I felt a funeral in my brain, and mourners to and fro kept treading, treading till I felt that sense was breaking through. And when they all were seated, a service, like a drum, kept beating, beating, till I felt my mind was going numb. And then I heard them lift a box and creak across my soul with those same boots of lead again, then space began to toll, as if the heavens were a bell and being were an ear, and I, and silence, some strange race wrecked, solitary, here. Just then, a plank in reason broke, and I fell down and down and hit a world at every plunge, and finished knowing then.
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I met people on college campuses who were defining themselves as genderqueer to express revolutionary feelings, or to communicate their individuality; they were gender fluid without being gender dysphoric. This phenomenon may be culturally significant, but it has only a little bit in common with the people who feel they can have no authentic self in their birth gender.
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Sometimes, people end up thankful for what they mourned. You cannot achieve this state by seeking tragedy, but you can keep yourself open more to sorrow's richness than to unmediated despair. Tragedies with happy endings may be sentimental tripe, or they may be the true meaning of love.
The most important thing to remember about depression is this: you do not get the time back. It is not tacked on at the end of your life to make up for the disaster years. Whatever time is eaten by a depression is gone forever. The minutes that are ticking by as you experience the illness are minutes you will not know again.
Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don't believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it's good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.
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The passion for such children contains no ego motive of anticipated reciprocity; one is choosing against, in the poet Richard Wilbur's phrase, 'loving things for reasons'. You find beauty and hope in the existence, rather than the achievements, of such a child. Most parenthood entails some struggle to change, educate and improve one's children; people with multiple severe disabilities may not become anything else, and there is a compelling purity in parental engagement not with what might or should or will be, but with, simply, what is.
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In retrospect, it seems obvious that my research about parenting was also a means to subdue my anxieties about becoming a parent... I grew up afraid of illness and disability, inclined to avert my gaze from anyone who was too different - despite all the ways I knew myself to be different. This book helped me kill that bigoted impulse, which I had always known to be ugly. The obvious melancholy in the stories I heard should, perhaps, have made me shy away from paternity, but it had the opposite effect.
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To look deep into your child's eyes and see in him both yourself and something utterly strange, and then to develop a zealous attachment to every aspect of him, is to achieve parenthood's self-regarding, yet unselfish, abandon. It is astonishing how often such mutuality had been realized - how frequently parents who had supposed that they couldn't care for an exceptional child discover that they can. The parental predisposition to love prevails in the most harrowing of circumstances. There is more imagination in the world than one might think.
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The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality and my life, as I write this, is vital even when sad. I may wake up sometime next year without my mind again; it is not likely to stick around all the time. Meanwhile, however, I have discovered what I would have to call a soul, a part of myself I could never have imagined until one day, seven years ago, when hell came to pay me a surprise visit. It's a precious discovery.
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You are constantly told in depression that your judgment is compromised, but a part of depression is that it touches cognition. That you are having a breakdown does not mean that your life isn't a mess. If there are issues you have successfully skirted or avoided for years, they come cropping back up and stare you full in the face, and one aspect of depression is a deep knowledge that the comforting doctors who assure you that your judgment is bad are wrong. You are in touch with the real terribleness of your life. You can accept rationally that later, after the medication sets in, you will be better able to deal with the terribleness, but you will not be free of it. When you are depressed, the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present moment, as in the world of a three-year-old. You cannot remember a time when you felt better, at least not clearly; and you certainly cannot imagine a future time when you will feel better.
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John [the father] kept saying, "You have a penis. That means you're a boy." One day, Shannon noticed that her son had been in the bathroom an awfully long time and pushed the door open. "He had a pair of my best, sharpest sewing scissors poised, ready to cut. Penis in the scissors. I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'This doesn't belong here. So I'm going to cut it off.' I said, 'You can't do that.' He said, 'Why not?' I said, 'Because if you ever want to have girl parts, they need that to make them.' I pulled that one right out of my ass. He handed me the scissors and said, 'Okay.
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Remember that writing things down makes them real; that it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know; and, most of all, that even in our post-postmodern era, writing has a moral purpose. With twenty-six shapes arranged in varying patterns, we can tell every story known to mankind, and make up all the new ones-indeed, we can do so in most of the world's known tongues. If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.
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It is important not to suppress your feelings altogether when you are depressed. It is equally important to avoid terrible arguments or expressions of outrage. You should steer clear of emotionally damaging behavior. People forgive, but it is best not to stir things up to the point at which forgiveness is required. When you are depressed, you need the love of other people, and yet depression fosters actions that destroy that love. Depressed people often stick pins into their own life rafts. The conscious mind can intervene. One is not helpless.
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While people argue with one another about the specifics of Freud's work and blame him for the prejudices of his time, they overlook the fundamental truth of his writing, his grand humility: that we frequently do not know our own motivations in life and are prisoners to what we cannot understand. We can recognize only a small fragment of our own, and an even smaller fragment of anyone else's, impetus.
