Depression can often be a lifelong illness that waxes and wanes. It has its own rhythm, and can get better and worse almost on its own schedule. I've been moving in the right direction for the last year or so, but by no means feel "good" (whatever that may be), or even close to it.
When I hit rock bottom 18 months ago, I went from feeling bad to having NO feeling whatsoever — a state of emotional numbness that was in itself a horrific new form of torture. I lost almost all sense of taste and smell, and could not even feel my physical environment.
I remember walking my dog in 17-degree weather last January without a coat on. I "felt" nothing. Thank God, I my body thermostat is working again, and I can taste better as well, but I still have a ways to go. I am still working at "wellness." My resources are limited and I don’t have a prescription plan, so I decided to explore the option of clinical studies as a possible source for medication.
Last week I met with a study psychiatrist who took my history and then informed me that I wouldn’t qualify because of various factors in my previous treatment. I was disappointed of course, but not surprised. My story is very complicated, and I know that research studies have strict criteria for entry.
At least two things made my long trip to the center worthwhile — the chance to have dinner with my son (who’s in college in the area), and the fact that the psychiatrist told me he admired my “persistence.” He felt that my ongoing efforts on moving forward, as well as my “tenacity,” would somehow pay off in the end.
His comments strengthened my resolve to keep trying, to continue working at improvement despite the relentless urge to just give up.
He could have ended the brief visit with a “thank you for coming in today,” but he went the extra mile and gave me a gift. As I left his research office, I realized that he had spoken one of two words I'd chosen for myself in my latest affirmation — that I will be patient and persistent. I heard him say one of those “p” words, and realized that — without knowing it — he was validating my efforts to help myself.
Many people with depression, or any chronic illness for that matter, constantly measure their status and progress. I liken it to keeping a finger on the pulse of my mind. Sensing a lack advancement, or even worse regression, can be discouraging and even infuriating. Personally, I become preoccupied with how I can “manage” my backslide, how I might stop it in its tracks, how I can reverse it, turn it in the right direction.
As I frantically search for the answers to these questions, I seem to regress even further. Could the two words I chose for my mantra help me? Be patient and persistent. Be patient and persistent. This is simply what I have been telling myself, writing to myself, reminding myself.
Patience is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” For me, this virtue has always been in short supply; I’m impatient by nature.
I found myself uncovering and using patience when I became a mother, of course, but my kids have been gone for years now. So it dawned on me that it’s time to ramp it up again; I must be patient with myself and trust that time will help me weather this storm of regression.
I usually associate patience with the anticipation of something good — there is a goal in sight, you're waiting for something, it'll be worth it in the end. When I think of patience, I simply see the waiting. Imagine my amazement when I learned that this word derives from the Latin verb pati — to suffer!
It's right there in the definition! A new insight arose — as we cultivate patience in ourselves and others, we can learn not just the art of the wait, but the capacity to deal with suffering in the process. Somehow this changed my perception of patience, it increased its intrinsic usefulness to me in my present situation. It made me want to try harder to incorporate it into my thoughts and behavior.
And persistence? It stems from the Latin persistere, from per, 'through'+ stare, 'to stand.' It is “the fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” Not much help, except to bring up the image of standing strong as the winds of my illness buffet me.
If a virtual stranger told me I had it after talking to me for 20 minutes, I suppose I'd better believe it! I should "own" it, so to speak, and take my own advice, give myself the proverbial pat on the back.
As I finished this blog I learned of the suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy, the wife of RFK Jr. who suffered from depression and problems with alcohol. I am terribly sad for her family and children, and I sense that in some way she had simply run out of patience.
For her, the anguish had become unbearable. I happened to look down on my porch where I sat writing, and saw a tiny ant making its way up the table leg toward my laptop. I knew it was coming to give me a message.
When I searched to find its meaning, I wasn't surprised. Native American cultures believe that ant medicine brings patience, persistence and endurance.
OK, then, I get the message.