There are a number of powerful phrases to describe depression, most of them from self-help books or first-person narratives. “Noonday Demon.” “Stubborn Darkness” and “Darkness Visible.” Each of them resonates with me these days—most days, in fact—because I have dysthymia. So, indeed, do two good friends, while others endure their own variations of the Big D.
One of the odd things about depression is that we want others to know that we have it but we also don’t especially want to talk about it—with them or one another. My friend Milton tries Lutheran Therapy on me (“Well just snap out of it, then.”) but most non-depressives wonder what we’re depressed about. My answer—”nothing, actually”—isn’t very satisfying, I understand. But it’s the truth.
My most successful strategy for coping with this stubborn darkness has been writing: letters, research inquiries and the papers that ought to grow from those efforts; stories (fiction or faction), many of which contribute to the story of an imaginary town in Iowa; and my less frequent attempts at poetry. My letters are addressed to individuals; the stories find their way here to the Agincourt blog. The poetry—with only one exception—has been consigned to the trash. But I’m putting the cart before the horse.
If my psychotherapy has been even modestly successful—you’ll be the better judge of that—it may be that I am a visual person. Some of us have an ability to describe abstractions; to render the ineffable in more vivid, familiar terms. I can, for example, actually watch the slow and steady arrival of my depression like the approach of a storm front on the Great Plains. It rolls across my field of vision like rain clouds on their way from Mapleton toward Dilworth. And like the weather, I observe this deliberate phenomenon, in slow motion, with no ability whatsoever to do a thing about it. The shift in temperature and humidity registers on my skin. My eyes dilate. I shiver.
Dysthymia (in case you haven’t looked it up) is a low grade depression that often sets in during the teen years and never leaves. It can be compounded or “double up” with the more normal sort of periodic depression for really spectacular effect. That’s what I’ve been experiencing lately. But while my dysthymia can’t be traced to any particular source, the heaping addition can.
That’s a story that could be shared but for no useful purpose.