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Since I am writing a book about depression, I am often asked in social situations to describe my own experiences, and I usually end by saying that I am on medication. 'Still?' people ask. 'But you seem fine!' To which I invariably reply that I seem fine because I am fine, and that I am fine in part because of medication. 'So how long do you expect to go on taking this stuff?' people ask. When I say that I will be on medication indefinitely, people who have dealt calmly and sympathetically with the news of suicide attempts, catatonia, missed years of work, significant loss of body weight, and so on stare at me with alarm. 'But it's really bad to be on medicine that way, ' they say. 'Surely now you are strong enough to be able to phase out some of these drugs!' If you say to them that this is like phasing the carburetor out of your car or the buttresses out of Notre Dame, they laugh. 'So maybe you'll stay on a really low maintenance dose?' They ask. You explain that the level of medication you take was chosen because it normalizes the systems that can go haywire, and that a low dose of medication would be like removing half of your carburetor. You add that you have experienced almost no side effects from the medication you are taking, and that there is no evidence of negative effects of long-term medication. You say that you really don't want to get sick again. But wellness is still, in this area, associated not with achieving control of your problem, but with discontinuation of medication. 'Well, I sure hope you get off it sometime soon, ' they say.
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People with family histories of alcoholism tend to have lower levels of endorphins- the endogenous morphine that is responsible for many of our pleasure responses- than do people genetically disinclined to alcoholism. Alcohol will slightly raise the endorphin level of people without the genetic basis for alcoholism; it will dramatically raise the endorphin level of people with that genetic basis. Specialists spend a lot of time formulating exotic hypotheses to account for substance abuse. Most experts point out, strong motivations for avoiding drugs; but there are also strong motivations for taking them. People who claim not to understand why anyone would get addicted to drugs are usually people who haven't tried them or who are genetically fairly invulnerable to them.
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Life itself seemed so alarmingly exigent, to require so much of the self. It was too difficult to remember and think and express and understand - all things I needed to be able to do to talk. To keep my face animated at the same time was insult added to injury. It was like trying to cook and roller-skate and sing and type all at once.
Mild depression is a gradual and sometimes permanent thing that undermines people the way rust weakens iron. It is too much grief at too slight a cause, pain that takes over from the other emotions and crowds them out. Such depression takes up bodily occupancy in the eyelids and in the muscles that keep the spine erect. It hurts your heart and lungs, making the contraction of involuntary muscles harder than it needs to be. Like physical pain that becomes chronic, it is miserable not so much because it is intolerable in the moment as because it is intolerable to have known it in the moments gone and to look forward only to knowing it in the moments to come. The present tense of mild depression envisages no alleviation because it feels like knowledge.
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If someone says: "I don't want to have a cochlear implant, because I want my child to grow up with a rich sense of deaf culture," he must acknowledge that the deaf culture that exists in the world today has a different scale than the deaf culture that's likely to exist in the world 50 years from now.
There is a false moral imperative that seems to be all-around us that treatment of depression, the medications and so on, are an artifice, and that it's not natural. And I think that's very misguided. It would be natural for people's teeth to fall out, but there is nobody militating against toothpaste, at least not in my circles.
Having always imagined myself in a fairly slim minority, I suddenly saw that I was in a vast company. Difference unites us. While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly. The exceptional is ubiquitous; to be entirely typical is the rare and lonely state.
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Mild depression is a gradual and sometimes permanent thing that undermines people the way rust weakens iron ... Like physical pain that becomes chronic, it is miserable not so much because it is intolerable in the moment as because it is intolerable to have known it in the moments gone and to look forward only to knowing it in the moments to come.
We don't seek the painful experiences that hew our identities, but we seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences. We cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it's purposeful. Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle. We could have been ourselves without our delights, but not without the misfortunes that drive our search for meaning. 'Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities,' St. Paul wrote in Second Corinthians, 'for when I am weak, then I am strong.'
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One of the things that often gets lost in discussions of depression is that you know it's ridiculous. You know it's ridiculous while you're experiencing it. You know that most people manage to listen to their messages, and eat lunch, and organise themselves to take a shower and go out the front door, and that it's not a big deal. And yet you are nonetheless in its grip and you are unable to figure out any way around it.
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Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children's faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do. Loving our own children is an exercise for the imagination.
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Antonio Gramsci said that social reformers should have pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. This means that one must have the intellectual ability to see how bad things are and the emotional ability to look forward with hope. It's a hard combination to sustain, but if you can do it, you can change the world.
Then I repeated these words to my spirits: 'Leave me be; give me peace; and let me do the work of my life. I will never forget you.' Something about that incantation was particularly appealing to me. 'I will never forget you'-- as though one had to address the pride of the spirits, as though one wanted them to feel good about being exorcised.
I found myself losing interest in almost everything, I didn't want to do any of the things I had previously wanted to do and I didn't know why. Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.
Absence does not so much make the heart grow fonder as give the heart time to integrate what it has not previously absorbed, time to make sense of what happened too quickly to have any meaning in the instant. This is always true. If it is in absence that people forget each other, it is also in the quiet pause of absence that, minds running in symmetry, people come to know each other; there is sometimes as much intimacy in the span of continents as in the shared hours before dawn.
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There is enormous shame around depression of any kind and at any time. And there's enormous social stigma attached to it, which we need to go on fighting. But I think that the sense of depression during pregnancy and early motherhood has been particularly stigmatized, that people especially feel that should be the happiest time of your life.