It’s a damned heady experience to stand before a door you thought you’d already opened, then open it. The sudden flood of light is magnificent. I’ve just finished binge-reading Johann Hari’s Lost Connections, and I’m still giddy.
It’s a close-up personal examination of depression and anxiety and the way our society deals with such things. It digs in its heels and roars “Fuck, that’s all wrong!” For those who still value the methods of science, the studies and interviews and analyses are meticulously documented. The author asks, “Please look up and read the scientific studies . . . and try to look at them with the same skepticism that I brought to them. Kick the evidence. See if it breaks.” I kicked the tires, then got in, sat down, and revved the engine.
I was massively prone to depression for a long time, and then sometime in my forties I got a handle on it. It went away—for a while. Recently, the Black Dog has come back. I’ve been baffled. Why now? Artistically and economically and emotionally, things are uncommonly good, so why am I revisiting all these high-school tropes, the anxiety attacks and obsessive attention to things that insulate me from being there? Now I may have a clue, or at least a side-street to explore.
The overall thrust of the book is that depressed folk are neither brain-defective nor self-pitying nor weak, and that the socioeconomic world within which they live is much more nuts than they are. Brain chemistry and genetics aren’t irrelevant, but they neither tell the whole story nor provide the sole path to stable ground. Something has to change in the toxic world that surrounds us.
I endured my childhood abuse as something I deserved, being defective in such profound ways. “You don’t know how to love. You have no sense of humor, no voice, no looks. You’ll never get a man: better get a teaching certificate.” Later, when I realized this was abusive, I still somehow felt, “You had it coming, you’re whining, feeling sorry for yourself.” Learning that most abused kids feel they’re to blame didn’t entirely wipe that out.
Then I took a solo trip to the area where I grew up and spontaneously paid a visit to the man whose parents had been our closest neighbors, a farm fifteen minutes down our rural road. After getting some conversational ease, he opened up. “You know, we all saw what was happening to you, but we didn’t have any idea what to do.” That took my breath away. It wasn’t my imagination, I wasn’t exaggerating: someone had seen me.
So now I’m trying to be the one who sees me. In the past year I’ve been part of some well-led medicine circles. I had high hopes, having had universally warm and enlightening experience with entheogens in the past. Now? Damn, it got embarrassing and boring circling back and back and back to howling grief. But Johann Hari was told, while he was almost dying from pesticide poisoning in North Korea and begging for medication to stop the violent retching, “You need your nausea. It is a message. It will tell us what is wrong with you.”
I suspect that my deep grief is telling me that something dark is still down at my core, triggered by something new in my life, and I need to listen. Maybe that’s an apt metaphor for all of us in these days.