MY TENT IS PITCHED INSIDE MY PSYCHE

It’s all I can do to push my fingers up and out of this black hole I’m in, onto the keyboard of my laptop, in order to write this. I’ve been sunk in an unbelievable blackness ever since I got home from my months in the mountains. Whole swaths of whoever I used to be have been lopped off, only a tiny shell of myself remains. I sit here in this chair that has become my entire world. Everything is black and hopeless.

What the hell is going on?

I’m completely crushed by sadness though I have no idea what there is in my life that I could possibly be sad about. I’m unable to reach out to anybody. I’m unable to take a walk. I’m unable to cook myself something good to eat. I can’t sleep. I can hardly move. I sit in this chair and watch episode after episode of a TV series I happened on. It’s about people in a small village and it has become my only reality, my relief. When I’m not watching it I’m numb, empty. Oddly, my heart keeps on beating. Thank goodness there are zillions of episodes of the TV show, I don’t know how I’ll cope when I’ve watched the last one. While I’m watching it I feel that I live there in that village with the characters. I laugh out loud with them, they’re all very funny. I fret and worry with all their disturbances. I cry, sometimes even sob, when things don’t go well for them. When I return to my life, I’m numb, I feel nothing, not even hunger. I sit in this chair and can’t even remember what is in the world beyond it.

I’ve been depressed before, many times. It has always been in reaction to something in my life: a daughter suffering, a marriage ending, a period of feeling too alone and unloved. I can find nothing in my life right now that could account for my state. What the hell is going on?

Writing this is really hard. I can’t think. My mind is weirdly blank. And not only blank, it’s closed off, there are no ways to get in. I try to read and the words have no meaning. Nothing catches my interest, only the lives of the people in my TV village. My body seems to belong to someone else, it doesn’t feel familiar. The only thing that helps, a little, is to keep reminding myself that this will end, it’s time-limited, it won’t go on forever. Maybe it won’t.

FURTHER ALONG
Things are looking up a little now. With great effort I forced myself to take a twenty minute walk and came home feeling like I’d climbed Everest. I forced myself to go down to the tiny farmers’ market where I knew I would run into a lot of people I haven’t seen since last spring before I left on my trip. I was exhausted after ten minutes. But those ten minutes felt like a step towards normalcy. I asked a good friend over for tea. So far I had been communicating with her only via email, so an actual visit was another important step forward. It was wonderful to have her company even though again I was exhausted afterwards. I feel weird around people, as though I’m a cardboard character acting in a strange play. I have no sense of myself, and it’s only the familiar social motions that get me through these encounters. Other people, even my friend, seem to be behind a transparent screen, I can’t quite reach them, we’re not quite in the same universe.

Tea with my friend, the little walk, the farmers’ market – just those three small actions have given me enough hope so now I know it won’t go on forever.

EVEN FURTHER ALONG
Wow! I’ve slept for two nights in a row, what a difference that makes. My good sleep was made possible by my finally getting a steroid shot in my excruciatingly painful shoulder which has been depriving me of any comfortable sleeping position for months. I’ve been trying to keep the pain at bay with ice packs and ointments all this time, and working hard to distract myself from paying any attention to it. Is it possible that this whole depression has been caused by the shoulder pain?

Thinking about that question, I’m now realizing that there has been a subterranean reaction to that pain in my shoulder going on sub rosa. I have had to face the fact that it isn’t going to heal, it’s not going to be like pains in the past, a matter of waiting till it gets all better, because there is just too much damage there in that complex system of bones and muscles. When I put that together with my recent focus, all during my wonderful travels, on coming to a realistic awareness of now being in this new stage of life I’m in, it seems possible that my shoulder may be the canary in the coal mine that has brought my attention to what maybe is the real cause of my depressed state.

I’ve always liked facing things full-on, understanding them. But I’ve been so busy saying hello to Old Age that I totally forgot to say goodbye to the preceding stage. And that previous stage is arguably the longest one of our lives. For me, Middle Age seemed to stretch from about forty to seventy, no other stage in my life has lasted that long. And now it’s over, I’ll never be middle-aged again, I’ll never do all the major things of my life that I did during that period. It’s really over. I think maybe this depression is me finally letting myself mourn the ending of Middle Age. I’ve begun to mourn now with deeper consciousness. I’m letting myself be nostalgic about the woman I used to be, the life I used to have, and it’s filling me with gratitude that I also get to see who I am now in Old Age, to live this extraordinary life I have now.

The other night after my shot I picked up a book and actually wanted to read rather than spend the entire evening in my TV village. I even laughed when I opened the book of essays at random and it turned out to be a piece reviewing 38 double-blind, placebo controlled trials of the major antidepressant medications. There are 25 essays on all sorts of different subjects in that book, what are the chances? I was even momentarily fascinated, a feeling that has been absent from me all these miserable weeks, by one of the surprising findings: when the placebo causes a side effect similar to antidepressant side effects, such as dry mouth, so that the subject feels sure that they are in the antidepressant group, the placebo then is as effective as an antidepressant in relieving symptoms.

I’ve taken more walks, it’s not getting any easier yet but I keep soldiering on. My friend came over for a whole evening and we actually had fun and laughed a lot. I’ve read some more of the essays, none of them was about anything having to do with depression. I’ve cooked some good things to eat, and even called a roofer to come fix the leak that lets in a stream of water right onto the stove whenever it rains, which fortunately for my stove, though nothing else, almost never happens here in Arizona.

My level of hope keeps rising. That TV village is still a crutch, even though there don’t seem to be any side effects, not even dry mouth. Maybe now I’m watching it simply because it’s so good and because I’m addicted.

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