Survival 101: Death and Depression

I don’t suffer from depression. I think that perhaps it suffers me. I sat in an old bar, deep below the surface of Downtown LA and I told my friend-who seemed surprised somehow-that I had dealt with it for as long as I could remember. I told her that depression wasn’t a rain cloud, that it’s my best friend. When you turn your shoulder on a sunny day and you see your shadow close in tow, I know what that is for me. Stronger on the sunniest of days. When the light is the brightest. That, is when my “shadow” is the most defined. It never forgets. It never surrenders. It follows. If tangible it would trip my heels. Depression. My-no longer politically correct term-Siamese Twin. So how then, could I possibly do what I consider one of the hardest jobs in the world? How could a girl, who’s first memories and life experiences are mostly sadness, death, and despair, work in an industry that is arguably only comprised of those attributes?

My earliest memory is a nightmare. It’s a cinematic cigarette burn on my brain, but I would swear to you I believe it is real, just as much as you are reading this. A giant ape came down to swoop me up, I screamed and cried out in terror. When I awoke I was in a crib at my grandmother’s house and that’s where the memory stops. Studies say that the earliest we could conceivably recall is three and a half, but I know that my memory was earlier than that as it predates the memories of my great-grandfather’s death at about three and a half. It’s hard not to think that those memories would set the tone for the rest of my life. Fear rather than happiness. Death rather than life. Those are my first impressions on what it meant to be a developing human. And those kind of thoughts would preoccupy my mind for the rest of my childhood and adult life. For instance, I used to ask the other kids on the playground where they thought we all were when the dinosaurs were around. When they didn’t understand that I would go on to explain that many lives had been lived before us, but where were we? The looked at me with such a lack of understanding that they couldn’t even conceive to tell me I was crazy, they just legitimately didn’t understand the complexity of my question. One kid did say, “In our Mom’s tummy.” And, even at six I knew that kid was not too bright. Enjoy  middle management chump. Wherever you are now. But the question still begged. Where were we? Where do we go? And so it’s no wonder that while I still cannot answer these questions that I would still spend my adult life helping others work through this.

My families mostly love me. I say mostly because like any job, there are always a couple of people that are emotionally more difficult to reach, perhaps through no fault other than the grieving process has pulled them farther out than anyone can throw a line to. But I do my best. I think that the last family articulated what it is that I pride myself on the most. While waiting for the guest of honor to arrive to his own funeral, his wife looked at me and thanked me. She said that everyone she spoke to most offered their condolences, but that I was just frank-while kind-and pressed forward. It was never that I wasn’t sad. That I was not sorry. But that I provided a solid strength and comfort by always being there throughout the process. And that, well, I think that is the gift of my “shadow”.

See. When you live your entire life with depression. It’s really not simply living with it. It’s not coping. It’s not forgetting. It’s utilizing it. Depression has been my best friend. When everyone else left, because they couldn’t understand why I saw death and despair. Depression stayed. And depression understood. It knew why I saw the world the way I did. And it held my hand when others recoiled, afraid they’d catch my humanity loathing sickness. And it’s why, or rather how, I can sit in the boiling pot of funeral fever dream, and crack a joke or two-at appropriate times settle down-and hold a human’s hand and say, “Nothing will make this better. But I will help you through.” That is what depression said to me. And that is how I learned to be as an adult.  I think that this is an underrated and overlooked skill. When others remain silent because they do not know what to say, I have never faltered, as it never occurred that there was nothing to say. Because everyday of my life since the age of two has been sadness. Not through any fault of my parents, but because my brain is not wired like yours. My brain has been wrought with self-destruction and I have battled thoughts of suicide my entire life. My entire life. And I come out the other side stronger, in the only way one could be.

I write this, not to make you sad. Not to beg for sympathy. I don’t need it. We-me and my depression-are fine. I write this for every other boy or girl that recognizes what I am saying. That feels that they could at anytime fall victim to Depression. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m like the bartender years deep in AA. Selling alcohol while knowing they can never touch it. My alleged societal thought weakness, in truth makes me stronger. I will not let it take me down. I will recognize its power, but I will never let it bend my knees. Sure, we hold hands. And sometimes when the clouds roll by, there is brief relief from my jailer, and it is only Amber by my side. But I know it’s fleeting, that when the light comes, I only need to turn my eye to see it cast behind me. Unlike Peter Pan, I know my shadow will never escape me. And Wendy need never sew it to my heels because I’ve already sewn it to my heart. But if it gives me the power to ease the hurting of others? Well… Well, maybe those of us who suffer can find the line? The line between martyrdom and suicide. Maybe we can keep holding our depression by the hand, rather than letting it hold us by the throat? Maybe we can use our pain, our coping abilities, to help others who have had the good fortune to escape learning them for longer than us. Maybe the cliché of rain bringing a rainbow, as cheesy at it seems, perfectly describes what we could bring to humanity. It’s just a thought.

Until next time. Much love.

Me. And my Depression.