What is like to be depressed

I reaped a bitter harvest from my own refusal to take lithium on a consistent basis. A floridly psychotic mania was followed, inevitably, by a long and lacerating, black, suicidal depression; it lasted more than a year and a half. From the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed at night, I was unbearably miserable and seemingly incapable of any kind of joy or enthusiasm. Everything—every thought, word, movement—was an effort. Everything that once was sparkling now was flat. I seemed to myself to be dull, boring, inadequate, thick brained, unlit, unresponsive, chill skinned, bloodless, and sparrow drab. I doubted, completely, my ability to do anything well. It seemed as though my mind had slowed down and burned out to the point of being virtually useless. The wretched, convoluted, and pathetically confused mass of gray worked only well enough to torment me with a dreary litany of my inadequacies and shortcomings in character, and to taunt me with the total, the desperate, hopelessness of it all. What is the point in going on like this? I would ask myself. Others would say to me, “It is only temporary, it will pass, you will get over it,” but of course they had no idea how I felt, although they were certain that they did. Over and over and over I would say to myself, If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living?

The morbidity of my mind was astonishing: Death and its kin were constant companions. I saw Death everywhere, and I saw winding sheets and toe tags and body bags in my mind’s eye. Everything was a reminder that everything ended at the charnel house. My memory always took the black line of the mind’s underground system; thoughts would go from one tormented moment of my past to the next. Each stop along the way was worse than the preceding one. And, always, everything was an effort. Washing my hair took hours to do, and it drained me for hours afterward; filling the ice-cube tray was beyond my capacity, and I occasionally slept in the same clothes I had worn during the day because I was too exhausted to undress.

During this time I was seeing my psychiatrist two or three times a week and, finally, again taking lithium on a regular basis. His notes, in addition to keeping track of the medications I was taking—I had briefly taken antidepressants, for example, but they had only made me more dangerously agitated—also recorded the unrelenting, day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, despair, hopelessness, and shame that the depression was causing: “Patient intermittently suicidal. Wishes to jump from the top of hospital stairwell”; “Patient continues to be a significant suicide risk. Hospitalization is totally unacceptable to her and in my view she cannot be held under LPS [the California commitment law]”; “Despairs for the future; fears recurrence and fears having to deal with the fact that she has felt what she has felt”; “Patient feels very embarrassed about feelings she has and takes attitude that regardless of the course of her depression she ‘won’t put up with it’ ”; “Patient reluctant to be with people when depressed because she feels her depression is such an intolerable burden on others”; “Afraid to leave my office. Hasn’t slept in days. Desperate.” At this point there was a brief lull in my depression, only to be followed by its seemingly inevitable, dreadful return: “Patient feels as if she has cracked. Hopeless that depressed feelings have returned.”

At the time, nothing seemed to be working, despite excellent medical care, and I simply wanted to die and be done with it. I resolved to kill myself. I was cold-bloodedly determined not to give any indication of my plans or the state of my mind; I was successful. The only note made by my psychiatrist on the day before I attempted suicide was: “Severely depressed. Very quiet”.

An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison.

What I’ve been watching

J’accuse (2019), by Roman Polanski. Polanski takes the focus away from Dreyfus and puts the light on the army officer who started to unravel the plot; it’s a dull officer conducting a dull investigation presented in a dull way, but I think the director does this on purpose, as a way to highlight, against this background of dullness, the core of the matter —the evil of injustice and the importance of honor. Score: 7.

Inside Man (2006), by Spike Lee. Nothing of value here —a pastiche not very competently made. It’s the kind of film I dislike to see —not too bad to drop but not good enough to watch, so you end up wasting your time. Available on Amazon Prime Video. Score: 5.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939), by Howard Hawks. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know I like films who depict masculinity well, virtues and vices of it all along —and this film does exactly so, in section coping with grief. Plus: a good story perfectly told and played. Plus: Rita Hayworth, of course. Plus: a final sequence that surprises you and give full meaning to the film. Score: 9.

