(When you get tired of the whining, just jump to the paragraph after where it’s marked, “Here’s the important point.”)
I am tempted to joke, again, about the Ann Hedonia film festival. I could give you an imaginary roster of “famous film noir classics” in which the protagonist manages to maintain a dour demeanor of depressed indifference, even as tragically heroic actions preserve and protect others, without emotionally, mentally, socially, physically, or spiritually benefitting the movie’s central character.
Still, Ann Hedonia keeps making personal appearances, bringing her black dog along with her. And even though her roots are starting to show, that doesn’t stop her from bringing the twins out to offer their equally sour succulents, spines and all. She fulfills her usual typecasting, diminishing any desire to pursue otherwise enjoyable activities. But she’s expanded her repertoire to include a diminished enjoyment of even those activities I manage to pursue. In short, I don’t do fun stuff. And on those occasions when I do what used to be fun stuff, I don’t find it fun. And that’s before the black dog finds a quiet corner in which to do his business.
You won’t find her at IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), and searching for her elsewhere may lead you to some very different conclusions than her personification of anhedonia, the inability to derive pleasure from otherwise pleasurable activities. As you can imagine, there is no fan club. (I think Sylvia Plath talked about maybe trying to organize something, but she doesn’t return my calls.)
If it seems that I am stalling, then you’re being perceptive. If you know me well, then you probably know that there have been good reasons to be, temporarily, sad. True, the San Francisco Giants are not in the playoffs, but it’s an odd-numbered year. And whatever business the Forty-Niners are pursuing is likely to self-correct, eventually. But some of you know about the long string of close personal deaths. Others are aware of the disappointing return on several deeply personal investments (involving the return of the abused to their abuser, the addict to their addiction, and the repeated disappearances of the purportedly devoted). There are other struggles that I pretend are invisible even to those closest to me. But the lie is wearing thin.
Yet all of you, I imagine—and, frankly, I myself—remain acutely aware of the many resources, benefits, and blessings not only available, but stocked deep in my personal inventory. And that’s where the key problem lies for many of us.
I perceive myself as having no standing from which to advocate for those experiencing mental illness. I am functioning, even as I find it difficult to have fun. (And I really do believe that fun is overrated as an evaluative category of life anyway.) Many others are struggling far more with far less ability to do anything about it. I can afford the counselor that I, until recently, avoided. I can adjust my diet and exercise in an attempt to foster endorphin production. (And I have, but it didn’t. Hence the counselor appointment.) There is no legitimate reason for me to be depressed—which further depresses me while simultaneously shaming me. No wonder I don’t get invited to many parties any more.
And yet, if I cannot speak about depression because I am not depressed enough, am I asking those who are more depressed than I am to bear the greater burden for communicating their needs? It would seem so.
But I was recently told that I could not advocate on behalf of a population whose status I do not share. The message was clear: those in need are the only ones with the right to speak of their need. But they don’t, any more than I willingly speak of my own minor difficulties. And yet, as those difficulties have worsened, I find that I wish someone else would advocate on behalf of this population in which I am numbered. Because I have been less and less willing to speak. In some ways, I feel like this post is something like a shout back toward town from edge of the growing chasm that threatens to swallow everything I know and love. I may not choose to say more.
Granted, the breaks between segments of the football game invite me to celebrate with them. McDonald’s now serves breakfast all day long (and the Twitter-pated are ecstatically emoji-ing over the news). Kia is finally building a vehicle for football families. The average military family can save over three hundred and forty-five million dollars by selecting USAA as their financial institution. And there are even more reasons coming at the next commercial break for celebrating life in these United States. But even in the face of these amazing developments, and “the power of Kaepernick” (in the words of the commentator enjoying the Niners’ quarterback as he leads the first sustained drive of the game), I find that my hopes, minimal as they are, rest…well, where? Not with me. Not with my self-help attempts. And not really with the counselor who comes so highly recommended.
But I am going. And I am hoping. Before it gets any worse. I think you should know why.
(Here’s the important point.)
This is why I am admitting my malaise, and moving toward the care I believe I need:
I recently heard a caregiver explain how strong they were, how much they were enduring, and how they would know when it was time for them to abdicate their role, turning the care of a loved one over to others. They expressed that they would not wait too long. When they were “ninety-nine percent done,” they promised, they would let others know to take up the slack of their absence.
My objection to their plan, as gently put as I knew how, was that when others have to respond, it would be good for there to be a little more than one percent of the caregiver’s attentions available, if for no other reason than to share with their replacement(s) what needed to be done in their stead. We agreed on eighty-five percent of their capacity as allowing enough time to make such a transition. But even at eighty percent, there is the possibility of crisis, of personal illness, or of any other unforeseen circumstances that might suddenly push them past their capacity. Engaging in some self-care in order to prolong their availability, and even to alleviate some of the pressure that has pushed them toward the end of their abilities, they may find themselves not only able to provide the care they want to give, but to be healthier in doing so as well.
If I, then, having advised others, choose to run my life too deeply into the high ninety percent range, then I am pretending that there will not be another string of close personal deaths, or other disappointments, or discord, dysfunction, or further debility among those I love. The reality is that I should expect more of the same. I serve a congregation where the average age is significantly higher than my own. The health of my immediate and extended family is unlikely to improve radically any time soon. Oh, and I continue to form close personal friendships with Hospice patients who are, by policy, supposed to be dying relatively soon.
So, before I use up too much more of whatever margin actually remains, I will be talking it over with a competent mental health professional. And if anything I have described in any of the above resonates with you, I pray that you do the same. But if you’re waiting for someone to advocate for you…I find that I can only advocate to you that you avail yourself of whatever resources you can.