It’s been 25 years since hitting bottom and 10 years since a serious depressive episode, but our columnist doesn’t take recovery for granted.
By Micheal Rafferty
Ah, spring! The season of rebirth and renewal, new beginnings, weddings and graduations. The magnolia blossoms are out and the sun is up longer. The Red Sox season is under way along with it perennial promise of hope. It can make a fellow giddy with optimism.
But giddiness is ephemeral and optimism is a fragile thing. For my part, the crescendo of spring has an undercurrent of dread, washing me toward another anniversary of The Worst Day of My Entire Life (So Far).
This year is a bit special. I am marking the 25th anniversary of my Worst Day (So Far). That memorable event took place on June 20, 1992, but it did not start when I got up that morning. It actually started the preceding September when I began a downward spiral that just picked up speed along the way. Nine months. Kind of like a pregnancy—if you are Mia Farrow carrying Rosemary’s baby.
There is a fairly complicated narrative leading up to that due date. By the time the Worst Day arrived, I was convinced that I was a total failure at, well, everything. I was certain that I would be homeless by Christmas, sleeping under bridges. Long story short, I crashed into the bottom of a hole.
As I usually tell it, I stop at this point to say, “And that’s the good news.” When you are at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up, right?
Well, if it is a round hole, you can go in circles. Or you might be able to dig even deeper. That’s why I always include the parenthetical “so far” in describing the experience. The Irish are a skeptical people and we never, ever say that things can’t get any worse.
But that is not what happened to me on The Worst Day of My Entire Life (So Far).
Someone threw a rope down to me. And then that someone told me to climb up the damn rope or else. “Else” meant that she was going to climb down the damn rope and proceed to demonstrate exactly how my day could indeed get worse.
Someone threw a rope down to me. And then that someone told me to climb up the damn rope or else.
That person was my wife. I don’t often say this—it’s another Irish thing, the one about not getting all sentimental—and I have never put it in writing before, but she saved my life that day. Literally. Please don’t tell her I said that.
There was still the chore of climbing up the damn rope, and it was not a smooth climb. Backsliding took place all through the summer and much of the autumn. The milestones seemed incremental. Still, Christmas came and went without me bivouacking under any bridges.
As I said, my usual telling of this story pivots on the point of relativity. If you have hit absolute bottom, I’ll say, then nothing else will seem as bad. There is comfort there and, if that absolute bottom was 25 years ago, there is a measure of resilience to be noted. Celebration, maybe. I might even consider it a kind of survival.
You knew there would be a “but,” right? Surely the “so far” disclaimer tipped you off. For many, depression never really goes away and, yes, things really can get worse.
The difference between my Worst Day and now is that I have learned a few things. I am still learning things. You might be thinking that, after 25 years, I am a slow learner, but there is no final exam in self-awareness.
You might be thinking that, after 25 years, I am a slow learner, but there is no final exam in self-awareness.
I know, for example, that when my heartbeat feels like a race car revved in neutral, then something is not “normal.” I know when my brain is racing even faster than my heart that something needs to slow down.
As of this writing, it has been 10 years since my last serious depression. That statement makes me think of a scene from Deepwater Horizon, the movie about the worst oil well disaster in U.S. history (say it with me now: “so far”). Just as the oil rig is about to blow, we see a sign celebrating “237 days without an accident.”
Clinical depression is a chronic disease. It is important to understand that. If you can count the time since your own hitting bottom in years, not days, you are fortunate. And if you know someone with a damn long rope, you are blessed.
Printed as “Lifelong Learning”, Spring 2017
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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