Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wrestling with the Darkness

On November 8, Georgia Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) tried to commit suicide. The Speaker released a statement that a deep depression had led to his suicide attempt. Two days after the story broke, and eight days after he tried to take his life, the 911 tape of his mother calling for help was released. Apparently, the Speaker took sleeping pills, and then decided he'd call his mother to say good-bye. That indicates to me that a part of him wanted to be stopped, or he wouldn't have called.

My immediate reaction upon hearing the news, followed seconds later by deep shame, was that it was a pity Richardson did not succeed in his suicide attempt. The immediate shame came from being someone who knows exactly what kind of anguish would lead a person to contemplate suicide, and someone who knows what's its like for loved ones left behind. As despicable as I find Glenn Richardson to be as a politician, and no matter how much I think his ideas on how the world should work disgusting, mean spirited and cruel, he is still a human being in a tremendous amount of pain. He is arguably the 2nd most powerful man in state government after the governor, but even he felt life was not worth it.

The police report states that they found him in the master bath, sitting on the edge of the tub, with a .357 Magnum in front of him on the sink. He was semi-conscious and unresponsive to commands. The Speaker had written two suicide notes which were beside him as well.

To be filed in the category of "Maybe Republicans Do Have a Human Heart", there has been no move to force Richardson out of the Speaker's chair. The comments from the public, though, have not been so kind. There have been many people who say that running the State House of Representatives at a time of budget crisis is too much for someone who is depressed and has suicidal tendencies. They have spoken of depression as disqualifying mental disorder for any significant public trust.

These people commenting obviously have no idea what it's like to suffer from depression.

When you are depressed, it's like a heavy blanket is surrounding you every moment you are awake. Your heart FEELS heavier, and the thought of actually going out, interacting with people, getting out of bed, getting dressed, etc just seems to require way too much energy. Everything looks gray. Sometimes your body can ache. It's nothing like growing pains, or aches you have when you're sick with the flu. It's a very subtle ache, but it's very real, and the burden of it is oppressive. Much of the time, it feels like you are moving in slow motion. Your thoughts are slower, your movements are slower. People around you may not notice these things, but in your depressed mind, that is what you experience.

The depressed mind stops caring about things. You begin to not care what you look like, smell like, or when you'll eat. The future looks bleak, and all you can see on the road ahead of you is more of the same. This whole cycle will feed on itself unless you get help. Of course, even getting help does not guarantee you will get better, but it does give you the tools to fight the encroaching emotional darkness. This may be the step that Glenn Richardson did not take. As the GOP House Speaker, seeking psychiatric help would probably not go over well in the "Daddy Party" where everyone tries to outshine each other with their jingoistic patriotism, Godliness, and general "manhood". Of course, now that he's attempted suicide, there's not a decent human being who would argue the Speaker shouldn't get help.

Another irony is that the Speaker brought on the circumstances surrounding his descent into depression and despair himself. He is the one who is rumored to have had a notorious affair with the chief lobbyist of Georgia Power. If he's like other Georgia power-brokers, he was chasing tail all over Atlanta just because he could. Unlike most political wives, the former Mrs. Richardson wouldn't tolerate it, and divorced him. It was this divorce that started his spiral into despair.

My father's birthday was yesterday. Had he not committed suicide in 2001, he would have been 59 years old. His birthday had me thinking about Speaker Richardson, and how my dad planned an attempt on his life that I foiled before he succeeded. My hope is that Richardson, his friends, family, and coworkers, don't think this is over for him. Just because everyone will be watching him more closely now that he's actually attempted to take his life doesn't mean the danger has passed. My father fooled not only his family, but his psychiatrist and counselor into thinking he'd turned a corner. That corner, represented by a sense of peace and greater levity of spirit, turned out to be nothing more than a final decision and foolproof plan to kill himself. Most people who commit suicide seem to get better right before they end their life, mostly because they see a certain end to their anguish.

My dad's birthday, and Speaker Richardson's suicide attempt have made me think of my own struggles with depression. It's been a cyclical thing with me, with a major depression appearing about every 10 years. According to my psychiatrist, that kind of cycling is highly unusual. Usually, people with depression see their cycles get more intense and closer to one another, especially without treatment. Having a pattern of a major depression every 10 years is unusual, and it figures that I'd be the exception to some kind of rule.

One thing that frustrates me is that I'm very aware of what's going on when I have a little depressive cycle, or when I slide into a major depression. I've learned enough over the years to see the signs. I had hoped that taking anti-depressants would break the cycle, but no such luck. First, there's the insomnia which wreaks havoc with your mental capabilities over time even without depression. Then there is the lethargy, related to the exhaustion of not getting enough sleep. Then the feeling of heaviness, darkness, and approaching gloom followed by despair. Even when you know the things you feel are irrational and not true, it doesn't stop you from feeling them. At least that is my experience. I've always had the "talent" (not sure this is the right word for it) of being quite aware intellectually of my emotions. I've been able to largely name them, describe them (at least to myself), and even know when the emotions are irrational, unfounded, and not based in reality. Yet, I have not been able to control those emotions. Usually, I have to wait for them to pass.

Depression is not quite so easily dispatched. You have to force yourself out of bed. You have to force yourself to do the things you know you NEED to be doing. Living alone doesn't make that task easy. Even having two wonderful dogs that depend on me doesn't make it easier. It also doesn't help that my depression (in its current form) has fixated on my inability to find a boyfriend, let alone a partner to build a life with. Intellectually, I know this is silly. I'm only 34, and while I would have thought I'd be long settled down by now, I'm far from being without hope. Yet that is the very place I find myself desperately trying to not reach...a place of hopelessness that I'll ever find someone. Intellectually, I know it's silly, and I haven't met the right guy yet. Intellectually, I'm pretty sure it will happen. Emotionally, though, doubt, panic, despair, longing, loneliness, and hopelessness have all conspired together in one big ball of Depression Nasty to try to bring me down.

Some days are better than others, and on some days the beast seems to have gone into hibernation. Usually, when I'm around friends or at work, the monster sleeps. Although people can say something to awaken him at any time. But make no mistake - it is a struggle. Like every person with depression, I wrestle with the darkness because I refuse to let it overtake me. I've been lucky that I've learned some skills in conducting this fight. Most importantly, the experience of my father's suicide has taken such a path off the proverbial table for me. I can't imagine forgetting what it does to friends and family when a person commits suicide. I hope things never do get that bad. My father got to a place where he believed that everyone was truly better off without him. He was blind to the pain he was about to inflict on us all. He gave into the darkness.

I never will because I can't.

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