None of us are alone

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 21, 2014

“..and so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.” ~ Dante
This column originally appeared in the Saluda Signal in 2002, in hopes that it would help shed light on an often dark subject; when we understand something a little more, it both educates and enlightens. Time and time again, I hope to touch you, dear Bulletin reader, with humor, thought and ‘this can happen to any of us’. In the events of the past couple weeks, it seems appropriate to bring these words out again, to remind us all that none of us are alone.
William Styron, the great novelist, called depression ‘despair beyond despair’. To someone who has never suffered the engulfing pain and darkness of the depths of depression, it may be incomprehensible. To those who have suffered an illness that affects millions, yet is misunderstood even in this modern day, it is overwhelming, often beyond expression. Depression goes far beyond the normal ‘blues’ feeling we often get in everyday life. It is comparable to sinking into a deep, dark hole with no light at the end. Like quicksand, it pulls one under slowly and cruelly.
It’s thought that as many as one in 10 Americans suffer from this illness. It does not discriminate to color, creed, sex, age and class. Women tend to be at higher risk than men are. It comes in stages ranging from mild to advanced. It has been proven that artistic types are prone to the disorder. Being a right-brained creative sort, I can personally attest to that fact. Depression has come and gone throughout my life; some was circumstance-related, mostly winter/gray/cold related. Some of my best writing and painting has been done in times of sadness: art saved me, time and time again.
In trying to understand and study the condition, I choose to share my own past struggles; it’s not a fun dance partner. It is painful not to find pleasure in usual joys: gardening, reading, everyday things we should all enjoy. It is not something to be ashamed of – even if not fully understood, there is less stigma attached to it in the past few years, with greater understanding of the condition. It touches us all in some way, whether it affects a family member, friend, a famous person or ourselves.
Stryon, in his memoir of “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” chronicled his depths of depression; listing victims fallen to depression’s roll call: Hart Crane, Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Arshile Gorky, Sylvia Plath, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Primo Levi, Vladimir Mayakovsky – and on and on the sad long list goes. We’ve all heard of the genius of Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Hawthorne, Dostoevski, Poe, Camus, Beethoven, Bach and so on. Doomed to suffer, but so gifted, so creative. And now Robin Williams, a man who made us laugh over a lifetime.
Major depression also seems to occur from diseases or inherited, or occur in people with no family history of mental illness. Psychological triggers: many, if not most people with depression can point to some incident or condition. The life events that often appear in connection with depression are various, but there’s one distinguishing feature that appears in many cases: loss of self-determination, of empowerment, of self-confidence. More profoundly: a loss of self, of the abilities/activities that a person identifies with.
Stereotypically: a man loses the job that had defined him to himself and others, whether that definition was “executive” or “breadwinner”; a woman who had spent her whole life preparing for and living the role of wife, supporter, caretaker, is suddenly left alone by divorce or death. In general, any life change, often caused by events beyond one’s control, which damages the structure that gave life meaning.
Writes Dante of the black struggle to come: “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path.” Said Styron: “For those who have dwelt in depression’s dark wood, and known its inexplicable agony, their return from the abyss is not unlike the ascent of the poet, trudging upward and upward out of hell’s black depths and at last emerging into what he saw as ‘the shining world’.” Often, depression can be conquerable. Treatments include: modern drug therapies, counseling, other medical treatments for severe cases, changes. There is hope.
Styron ends his memoir with Dante’s line of faith: “E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stele,” (“And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”) And may we all do so.
Thank you, dear readers for reading this column; it’s always my goal to make you feel like you’re having a porch swing visit in a small town called Saluda. If you have something of note, feel free to contact me at; or 828-749-1153. You may also visit my website at or find me on facebook.

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