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A Sentence and a Word

So, if you haven’t already read Hyperbole and a Half’s absolutely brilliant write-up about severe depression, go forth and read. I’ll wait.

How ’bout that, huh?

I was talking to Kevin about the post (we’re both fans, and have both had our own bouts with depression) and as I was talking, I realized that before I had my particular breakdown, two people had said something to me—two people, one of whom I don’t know, one of whom said one word—and those two people had a profound impact on my experience with depression.

One was good, one was bad.

The first—the good one—was my doctor. When I’d gone in for my checkup after my divorce, when I was getting all the medical stuff done fast before I went off my ex-husband’s insurance, she asked me if I needed antidepressants.

I told her no, that I was fine, because it hadn’t occurred to me that what was happening wasn’t fine, if that makes any sense. Yes, I couldn’t sleep and was sobbing a lot, but I was getting a divorce! I’d moved out! Random sobbing and epic insomnia are normal in that circumstance! It’d be weird if I wasn’t miserable and irrational!

That’s what I was thinking, anyhow. I don’t know how coherently I expressed any of that, but she looked at me over the clipboard and said “Uh-huh. Well, call me if that changes, and we’ll get you started on something right away. It’s a lot easier to start it now than when you’re at the bottom of a hole you can’t get out of.”

I can’t say that this phrase saved my life, because I’ve never had suicidal tendencies (the closest I ever got was a profound hope that the atheists were right and I eventually wouldn’t have to deal with this any more) but it sure as hell saved me a lot of time and grief.

It normalized everything. It made it a medical problem. It still took me awhile to figure out that a lot of things were probably linked to depression (insomnia, say!) but when I finally broke, at some point what I thought was “Oh, hey! I’m at the bottom of that hole she warned me about! I will call my doctor. She will fix it.”

(And may Ganesh give her every blessing known to nurse practitioners, because she handled it like a pro. “Oh, no! Okay…okay…yes, that’d be anxiety.” (I believe I said “Oh! Is that what that is? Neat!” because even in a hole, I am still fundamentally me.) “Now where are you? Let’s find the nearest pharmacy, and I’ll call in what I can over state lines. Come in as soon as you’re back in NC.”)

If she hadn’t said that one sentence, I would have floundered around for ages, trying to do the brain chemistry equivalent of fixing a broken leg through the power of positive thinking. But she did say it and so when I finally realized what was going on—”Hey! This is a nervous breakdown!”—I didn’t go through any of the stages of trying to figure out how you treat that or was it bad enough or whatever, because she had set the stage.

Thank god.

The other person was…well, less helpful. And I don’t know her name and couldn’t pick her out of a line-up, but I still feel a vague bitterness toward her, because when I was newly moved out of my house and away from my garden, I went to a local garden center to ask what I could grow in pots in the shade of a building–real, true, deep dry shade, in permanent shadow.

She curled her lip and said “Plastic.”

I know I tried asking a few questions, and maybe she suggested ivy or something, but it ended quickly and she walked off with the you-are-wasting-my-time air. And I, in innocent despair, believed her and went home and didn’t garden again until I moved in with Kevin.

I know perfectly well WHY I believed her—I was depressed and getting a divorce and leaving one of the cats with him and it made total sense that of course something else I loved was going to be taken from me, because that was just how life was going to be. But I do wish I’d cracked a book open, because, as it happens, she was incredibly wrong.

I mean, jeez, I had flowerpots, I could have done ferns. Impatiens. Sedges. I could have grown moss, if nothing else. If I didn’t feel like watering, there are epimediums and cast iron plant and any number of things. Meehania will grow in a dark closet. (Fine, that’s obscure, I can’t blame her for missing that one. But I could have taken up growing mushrooms, for cryin’ out loud!)

There’s no knowing what road you don’t walk down, of course, but that definitely slowed my recovery. Gardening is what I DO. I say “I’m a gardener,” as often as I say “I’m an artist.” Gardening is where I feel the most like myself. (Art is where I don’t actually notice myself, if that makes any sense.) If I’d been digging around, I think I would have been much more resilient. (And by “resilient” I may mean “would have put grow-lights all over the living room and been living in a jungle” because if that had occurred to me, I expect I would have done it in a heartbeat.)

Plus there’s that one soil bacteria that gives your serotonin levels a boost, which is not to be sneezed at when one is fighting chemical wars inside one’s skull.

So I don’t know. Life is better now and both these things have largely faded, but Hyperbole reminded me. Much like single pieces of corn.

(Mind you, at the time I found duck decoys pretty damn hysterical…)

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

I will say I'm really grateful for that post and this one too. Truly you are both awesome people. I've struggled with anxiety and depression for the majority of my life and probably the most dangerous thing I did was shrugging it off and denying that it was serious. I was basically the equivalent of a functioning alcoholic.

It took me nearly losing my job and a very dark night where I couldn't stop fantasizing about ways to kill myself, before I realized that yes I did had a problem, it was serious and I needed therapy and medicine for it.

Edited at 2013-05-17 01:56 am (UTC)

Its incredible what can have an enduring impact. I had gotten myself into a real state years ago. For me, it was my psychologist drawing a bell curve, then pointing out that I was on the extreme upper end on it and that really, credits were normal, high distinctions were not necessary to my survival and I can give myself permission to relax sometimes. I respond well to graphs.
Its a lesson I forget regularly and need to reinforce, but it's so important.

Edited at 2013-05-17 01:57 am (UTC)

Thank you for being you.