Fitzcarraldo (1982), by Werner Herzog. Sorry guys at the IMDB who so highly regard this film —I couldn’t finish it. Score: 4. Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Walk the Line (2005), by James Mangold. Life-story of Johnny Cash as told by himself in his book Man in Black. Kudos to Joaquim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for his great singing of all the songs in the film (and their acting, too). The problem with this film is —Cash, as depicted here, is neither an interesting character or a likeable one; furthermore, his character isn’t well constructed —it’s somewhat incoherent. Slight spoiler next: stop here —I liked the scene when he at last kills his father, in the Freudian way of course. Watch on Prime Video. Score: 7.

An Honest Liar (2014), by Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein. Watch on Plex for free. Documentary about the life of James ‘The Amazing’ Randi, made possible thanks to a Kickstarter funding. Randi was a believer in truth, and those are precious; he was a giant in courage, intelligence and defiance. Don’t miss the part when Randi’s magicians fool once and again the scientists who are testing them. Score: 8.

Nelyubov (Loveless, 2017), by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Very interesting film, very well made, slow-paced but never boring. It has one of the most shocking, powerful scenes I’ve ever seen, out of the blue. Beautiful cinematography, too. A terrible story, more terrible because so ordinary. Score: 9.0

Can you write more beautifully than this?

SONATINA

La princesa está triste… ¿qué tendrá la princesa?
Los suspiros se escapan de su boca de fresa,
que ha perdido la risa, que ha perdido el color.
La princesa está pálida en su silla de oro,
está mudo el teclado de su clave sonoro
y en un vaso, olvidada, se desmaya una flor.

El jardín puebla el triunfo de los pavos reales.
Parlanchina, la dueña, dice cosas banales,
y vestido de rojo, piruetea el bufón.
La princesa no ríe, la princesa no siente;
la princesa persigue por el ciclo de Oriente
la libélula vaga de una vaga ilusión.

¿Piensa acaso en el príncipe de Golconda o de China,
o en el que ha detenido su carroza argentina
para ver de sus ojos la dulzura de luz,
o en el rey de las islas de las rosas fragantes,
o en el que es soberano de los claros diamantes,
o en el dueño orgulloso de las perlas de Ormuz?

¡Ay!, la pobre princesa de la boca de rosa
quiere ser golondrina, quiere ser mariposa,
tener alas ligeras, bajo el cielo volar;
ir al sol por la escala luminosa de un rayo,
saludar a los lirios con los versos de mayo,
o perderse en el viento sobre el trueno del mar.

Ya no quiere el palacio, ni la rueca de plata,
ni el halcón encantado, ni el bufón escarlata,
ni los cisnes unánimes en el lago de azur.
Y están tristes las flores por la flor de la corte;
los jazmines de Oriente, los nelumbos del Norte,
de Occidente las dalias y las rosas del Sur.

¡Pobrecita princesa de los ojos azules!
¡Está presa en sus oros, está presa en sus tules,
en la jaula de mármol del palacio real;
el palacio soberbio que vigilan los guardas,
que custodian cien negros con sus cien alabardas,
un lebrel que no duerme y un dragón colosal!

¡Oh, quién fuera hipsipila que dejó la crisálida!
(La princesa está triste, la princesa está pálida.)
¡Oh visión adorada de oro, rosa y marfil!
¡Quién volara a la tierra donde un príncipe existe
(la princesa está pálida, la princesa está triste)
más brillante que el alba, más hermoso que Abril!

—¡Calla, calla, princesa —dice el hada madrina—,
en caballo con alas hacia acá se encamina,
en el cinto la espada y en la mano el azor,
el feliz caballero que te adora sin verte,
y que llega de lejos, vencedor de la Muerte,
a encenderte los labios con su beso de amor!

Rubén Darío (1867-1916)

Dear Hillary,

I’ve happened to see two films in a row starring, and being about, those deplorables of yours.

The first one you can see it on Amazon Prime Video, name’s Mud (2012). It’s, in the director’s own words, as if Sam Peckinpah had directed a short story by Mark Twain.

[Twain, of course, is not read in American classrooms anymore. Right so.]

The other one is Marty (1955).

Main character in Mud is the son of a white trash man who reminds me of Loquillo when he sings that of

No vine aquí para hacer amigos
pero sabes que siempre puedes contar conmigo.
Dicen de mí que soy un tanto animal,
pero en el fondo soy un sentimental.
Mi familia no son gente normal;
de otra época y corte moral,
que resuelven sus problemas de forma natural
—¿para qué discutir si puedes pelear?

