I’ve always loved how you can learn so much about life and yourself, by learning about the lives of others. The power these revelations can have on you, can literally change the course of your life. It’s also amazing to me that what could take you years to discover within yourself in therapy, could take days to discover within the story of someone else. Books allow us a window in to the lives of others, in way like no other.
It was the summer of ’97, I was 17, and Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone had just come out. I had been seeing a counselor at that time because I, myself, was coming a bit undone. I was trying to work through some extraordinarly difficult situations which had set on the doorstep of my life, and my teenaged self was quickly heading down a spiral of deep depression. The funny thing about depression, of course, is that you never realize how depressed you are until you either come out of it, or are able to have one of those momentary revelations that it can’t possibly be healthy to watch movies and cry all night long and sleep until 4pm every day. I did happen to have one of those revelations, after a family friend came to the house and caught me sleeping in the middle of the day.
“Why are you sleeping?”
“I’m just tired today. It’s not like a sleep in every day! [Lie]”
“Why don’t you go to work?”
“I worked all day yesterday! [Lie–I worked for like three hours.] I’m just taking the day off [Lie–I had no plans in store for the week to come, other than to see what films were coming on the indie channel that night so I could plan my evening accordingly.]
“You’re depressed! I used to be depressed. That’s why you sleep all day.”
“I am not! [Lie] I’m just tired [lie], because I worked so long yesterday [lie], and I needed a little me-time [lie].”
Okay, yeah I was depressed. Which is exactly why his accusations pissed me off so much. If there is one thing depressed people don’t like–it’s being told that they are depressed. Most of us like to wallow in our un-diagnosed self-pity and “whoa is me, the world is so awful, and life isn’t worth living” world. We say we don’t, but most of us do. Because depression is familiar territory, even though we know it sucks. We’d rather be live a sucky life than face out deepest fears–usually the fear that we might get hurt again and not know how to handle it. That is, after all, the most common human fear. Well, in my opinion anyhow.
That’s, of course, not to say that depression isn’t serious–because it is. And it can stem from something much more traumatic or life-altering than just a simple case of the blues. But at the end of the day, when the situation is more or less resolved, or at the very least far in the past, and we’re still laying on the couch watching re-runs of “Good Times” and passing the time by counting the routines in our neighborhood: 11am–mailman circles around the block, 12:08 pm –preschoolers get dropped off next door, 3:17pm–that obnoxious kid rolls by on his skateboard on the way home, 5:10–time to microwave a frozen pizza… well, that’s when we know that depression has become our comfort zone.
With all the arguments surrounding if depression should be medicated or not (sometimes yes, sometimes no), people tend to forget the regardless of the medication they may or may not take, or if they feel depression is nothing more than a practical joke of bad genetics–we tend to forget that we do have some say in the matter. We *can* listen to that inner voice–you know that really tiny quiet one in the back of our heads that we try to drown out–that says, “you need help.”
You know, that fleeting moment of clarity when you think, “hmm, it’s probably not healthy to have nachos bel grande and a giant Pepsi for every meal, but for some reason I do not care at all”–that’s when you need to do the exact opposite of what you feel–you NEED to care. Like right then. Immediately. Care, because not caring is exactly what got you sucked into that deep dark hole of depression. And if you can’t care–then find a way to care about the fact that you don’t care before it goes even further. Find someone who can help you figure out how to care again. Make caring about life again you’re only goal in life.
Depression, regardless of it’s cause, can be another way to say, “life has hurt me deeply, so deeply, that I find it too much of an emotional investment to cope and move forward.” Depression is where hope goes to die. When hope is dead, that’s when we find ourselves wondering why we aren’t dead too.
Depression is a liar. (A good one.) And makes a liar out of us. The more power we give to it, the more indifferent we become.
So I start seeing this counselor, because I felt this tugging in me saying it was now or never, and I wasn’t sure so sure that I wanted commit to it being never. I saw this really nice Asian-American girl right out of college–someone I’d probably be friends with, outside of the therapist chair. And, in fact, someone I became friends with in the therapist chair. Which is exactly why therapy there didn’t work. I was never honest with her when she asked me how I was–her adorably flat nose all squished up and brow furrowed, trying to guess my feelings from across the room. Her eyes were kind, sympathetic. She was not much older than myself. I didn’t want to make her feel like she failed me. So I beat around the bush. I was a little depressed [lie–I was uber depressed and it took me three days to mentally prepare the outfit I was going to wear for this outing–which would be my only outing of the entire week.] I was doing a little better I think [lie–I’m pretty sure I was worse, but I was quickly losing perspective on what it meant to be happy, so honestly I couldn’t tell ya]. I was feeling kinda bad yesterday though. *gulp* Feeling a little hopeless, I guess.
I wasn’t feeling, like, suicidal thoughts, though, right? she questioned with hopeful eyes. Gulp. No, I told her. Not really. I mean. No. I guess not. [Lie, lie, lie.] Despite the fact that I would never be the type that wanted to end my life, I couldn’t deny that the constant depression–which had also started to manifest as intense, overwhelming panic attacks leaving me scared to leave my couch, much less my house–had me wondering what exactly I had to look forward to. Besides, I reminded myself, nobody would miss me. Not really. In fact, they’d be better off because I just get in the way. I’d just become a nuisance. A moocher of life. Stealer of oxygen from those who really deserved it; those who had something worthwhile to offer this world.
I kept that part to myself. Wrote it in my journal. Wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to saying the words out loud.
“Okay, well at least you’re not suicidal. So, that’s good.”, she said with relief. Yup. I smiled. She smiled. I gulped. She handed me a prescription for a book that she’d like me to read. It’s new. She thinks it’s really going to help me out a lot. I sighed. She tells me it’s about a girl who goes through a lot in her teenaged years and I could probably really relate. I breathed deeply. Someone I can relate to? Who can tell me how to get out of this funk? And help me find hope again? Happiness, even? If I dare dream of such a thing.
That night I am half-way through the book and this poor girl has literally come undone before my very eyes. Unglued. In a locked psychiatric ward. Insanity seeping into ever part of her young life. Drugs, death, lies, abuse. More and more abuse. Self-destruction. I sobbed my way through the book, which had lead me from my usual spot on the couch, to a new spot on my bed–under the blankets, surrounded by balled up tissues, crunchy with my dried up tears.
I was so angry at my therapist when the book ended. I hated her. I threw the book across the room, and it hit the wall violently.
And then I grew up.
I mean, eventually I did. Like 15 years later or so.
And one day I stumble upon the book at a garage sale, and impetuously grabbed it. It sat on my shelf for months double-dog daring me to read it. Or rather re-read it. I’m older this time, I told myself. I can find the meaning in this time.
So one day, I took a breath, picked the book off the bookshelf, and started reading it. It’s so well written that it’s hard not to feel like I’m in the book, living that life, in that house, in those clothes, in those situations, in those feelings. There’s just enough about her that makes me feel like she gets me. And I get her. And I want to fix her the way I want to fix myself and she wants to destroy me with her story the way she destroys herself. And it’s just this war between me and this character in a book. Fictitious, but so truthful.
As I read it, I bent the cover on the book backwards as I willed her in and out of sticky situations, trying to warn her about what crazy downward spiral her next move was about to send her into. But she never listened. Not once. And then the book was over. And it was awful. And beautiful. And it was, best of all, not my life.
And that’s what I needed to know, even though I wasn’t able to hear it at 17. That life is total shit, unless you do something about it. And that life can shit all over you, but in the end you’re still responsible for your outcome, no matter how much blame you want to allot to other people, places and situations that were unfairly put upon you. No matter how much they deserve your blame.
She’s Come Undone is now one of my favorite books.