Depression, Writing, and What Comes Next

“Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

from “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” by Bruce Coburn

When I go months between posts, you can safely bet that it’s because I’m going through what my therapist calls a “depressive episode.”  If you’ve read my post about how depression affects me, you already know how hard it is for me to shower or brush my teeth.  At some point, I’ll get these things done, but the one thing that I absolutely cannot do when I’m depressed is write.  I can function at work and do the technical writing there, but creative writing is a bust.  I just can’t do it.  You know the line from the Snickers commercials that says, “you’re not you when you’re hungry”?  I’m not me when I can’t write.  So during this time there was no working on the book, no posting on the blog.  Nothing.

This episode lasted fairly long, most of the summer.  I had finally started coming up out of it when I heard the news that Robin Williams had killed himself.  I immediately thought what I’m sure a lot of us struggling with depression thought:  “If the funniest man on earth can’t make it, how in the world can I?”  My answer to that was to sink back down into the abyss.   This time, unlike over the summer, I caught it early.  I knew what was happening, I knew why it was happening, and I kicked and screamed until I broke the surface again a couple of weeks or so ago.  Or, to put it less dramatically, I made myself get out of bed every morning, go to work, do fun things with Ginger, reminded myself that I knew how and had the tools to help myself come back up for air.  Now, here I am until the next episode hits, and then I’ll fight the good fight all over again.  And I will win one more time.

Let’s catch up.  I’ve already told you all about the book.  I may change the title because it’s a big mouthful and also I don’t think it quite lets the reader know exactly what the book is about.  That’s where the book stands.  While working on the book, I thought it turned into a play.  When I was at work today writing all about the joys and heartaches of using Piping Support System software, the play felt like it turned into a chapbook of poems.  That’s when it hit me.  My writing isn’t morphing.  I’ve really got three separate pieces going on here.

The book, for those of you who haven’t read that blog post yet, is about my mom and her Alzheimer’s disease and me and my depression.  The play, for now titled The Session, is about a rape survivor who confronts the psychologist/therapist whose testimony convinced the jury that the rapist didn’t commit the crime.  I don’t want to say more about it because there are twists and turns and I don’t want to give anything away.  The book of poems is tentatively titled Dreams of Life on Another Shore.  I have no clue what the commonality between the poems and, thus, the subject of the book is, but I’ve already started on the first poem.  Right now, I’m thinking that the book of poems will come first and get priority.

So that’s where things stand now.  I’m bathing, brushing my teeth, and writing.  Life is good, at least until the next time the black dog of depression comes to bite me in the butt.  But for now, it’s all sunshine and lollipops.  These are the days I treasure most.

About that Book

I don’t usually talk about things that I’m writing.  I’m not superstitious or paranoid about doing it.  I just don’t like discussing a writing project until I’ve completed the first draft.  I prefer to keep it to myself for a little while.  But one of the things I plan to use this blog for is to help me as I work on my book, so from time to time I’ll give an update or tell what I’m doing or maybe even share a paragraph or two.  In this post, I’m giving a few details about the book.  This is a “first” for me, so I’m kind of nervous about doing it, but I think it will be okay.

The thing about writing a book is that you can call it whatever title you want and make all the plans you want and then if you’re lucky enough to have the book published, an editor will come along and change everything.  However, these are my thoughts so far, pre-editor.

The title is “Goodbye, Pride: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey into the Dark Mind.”  I know.  What a mouthful.  That will most likely be changed for me, no doubt, but it’s what I’m working with now.  I’m writing the book in parallel about my deceased mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease and my ongoing journey with clinical depression.  What I know for sure about what Alzheimer’s and depression have in common–besides what they do to your mind–is that you kiss your pride goodbye.  Both rip what pride there is right out of you.  When you can’t remember how to eat or how to use a toilet, or you’re walking on top of your furniture because you just can’t put your feet on the floor, you’ve pretty well lost your pride.  I’m writing about how we came to our mental illnesses, how they were diagnosed, treatments, and so on.  That’s mostly the clinical stuff.  But what I’m also writing about is the personal side of Alzheimer’s and depression, and how they affect your life, particularly the “everyday” stuff.

While being with Mom and helping to take care of her as she traveled her road, there were times when something she did would give me a little insight into myself and my depression.  For example, I went to the nursing home one afternoon to find Mom literally tearing little chunks of flesh out of her arms and throwing them on the floor.  (The nurse had already been summoned and was there a few seconds after I arrived.)  There was blood running down both arms, on her hands, and under her fingernails.  I saw that and was sick to the point of repulsion.  For just a moment, I wanted nothing to do with this hideous sight or the person causing it.  But then it hit me: how was what she was doing any different than what I was doing to myself on a regular basis?  I self-mutilated and was doing so throughout Mom’s illness (and before and after, for a while).  How was her action any different than my taking a knife and making cuts on my body?  That was a major “ah-ha” moment for me.  (Before anyone worries, the last time I cut myself was over 2 years ago and I know I will never do it again.  A good therapist, “ah-ha” moments, and wanting to get better can work wonders.)

So, that’s about the gist of it.  I’ll be making changes as I get farther into it, I’m sure, especially while I’m doing some family research for the book.  One thing I won’t change or won’t let an editor change is the book’s dedication.  It goes like this:

For my mother,

Ella Mae Burke Perkins

(October 15, 1931 – August 23, 2008)

and my sister,

Judy Mae Perkins Wedding

(May 19, 1950 – October 24, 2007)

who always wanted me to write

a book about our family.