spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
Fallen / unpolarized
I have a history of depression. Yet seeing Brian Copeland’s one-man show, The Waiting Period, about how Copeland dealt with his depression-induced desire to die, did not depress me. Though the show is sad, it is also funny and kind. He tells us that his real agenda has been to reach out and say to anyone who is depressed or knows depressed people that depression is an illness. With help, he understood that it was not his fault his life had suffering in it. We applauded, grateful he was willing to tell his story.

From the front row in the darkened theater, I reflected on my own relationship with this illness and on my own story. Doubtless, I had always been depressed, as a little girl, adolescent and young woman. Yet I first felt the full force when I married and had two sons within 19 months of each other before I was 24 years old while trying to graduate from college. Grief and disappointment – self-hate – exhausted me. I had so wanted to be special, someone the high achievers in the family could admire. This no longer seemed possible, at least not in a good way.

When finally, many years later my psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants, I felt life out from under depression. Ah Prozac! For the first time I could draw two complete deep breaths; tension let go of me. But about five years into Prozac, depression returned bringing with it suicidal thoughts. We switched me from Prozac to Paxil.

The nadir came in 1995 when depression really flattened me. After years and years of excelling as a high school journalism teacher and sort of feeling special, I took an illness leave. A student’s accidental death at the hands of another student and the administration’s inept handling of the event had made me too angry to be in the school. I left Southern California to live with my sister and her 16-year-old daughter in Willits, a tiny town two-and-a-half hours by car north of San Francisco. Thinking incorrectly that my sister’s life had something to teach me, I went off my medication. Attempting to fit into the life that worked for my sister, I tried to think and act in ways that didn’t suit me. Nothing I turned my hands to worked for me. I could not get hired by the Willits community newspaper. I did not get cast in a play, a role I believed I could do well. In short, I was at loose ends, lost and purposeless. Depression rose up strong with this feeling of being nothing special. I compared myself with my sister and felt myself even more wanting. I couldn’t breathe.

I could do nothing but trudge through this rural community memorizing Rumi’s poem, “Zero Circle.” Eventually, I got in bed and couldn’t get up. My sister sat a suicide watch with me and helped me to make it back to my psychiatrist in Southern California.

Once again, he put me on an antidepressant, which happened to be Zoloft because that was the sample the salesman had left him. He told me to go back to teaching as soon as possible. So I joined a staff at a year-round inner city high school in Southern California, advising the practically nonexistent newspaper and the yearbook that used three staffs, one for each of the three tracks of students that make up a year-round high school. The job was depressing, but I was not as depressed as I had been with nothing to do. Doing was what I did best to hold off depression, doing and medicating. And actually producing a yearbook was a feat of specialness, especially coupled with preventing the theft of all the cameras and computers.

In 1999 I retired to San Francisco to live upstairs above my son and then daughter-in-law. For a while, a low dose of Sertraline, a Zoloft generic, kept the illness manageable until two years ago, when again depression threatened to pull me under. But rather than increase medication, I turned to meditation and a new therapist. The work has been to befriend this part of myself, a part I have spent a lifetime pushing away. Befriending depression is not easy, and I limit its visits whenever it threatens to overstay its welcome. I have also lightened up considerably on the need to be any more special than anyone else.

So after seeing The Waiting Period and curious about my own current relationship with depression, I took diagnostic tests for the illness featured on various websites. I achieved low marks. Low marks on these tests are very good indeed! Kudos to the two of us. 

JoAnn Damron-Rodriguez
5/6/2013 01:31:59 pm

So much known of a life and yet not known....

Cindy Hodges
5/12/2013 02:34:37 am

Thank you for sharing this brave and deeply personal story. Love you much!

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