The first real break of crisp fall air energized me out of my cluttered, warm-weather doldrums. I cleaned out the garage and my closets: out went old clothes, CDs, books, and a stack of magazines … including the old one with Robin Williams on the cover. Sigh.
October is indubitably one of the happiest months of the year: Octoberfest, hunting and football, gorgeous weather for the travel hounds, and Halloween for kids. It’s fun!
Except maybe not so much for everybody. The Christmas decorations started after Labor Day in some of the discount chains portends the moody holidays; some freshmen in college just got dumped by their high-school loves; some didn’t get into a fraternity or sorority; some people are still experiencing divorce, illness, the loss of loved ones, financial stress or unemployment, and no amount of gorgeous weather can ameliorate their days or tortured nights. We’ve almost come to expect the blue meanies in the highly gifted, be it Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ernest Hemingway, William Styron, Vincent Van Gogh, and Mark Rothko — all of whom succumbed to suicide. What about the black moods or the flat anhedonia of the rest of us?
My own world just felt a little shakier. Dr. Ken Timken, my former psychiatrist, died recently after a long and fruitful life. I had not seen him in years, but his wise counsel and profound help in the most distressing times of my life were an island of sanity once upon a time. I never imagined I would end up in a psychiatrist’s office when, at midlife, my life became a Woody Allen movie (without the humor).
Fortunately, I was directed by a wise clergyman to the brilliant mind of this Princeton and Southwestern-trained individual. And of course my first taste of anti-depressants. First with Prozac, later with different drugs and simple, practical verbal feedback, I was able to pull myself together and face being a single mother of teenagers during altered financial circumstances. Life did reshape and move on, but there is no hell like hopelessness. It is ironic that when life goes well, we somehow expect that to be evanescent. Yet if devastation occurs, it can feel like forever.
So there. I’ve taken advantage of some great drugs at various points in my life. Can I still run for office? Probably not. Why is that? It is also slanted that way by the health insurance industry will balk at covering anything that doesn’t bleed or bloat. October is also the month that Obamacare adjustments can be made. High time for antidepressants and psychiatric treatments to get the same coverage as broken bones.
My friend’s daughter’s marriage is on the rocks. She’s started on Effexor but her mother doesn’t want anyone to know. Another friend’s child cannot leave his dorm room to get to class; she’s worried about his black mood but doesn’t want him to take medication lest someone think something is “wrong” with her son.
Another friend’s husband has been flat ever since his job downsized and he suffered a heart attack. His doctor has him on Wellbutrin, but he’s embarrassed.
We rend our garments when celebrities succumb to depression, yet for a huge slice of the population, depression is taboo. We start CaringBridge pages for cancer, but avert our eyes to depression. When negative emotions cause inordinate suffering, there is medical help.
To those who say we’ve become a nation of pill poppers, I say: “Good!” If I have a headache, I take an aspirin. If I have an infection, an antibiotic. If I get allergies, I reach for the antihistamine. Depression is our dirty little secret in the land of opportunity. Almost everyone will succumb at some point in their lives. When the body is in physiologic distress, the synapses that transmit the feel-good endorphins to the brain can shut down. In such cases, an anti-depressant can function like a broncho dilator does to blocked airways. Once mood is restored, an individual can begin coping. They don’t make problems go away, they don’t make anyone “happy,” nor do they work for everybody. To those who find relief purely in exercise, diet, meditation or whatever, good for you — but don’t disparage other avenues.
Faith, hope, love. Sometimes the greatest of these is hope.
Len Bourland can be reached at her blog at lenbourland.com.