No Pill for This

Lately I’ve been suffering from the blues. Over the past few years I’ve written about this  a bit, largely because I’ve battled some form of the blues off and on throughout much of my life. For a number of years I took antidepressant medication in an attempt to balance my wayward moods, and it actually did help me feel better for a time. But then, among a string of rather unfortunate life events, I lost my job and therefore my health insurance and with that my ability to afford the medication. Suddenly I had to learn to deal with my depression absent the crutch of artificial chemicals.

I have to admit I was in a bit of a panic, but in my typical, deeply-ingrained, “soldier on” mentality, I developed multiple strategies for how I was going to battle the blues. And, during the 18 months I was un- or underemployed through meditation, vitamins, volunteering in the community, and with the support of a few close friends and family, I managed to regain a sense of equilibrium without the “assistance” of medication. Sure I still experienced occasional sadness, loneliness, grief, and even occasional bouts of depression, but it was not the exhaustingly irritable, wading through peanut butter kind of depression that I periodically experienced at various times in my life.

Recently through, I’ve noticed I’m battling the blues with a little more regularity. Some of it I’ve attributed to recent transitions in my life as well as other potential sources. I’ve devoted a lot more of my morning journal writing to attempting to ferret out just what this feeling is.

“…I acknowledge that I am sad this morning,” I wrote the other day, “and the sadness feels more like grief than depression, though I could be wrong. It seems to me that you can’t take a pill for sadness, there’s no magic cure for grief. You don’t shake yourself out like a blanket and say, ‘There! I feel all better now.’ No, grief settles in on you like a fog of pollution–at first you can’t see and you can barely breathe. Your eyes burn and sting and you stumble blindly around. Over time it lifts and clears somewhat and eventually you can see where you’re going, though your eyes still burn and occasionally you cough. Later still it becomes even clearer and you barely notice the haze that covers you with a fine film. And then one day, after months or years or decades of walking through the haze, it is gone completely or at least you are totally immune to its effects. So no, there is no pill you can take to take away or even ease the pain of grief.”

It is quickly approaching the 20th anniversary since my mother died. Twenty years, and still the fog of grief still settles heavy on me every spring. I imagine that it is particularly acute when we hit big anniversaries like 10 and now 20 years. My mother was one of the lights of my life and when she died I confess to being a bit lost, bereft in fact. But as the mother of two young children and a person with responsibilities, I could not afford to come unglued, so I didn’t. I am not unglued now, 20 years later, and while time has significantly diminished the bereavement, each spring finds me inexplicably battling the blues, only it’s not inexplicable.

So I find myself frequently taking the “temperature” or the “pulse” of my mood to determine the origins and the flavors of the particular brand of blues I am experiencing at any given time. I quiet and check in with myself, and if I can get really clear I respond with, “Oh, this is grief, my ‘mommy cells’ are waking up again.” or “Oh, I’m feeling a bit lonely today, especially since I moved to a new city away from family.” “Oh, that’s what this is.”

Recently I’ve come to identify a new shade of blue. The other day I was watching the news as a city erupted into violence after yet another black person was gunned down by police under extremely suspicious circumstances. I found myself experiencing a profound sense of sadness at the plight of people with whom I share a racial identity, if not a number of other identities. As I have watched these scenes play out night after night, week after week, month after month, and now year after year, and I could add decade after decade, century after century for nearly 400 years, I not only feel my own pain, but the echoes of the pain of countless generations multiplied by millions. There is no pill for this.

So as I contemplate how I’m going to deal with this latest battle with the blues, I realize that there is no simple, quick resolution. An antidepressant might dull the pain, the grief, the sadness, but it only masks rather than addresses the underlying ills. No, there’s no pill for this. So what I am faced with, once again, is figuring out the right combination of strategies and actions that will help me not battle but accept the pain, embrace it in fact, recognizing it as part of a legacy and a responsibility. The world is ill. How can I help but to weep over it? And rather than simply taking a pill to forget, perhaps take action and remember. And so it goes.

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