KEEPING AFLOAT IN DEEP WATERS
By NANCY PATRICK
People who don’t know me well consider me smart, energetic, outgoing, upbeat, and quite nice. I know this because others have told me, but sadly, these assessments describe the veneer that covers the melancholia I fight daily.
I have written about depression before, thus establishing the gravity of a condition inexplicable to those immune to it. However, American poet Emily Dickinson, enigmatic and undecipherable at times, shared the spirit of melancholic souls when she wrote of depression: “it oppresses like the weight of cathedral tunes . . . ‘Tis the seal, despair, an imperial affliction sent us of the air.” Depression has the power of an apparition that comes and goes at will.
Fighting depression resembles swimming. In order to remain above water, one must swim with everyone else in the pool, both the strong and weak. While some swim smoothly along, others dog paddle, float, or tread, struggling to avoid exhaustion that leads to sinking.
In spite of depression’s riptide effect, many lifelines offer to prevent the deep waters from engulfing its victims. The afflicted have to work to stay afloat because sometimes the skilled swimmers pass them by, get angry that they are blocking the way, jeer at their lack of skill, tell them to give up and get out, or simply ignore them. Conversely, some swimmers—both skilled and unskilled—offer lifelines and assistance to encourage the struggling ones. These people lift their peers’ spirits and buoy them as they struggle in their journeys.
People suffering from depression or melancholia can easily overlook the positive in the midst of the negative; consequently, they must actively look for the good and positive aspects of life all around them. Some of the gestures that have lifted my spirit and restored hope may seem small or insignificant compared to other actions; however, they have inspired me to imitate them, thus paying their good deeds forward. The following list comprises some of the goodness I have observed in my own small world.
- The customer ahead of me in the Sonic drive-through who paid for my drink
- The Serenity House employee with two full grocery carts who insisted that I go in front of her in the check-out line
- The diner at a busy Abuelo’s evening meal who gave up her seat in the waiting area for an elderly person using a walker
- The teenager who returned too much change to the cashier
- The amusement park patron who held open the door for a young mother with two toddlers and an infant in a stroller
- The patron who offers to hold a crying baby so its mom can tend to her other two children in the stylists’ chairs
- The neighbor who mows the yard next door while the owner recuperates from surgery
- Visitors to nursing home residents who treat them like they are still worth their time
- Drivers for Meals on Wheels
- Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and senior centers
- Drivers who take people to doctors’ appointments
- People who speak softly and kindly
- People who avoid superfluous profanity and vulgarity
- Everyone who is kind and generous to children
- Animal lovers
- Children who smile and wave at me from the seat in their mom’s grocery cart
- Shoppers who reach the high items on the shelf for the customer in the electric shopping cart
- Employers who hire special people because they have capabilities and needs like all the rest of us
- The special people themselves whose faces and attitudes express joy at their participation in life’s daily activities
- The rare individuals who respect and honor people’s right to be themselves
Dickinson fought the loneliness and despair of depression through her poetry.
Though some readers say her poetry is obtuse, I have always identified with her expression of the angst of the soul. Her poem concludes that when depression “comes, the landscape listens, shadows hold their breath; when it goes, ’tis like the distance on the look of death.” Obtuse perhaps, but for those who have experienced its unwelcome arrival and mysterious departure, its presence was real.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.