And customer service folk who give one word answers to questions like that probably don't have enough knowledge about the subject they are supposed to help you with.

Edited at 2013-05-17 02:07 am (UTC)

I just planted 3/4th of an onion that had sprouted in the back of the fridge. (I figured I'd eat it when I next wanted onion, then it got behind stuff, and then there were green sprouts!)

So. Yes. Things can grow with no light save that of the fridge. Let's hope the deer don't get it, outside...

I have seen a cut-in-half head of cabbage grow a lump of more cabbage from the flat side.

There are very, very few comics that have spoken to me as deeply as her two comics about depression. This most recent one in particular. I'm glad to see it spreading as far as it has. More people need to know.


Meehania? Ooooooh, and it's native too. Huh now i need to track it down. We have some indian pipe that shows up every spring but with our property we need all the shade tolerant stuff we can find.

There was a time about four years ago when my tiny deck-bound container garden was what kept me going when I was at the bottom of that hole I couldn't get out of, because if I put those plants in in the spring, by God I was going to see them through to the fall. And they needed watering and taking care of, so that was a reason to get out of bed at least once a day. So there was my promise to myself: no suicide until the fall, because the plants needed me. And then by the fall, well, the antidepressants were working, and I at least felt like someone had thrown down a rope and I was working on climbing out of the hole very slowly.

I think about that every time I work in my garden. It's a joy now, but then it was a lifeline. (I am much improved, thanks to better living through chemistry, a lot of counseling, and some changes in life circumstances.)

I think it's probably very lucky that you couldn't pick this woman out of a line-up. If you could identify her, someone would weasel it out of you, and she'd end up with a Viking raid of very strange people wielding rutabagas and plastic roosters on her doorstep in indignation. XD

The thing that hurt me most was a friend writing a long letter out of nowhere about how I could be fine again, I just clearly was not a good enough Christian!

yeah, don't do that.


Sufficiently advanced ignorance is often indistinguishable from malice. -_- I'm very sorry that happened to you.

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Thank you.

I knew I had clinical depression, and I knew that I was bored most of the time with most things. I never connected the two before. Duh.

I haven't had a corn moment myself, but despite the writer saying that nobody gets it, I do, I most certainly do. I can almost share the hilarity of the corn; I understand it, but I cannot explain why it's funny.

One thing that helps me is learning new stuff. Recent studies have shown that our brains are wired to produce endorphins when we learn new things—in other words, our bodies reward us with innate doses of drugs. So I read a lot on all kinds of subjects, from linguistics to raising pigs to the advantages of subsonic handgun rounds to... Well, you get the idea.

One of the things I read recently—actually, a series of things serendipitously read in close sequence—show how DNA and brain research has clearly demonstrated that experiences in life actually changes one's DNA. It has long been known that there are "sleeping" areas of our genetic code that can be turned on by environmental triggers. Now we know the mechanism for how it works. Stimulus X leads to result Y: Being bullied turns on a portion of our DNA that makes us prone to depression. Watching dark, gritty, negative dramas does the same. We change our genetic program by what we expose ourselves to, and by how we think. New Age guru-types have been saying things like this for decades.

The reverse effect is clearly true. I know of cases of people who cured themselves of depression and bipolar disorder through meditation. And there is too much evidence (anecdotal as it may be) of people curing cancer by, say, watching comedies to ignore the implications.

If I had a lawyer, he would probably insist I say that I am not a medical professional, and medication may be helpful and necessary in many cases; that's just common sense, people. But the point is, we are more in control of how we interact with the world than we ever imagined. Well, more than I ever imagined, anyway.

Even though taking steps to improve one's life are within everyone's reach, the bitch with depression is that one just doesn't care. Happy? Not happy? What's the difference? Why should I bother?

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Moss is fucking awesome. I've always dreamed off having an indoor moss garden which is entirely composed of different kinds of moss -- moss covering the ground, moss covering the walls, perhaps even those whiskery mosses curtaining down from the ceiling.

Of course, that's owning, not cultivating. I can't even keep a self-contained terrariumlet alive (although I will actually blame my family for that one IT WASN'T MY FAULTTT).

It makes me sad that a lot of people who've read the HaaH posts on depression are still managing to utterly miss the point.

Awesome column - yours and t'other. I remember being complimented on my (Meaningless, pasted-on) smile and cheerful when things were at their blackest. It was almost funny. And I persuaded myself I couldn't possibly kill myself until my house and affairs were in order (that IS funny), because it would be too embarrassing. And the misery when emotions began to trickle back - sure, it was a good sign, and I knew it, but there are worse things than numb.

You might like the poems of Jane Kenyon--she really knew depression and its edges, and could put it in words you can't forget, like the lines about her dog:

"Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh."

Thank you. And for all my friends I will pass on that description of depression to, thank you from them, too.

Like you the first time I was really in deep and didnt know it, it was a comment from a close friend that gave me the wakeup call. Im still not convinced that the medication actually did anything (except the sleeping tablets, being able to SLEEP made a huge difference to my overall wellbeing) rather than actually being aware of the issue and being able to take steps within myself and my space to work my way out of it.

And my friends were incredibly supportive as well in an empathetic and caring way.

Unfortunately people like the gardening lady just simply exist and its a shame that you hit her and not a rabid gardening fanatic who would have been delighted by the challenge.

Ive lugged pots from address to address for over a decade, Im lucky enuf to have my own place now but I still have a few pots here and there for the special things :)