07 September 2011

Language and loss: thoughts on the darkness visible

Mental health authorities say there is the normal, garden-variety depression that most of us suffer from at some time, a short-lived response to any one of a host of unpleasant life-events. It can also be a symptom of other diseases or psychological problems. There is major or clinical depression, the long-lasting disorder that is a consequence of major life trauma and/or aberrant brain chemistry, typically involving neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. In bi-polar disorder, depression is accompanied by swings into mania.

Little wonder the term is confusing. I once understood it as the “real” condition beneath my anger. I masked my depression, which was difficult to admit to and talk about, with displays of anger, an emotion that was culturally acceptable for men to express.

I once understood it as the condition I “treated” with alcohol abuse. Alcohol made me laugh, made life momentarily fun I would otherwise be miserable, so I sought it as an escape, a way out, which worked for a while. (Says one sonnet to addiction: “Alcohol gave me wings to fly/Then it took away the sky.”

I understood it as a pattern of behavior acquired during a dysfunctional childhood that I will not describe or discuss here. I understood is an unavoidable consequence of my peculiar aggregation of genetic pre-dispositions, inheritances, learned behavior, past events and personal choices that cannot be undone. The hand I was dealt.

I understood it as just another disease that some people get and others don’t. And long before that, I saw it as a curse.

There’s probably some truth to each, but lately it seems it can be imagined as a consequence of loss—the loss of youth, of love, family, vitality, essential energy in a life that is ebbing, as it must.

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