[Y vive Dios, que escrito está: si te doy mi palabra, no se romperá]

Marty, on the other hand, is not only a butcher but a Catholic, who has nothing better to do on his weekends than search for a woman to marry to. He even tries to force a kiss on her. And he shows no sign of any intersectional conscience altogether.

And is not silly Marty a lot like Horace, as they sing in the song?

MONDAY
Late again today,
he’d be in trouble;
though he’d say he was sorry,
he’d have to hurry out to the bus
.

TUESDAY
Horace was so sad,
he’d never had a girl
that he could care for;
and if he was late once more,
he’d be out.

Chorus:

Don’t be afraid,
just knock on the door.
Well he just stood there mumblin’ and fumblin’,
then a voice from above said:

Horace Wimp, this is your life,
go out and find yourself a wife.
Make a stand and be a man,
and you will have a great life plan
.

WEDNESDAY
Horace met a girl, she was small
and she was veeeery pretty,
he thought he was in love;
he was afraid, oh oh
.

THURSDAY
Asks her for a date,
the café down the street tomorrow evening.
His head was reeling when she said:
Yes, OK
.

FRIDAY
Horace, this is it.
He asks the girl if maybe they could marry.
When she says:
Gladly,
Horace cries
.

SATURDAY
Everybody’s at the church,
when Horace rushes in and says:
Now here comes my wife,
for the rest of my life.
And she did
.

Now go and cancel that.



			

Into the Sun

I was standing with my head back, one pigtail caught between my teeth, listening to the jet overhead. The noise was loud, unusually so, which meant that it was close. My elementary school was near Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington; many of us were pilots’ kids, so the sound was a matter of routine. Being routine, however, didn’t take away from the magic, and I instinctively looked up from the playground to wave. I knew, of course, that the pilot couldn’t see me—I always knew that—just as I knew that even if he could see me the odds were that it wasn’t actually my father. But it was one of those things one did, and anyway I loved any and all excuses just to stare up into the skies. My father, a career Air Force officer, was first and foremost a scientist and only secondarily a pilot. But he loved to fly, and, because he was a meteorologist, both his mind and his soul ended up being in the skies. Like my father, I looked up rather more than I looked out.

When I would say to him that the Navy and the Army were so much older than the Air Force, had so much more tradition and legend, he would say, Yes, that’s true, but the Air Force is the future. Then he would always add: And—we can fly. This statement of creed would occasionally be followed by an enthusiastic rendering of the Air Force song, fragments of which remain with me to this day, nested together, somewhat improbably, with phrases from Christmas carols, early poems, and bits and pieces of the Book of Common Prayer: all having great mood and meaning from childhood, and all still retaining the power to quicken the pulses.

So I would listen and believe and, when I would hear the words “Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” I would think that “wild” and “yonder” were among the most wonderful words I had ever heard; likewise, I would feel the total exhilaration of the phrase “Climbing high, into the sun” and know instinctively that I was a part of those who loved the vastness of the sky.

The noise of the jet had become louder, and I saw the other children in my second-grade class suddenly dart their heads upward. The plane was coming in very low, then it streaked past us, scarcely missing the playground. As we stood there clumped together and absolutely terrified, it flew into the trees, exploding directly in front of us. The ferocity of the crash could be felt and heard in the plane’s awful impact; it also could be seen in the frightening yet terrible lingering loveliness of the flames that followed. Within minutes, it seemed, mothers were pouring onto the playground to reassure children that it was not their fathers; fortunately for my brother and sister and myself, it was not ours either. Over the next few days it became clear, from the release of the young pilot’s final message to the control tower before he died, that he knew he could save his own life by bailing out. He also knew, however, that by doing so he risked that his unaccompanied plane would fall onto the playground and kill those of us who were there.

The dead pilot became a hero, transformed into a scorchingly vivid, completely impossible ideal for what was meant by the concept of duty. It was an impossible ideal, but all the more compelling and haunting because of its very unobtainability. The memory of the crash came back to me many times over the years, as a reminder both of how one aspires after and needs such ideals, and of how killingly difficult it is to achieve them. I never again looked at the sky and saw only vastness and beauty. From that afternoon on I saw that death was also and always there.

Un Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison