"Day after day
Give me clouds, and rain, and grey,
Give me pain if that's what's real,
It's the price we pay to feel.
The price of love is loss,
But still we pay, we love anyway."
"Light", Next to Normal
It was like I was watching fragmented parts of my own life swirl together into recognizable shapes through a kaleidoscope. The story of a family torn apart by the unexpected and sudden loss of a loved one, a daughter that put huge amounts of pressure upon herself to succeed, a daughter overshadowed by her problem causing brother, a mother caught in the throws of depression but unable to find a good way out of it. . . I went to the musical that night expecting to hear music I loved and to hear it performed well. What I didn't expect was for it to be so personal.
It was like the first time I'd seen The Glass Menagerie. Stunned at how whiplashed I felt as I saw myself and those I loved echoing through the bodies of fictional characters with lives confined to less than a hundred pages of text.
It started, I think, when my uncle died. I was twelve and came home to a house so empty and cold and silent. I remember the silence being particularly dreadful. It wasn't the silence of a house asleep but the silence of a house stunned. I remember my mother at the top of the stairs looking exactly as the house seemed to feel, and my father. . . my father had aged a hundred years or more as he told me that his younger brother had killed himself. I cried because I was scared to see my dad so upset more than for my uncle. I'd barely known his brother.
Uncle Bob had manic depression. Later I would find what that meant. And it was scary at first, but then it made sense. Scary when I read through sections of his journals and saw the shift in his emotions so rapidly. One day on top of the world, the next in the depths of despair. Over and over again. It must have been utterly exhausting and so, so horribly lonely a life.
But after the initial fear, I started to see it. I saw it in the way that my father would respond when he was discouraged or frustrated. The way he would react quickly in anger and just as quickly in sorrow for having lost control.
I saw it in the way that I did the same thing he did. Lash out. Say things I didn't mean. Use words and glares with full intent of injuring the person opposite me until half a second later I realized what I was doing, and who I was doing it to, and I hated myself for it.
But a name for it. A name for "it". That helped. Depression. Not manic. No, I was too level for that. Not wild enough. Too practical by nature. But it made sense. It helped me to understand why I so often didn't make sense to myself. That on a perfectly lovely day in which nothing all that bad had happened I could want nothing more than to curl up alone. It helped me to understand why it was such a perpetual battle to be happy with myself and to understand why I was the way I was. If I had a name for it, I could beat it. Right?
I live in a part of the world where happiness is passed around like a drug everyone is expected to take, or at least pretend to take. (If you aren't happy, then clearly the solution is that you need to pray more and go to church more.)
Except for me, faith so often works more like what Tennyson describes best in his poem collection In Memorium, where he describes feet that "falter where (they) firmly trod" and "lame hands of faith" that grope for understanding that is out there, but is not here. Never, never in the middle of my emotional challenges have I doubted that God is there and loves me. It's not my style. I have too many evidences to the contrary to doubt that love.
What I learned in that evening performance of Next to Normal was that I may never ever be rid of that depression. It's part of my genetic makeup, after all, passed to me from one generation to the next and no solution yet. Temporary remedies, perhaps, through therapy or medication or, in my case at least, downright stubborn will to keep moving forward - but no solution. Watching Next to Normal I saw a family that fought so hard to keep together it hurt, and when it ended, the solution was not the "normal" happy life they had always dreamed of. Normal, says the daughter, is "way too far away." Next to normal. That was the goal. If killing the depressive beast entirely wasn't an option, then containing it and harnessing it would be sufficient.
This year, this quarter century year, has been one of intense pressure. I set high goals for myself. Goals that are worthy and respectable and good, but goals that are lofty and difficult to reach in the impatient amounts of time I would prefer to give myself. Perhaps, then, this depression I battle is my kryptonite. My extraterrestrial reminder that I am, after all, only human. My reminder of the lesson taught so eloquently by Eve, who learned that the value of love was only as great as the potential loss it was tied to.
No. I don't need to kill the depression beast. Chain it down and tell it who is boss now and then - but if the laws of nature or genetics won't let me ever be rid of that awful monkey, I'll get by. I can't wait for life to be perfect or entirely happy. "Some ghosts", the mother sings, "are never gone. But we go on [. . .] and you find out you don't have to be happy at all to be happy you're alive." And I am happy, so happy, to be alive.