Sunday, March 02, 2008

In the quiet morning

For every person who says "just think positive", there are several who are forced by that reaction to struggle alone with a debilitating illness. For each one who interrupts to tell a story that begins with "I know what you're going through", there are hundreds who actually are going through it, silently, in the isolated waste of wakeful nights.

Someone who's clinically depressed can no more "snap out of it" than a diabetic can snap out of an insulin imbalance. He or she needs treatment from a real doctor, with real medicines and real medical insurance to pay for it.

But the problem with this condition is that it has no special Latin names. The symptoms sound like something everyone has felt at some time. There are no degrees to distinguish sadness about broken crockery from the sadness that begins deep in the bones and inexorably overwhelms every faculty until it kills you, sometimes literally.

It is a terrible cancer of the mind, but when you talk about it, you just sound like you might be having a bad hair day.

To make things worse, it has become a sort of "disease du jour", being diagnosed with the trigger-happiness of an eight year old with a water pistol. It is entirely normal to be depressed at the loss of a person, a marriage or a job. Time will heal these. It is natural to be very stressed out if you've been working long hours to meet a deadline. A good night's sleep and a meal with friends will sort this out. Turning that sort of thing into a "mood disorder" is not helping the people who actual have one.

As usual I discovered another Internet underworld through an accident with a keyboard and a search engine. There are hundreds of blogs written by sufferers of clinical depression. But unlike other bloggers, they don't write to be read. Most of them have been too long in their darkness and they seem to be writing as a healthier option to talking aloud to themselves.

Occasionally, there's a terrifying one, the terminal disorientation of a wanderer who has been too long lost, desperately needing rescue but too far to reach: "…suicide is …kind of like a favorite song… constantly playing in the back of your mind.... I can walk around all day not really concentrating on it, but knowing that it is just below the surface."

Sometimes there's one that's fighting: "For now, tired, too anxious about… entire situation to write more. Tomorrow I plan to come home with my shield or on it…"

Many are gravely ill rather than desperately urgent, like this policeman: "…the secrets and the shame of falling short of duty and honor in your own eyes until your heart and soul have nothing left and nowhere to go.

And this person's acceptance: "I have a sense of being invisible to the fates, unmarked by fortune – ill or good. So I unravel by myself, wind it tight on my own and then wait for it to happen all over again."

But they all have one thing in common: they're alone in the knowledge that even the most sensitive friend or relative cannot really enter into their fears. And they understand it's hard to believe in a serious illness that doesn't show up on an MRI, EEG or X-ray.

Yes, there's no report with incomprehensible decimal places indicating deficiencies that could be corrected with a saline drip. The doctor doesn't wear a stethoscope. But I think it could be given an unpronounceable name. That would at least give the sufferers a weapon against the platitudinal and the me-too criminals.

In the Quiet Morning, Joan Baez, Album: Come From the Shadows, 1972

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