I know things are getting bad when I start losing concentration. When things like the phone ringing, emails or even people asking me how my day is going start making my head spin in a fit of rage. Relationships during the brighter periods become entanglements I need to extricate myself from. Sleep becomes an obsession.
It becomes apparent in my writing when the prose becomes dull or flat. When I speak, I screw up word order and often substitute one homophone for another. Eventually, I'll have a hard time reminding myself to pay bills, wash, even eat.
I've crashed pretty badly four times in my life, the last being two years back at around this time. It was maybe 1/2 a year ago that I was convinced to try medicine. The stuff has had a pretty good effect thus far but I'm scared to death of it.
Having it Out with Melancholy
"If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure."
-A P Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard
1 FROM THE NURSERY
When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.
And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad -- even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.
You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated."
I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours -- the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.
Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.
3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND
You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.
Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep's
frail wicker coracle.
5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT
Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.
I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors -- those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few
moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.
Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.
6 IN AND OUT
The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.
Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .
A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.
Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.
Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can't
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can't sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can't read, or call
for an appointment for help.
There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.
9 WOOD THRUSH
High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome
by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.
This probably is the best description of the pain or lack of feeling and eventual rejeuvenation I've seen since Millay's Renascence. Actually, this might be better, as it addresses the cyclical nature of the sickness, the momentary well-being tempered by the ever-present fear of the slipping into that other awful, awful world. (I also love the image of the wood thrush in the last verse; it reminds me of the chickadee who brought me back to the world of the living years ago.)
I guess right now I feel myself slipping and am trying to figure out how to shore myself up. I have so much that needs to be done but am getting so tired again. The meds aren't meant to be a cure, I don't think. They just help the symptoms. The illness is something that needs to be lived with. I need to figure out how to either expand the good periods or reduce the depth/length of the bad periods. How, though?