Does anyone remember that funny musical theme for the “Hee-Haw” show? A group of us who sing together, adapted it a bit for a 4-H leaders’ program, and had such a good time. This a fine example of changing one’s attitude; gloom and despair vanish as laughter takes over. Of course there is much today that is so overwhelmingly painful and abysmal, that laughter seems almost an insensitive thing to promote. But without humor, we would find life dull and colorless. The Bible tells us that “a merry heart doeth good, like medicine” and Horace suggests: “Mingle some brief folly with your wisdom.” We need humor to dilute, just a bit, all of the frustration, grief and sadness.
Earlier in August we were fortunate to visit with family from afar. Several stayed with us for a few days and, as Lewis Carroll’s poem** suggests: “we talked of many things ….of shoes--- and ships--- and sealing wax --- and cabbages --- and kings ---- and why the sea is boiling hot ---- and whether pigs have wings.”* We rejoiced in our grandchildren, shared how we deal with problems of aging, spoke of what a frightful world it often is and how weary we get of intentional stupidity and lack of concern. We admitted to each other that some days staying in bed seems a great escape. We also, in our reminiscing, found laughter and new energy for moving ahead. I have, on occasion, been impacted by depression. And because autumn has sometimes been a difficult season, I try to think ahead. Experience and a good therapist have, together, given me some coping mechanisms, for usually it is my perspective that needs to change, not the situations.
The human brain is a marvelous creation that has, so far, managed to keep doctors, scientists and philosophers from understanding how it works. We need far more research into mental ailments of all kinds, including depression, which negatively affects so many people. We also need to stop fearing and treating those who suffer from it, as pariahs. Admitting the problem and finding treatment shows far more wisdom and results in better health, than living in denial.
As a lay person, I’ve observed at least four sorts of depression. There is serious and deep depression usually requiring medication and some in-patient treatment. There’s the Eeyore kind, where one is always sort of depressed and looks at life through perennially dark glasses. This person thinks of the glass as not only half-empty but wonders why bother to fill it at all; it’ll just get empty again. Then there is situational depression; caused by long-term stress, deep trauma, or the death of someone we cherish. And then the kind I have experienced: chronic depression ---- it happens more than once, it comes for no discernible reason and, thankfully, eventually goes. Of course we all have the occasional bad days; when the world seems too much; when one feels like saying along with Sir Walter A. Raleigh***: “I wish I loved the Human Race; I wish I loved its silly face; I wish I liked the way it walks; I wish I liked the way it talks; And when I’m introduced to one, I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!” For this I just turn off the news and have a cup of tea!
Doctors blame depression on many things, from chemical/hormonal imbalances to diet to emotional trauma. But the therapist who worked with me admitted, when I asked, that doctors really don’t know; they make assumptions and try medications and therapy to address those assumptions. What works for one person may not work for another. So I’ve developed my own “first aid kit” to address times when depression seems to be sneaking into my life. It is so important to be alert. Depression can creep in “on little cat feet” as Carl Sandburg aptly refers to fog --- and suddenly, the mind is foggy. When putting one’s head beneath the pillow seems the only choice, or there’s a daily “who cares?” attitude, it is time to pull out the “kit” before the depressive virus rages on. Addressing treatment early is crucial. These assists have, in my recent history, helped me to escape the clutches of any long-term attacks of gloom and despair:
- Get outside more often. Walking in a quiet, leafy place is super good medicine. Even trudging through snow banks helps. And along with fresh air --- enough exercise to get the blood flowing and the joints and muscles working together. It sometimes takes incredible effort to get outside, but I always feel better.
- Because I’m a reader, I go to the bookcase and look until a book jumps out at me (metaphorically speaking) and find it is just what I need. Some people view this as slightly absurd ---- but it works for me.
- I read the Psalms (middle of the Bible). If David managed all those horrendous problems, surely I can trust that same help in facing what is making me unhappy.
- I put on good music more often. Music changes the patterns in the brain and reduces jangling from the outside world. And even better if I can sing with friends.
- I try to be more patient with myself and eliminate time pressures. The world will continue to turn even if I say “No”, astounding as that seems. ☺
- Depending on the depth of the depression, getting out with people, or helping someone else may diminish the darkness, especially if there is laughter, caring and a sense that what one does makes a difference.
- If the depression continues unabated for many days, it is probably time to visit a therapist or get a doctor’s referral. Talking with someone who is neutral and trained to listen is the greatest of help.
- Medication is my last resort, although sometimes it can be quite necessary. I didn’t care for the rather numbed feelings that came with an SSRI. But that’s my reaction; not everyone would experience the same thing. It is important to remember that depression can become a fatal disease if left untreated. I do take some OTC supplements that seem to help.
- Being without a current therapist, due to retirement, I ask myself, “What would ____ suggest?” Having seen two or three therapists over the years, the last one being the best, I can quite imagine him saying, “Have you considered……. Or how did you feel..........?” “And about those to-do lists…” This expands my thinking.
- Probably the most useful thing is to try to look at the situation with different eyes; a changed perspective. We are quick to label something “good” or “bad” without assessing the up and down sides of the issue. This is why some of us like to move the furniture occasionally; it gives us a new view of the same old things. If we can repurpose and reframe household goods, surely we can re-view and re-frame life.
Now making a cosmic jump to a happier subject, our 54th wedding anniversary is approaching. We were married Labor Day weekend, two months after I graduated from college. And having the wedding that weekend meant Kerm’s early departure from the NYS Fair, which was, of course, traumatic. A Cooperative Extension agent just doesn’t leave a Fair in the middle! I think the Fair survived, but…………. When we think back, and are reminded of this event by family and friends who made the most of their prankish propensities, it doesn’t seem so long ago. And it always brings a smile to our faces when we recall that memorable time.
During difficult days, it is helpful to remember that while we may not live in total happiness with every circumstance, we are meant to live in real joy as a whole. “The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!”**** Take JOY!
*Horace – Roman lyric poet, satirist and critic; wrote while Augustus was emperor.
**Lewis Carroll –1832-1898. English writer, mathematician, Anglican Deacon, photographer. Lewis Carroll was a pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Verses came from “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass.
***Sir Walter A. Raleigh – Trinidad-born Nobel laureate. Writer of precise and lyrical language. Personally brittle and a misanthrope (which the quote suggests).
****Fra Giovanni –1433-1515. Italian friar, architect, archaeologist and classical scholar.