s improving control was encouraging, and talking to friends who used a wheelchair, put things in perspective, so I took the plunge.

I’d like to say I took to the plunge bravely, but I was pretty timid. Of course, I didn’t want to take all the shots the doctors were now telling me to take per day, but the syringe was still the devil I knew. Then there was the bruising from my first efforts with the pump, and again, no wonder the dismay diabetics have, the feeling of–why all this sticking of needles into one? Is there no other way? Why did medicine have to work this way? Furthermore, the needle to insert the catheter once again had to go into my stomach, no less. No wonder I’d turned into an apple and not a pear! (Too much insulin use at a site leaves fatty deposits.) Still, my control did get better, and so did my attitude. Life was still hard and I had too much to do, but I felt better, didn’t I? I thought I did feel better. Such a cautious girl I’d become.

I do not want to minimize depression as a chemical imbalance here. Evidently, it has only recently been discovered that any chronic disease may very well also bless the victim with the all too real disease of depression. In fact, I learned a great deal when I taught a writing course at one of the local cancer centers. The course on Writing Toward Wellness helped this teacher too, and furthermore, when she talked to patients and counselors about chronic illness, diagnosis, fear, and difficult treatments, and then she luckily talked with her primary care doctor (a man, no less), she discovered there is an answer.

Recent science has found that there is a physical state of the brain, and furthermore, a mixture of hormones and physical problems, not to mention a lack of certain enzymes and nutrients, that can affect the brain’s chemical balance. The problem is a lack of serotonin, which I’d read many articles about long ago and had long felt I lacked. Now, I’m glad to say that though I wear an insulin pump and take a good many medications a day, I honestly feel so much better. An improved mental and physical state happened almost immediately after yet another prescription—three days, the same time it took another to walk from the grave, and that return from death had to be something like what my recovery felt like. The threatening, encroaching darkness simply disappeared. Or better yet, when depression appeared after that, I stood a fighting chance of keeping it at bay.

Since those days, I have often called depression a feeling of death within life. To me, it came as a crystal sadness, one I could never completely get away from, resulting in tears, tears, too many tears, as all came to naught. I know in many people, and sometimes in myself, it manifests itself as bitter anger—anger out of frustration that nothing can be done as to what the person is up against. Nothing can ever be done against whatever is presenting itself as “the enemy.” And when did I first feel that? Against what enemy? Diabetes, I know now. Also though, I think some sort of emotional groove is often worn into someone’s brain then when faced with situation one can’t change. The emotions go straight to frustration and fury. Now, in relation to diabetes, I am most angry at the healthcare system, an unfair, piecemeal, and expensive structure of care, with which I must always deal. At any rate, I think so much has happened to me since I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and I repressed so much over the years, only in adulthood, has it all began to surface. Psychologically speaking, it began to surface as I grew older, safer, and more secure within myself.

I did, however, begin to learn in early adulthood, thanks to the women’s movement, that anger is okay as long as one tries to do something positive with it. And so over the years, I have come more and more to that behavior—when and if something can be done. While attending a convention in Chicago to learn more about the pump, I experienced a feeling I’d never had in relation to diabetes in my entire life. There we sat, a large number of spectators watching videos about research in England, Europe, and France—research that outstripped much in the United States, evidently. I honestly felt a “wave” go through my body, a wave of hope. The feeling was such a shock to me, because I realized that I’d never felt hope before in relation to diabetes. Up to that point, in fact, I hadn’t really felt that emotion in relation to many aspects of my life. I felt it then though. Would there, could there actually one day be a cure?

In my life sentence, I’d adopted the attitude I’ve heard that lifers in prison often use—don’t think about the outside. Don’t even think about freedom. Now a decade or so later, I’m still sad to report, that there’s still no cure. Still I try to believe that “The reward of a good life is a good life,” as I’ve heard more than one person say. After years of suppression and repression, which perhaps I needed to survive, I am trying to regain what I had as a child. I had faith then, and I lost it along the way for so many reasons. Now, after fifty whole years plus of diabetes, I celebrate happy birthdays, and I work to re-internalize what I feel were once the values of my childhood faith.

I also work to believe that a cure for Type 1 diabetes, and in fact for all types of diabetes, is out there. After all, what compassionate or just scientific source would deny such a revelation? Why, the cure is simply waiting to be found—and so which lucky scientist, healer, or helper will find it? I, for one, am calling on all of you out there. The rest of us are ready to move on. The answer is coming, and faith in that will set me free. If I die before a cure, I invite you all to remember—I’ve just reached another “crossing over” in my life, and I’m on the other side, walking free.