Happy About Sadness

Remembering my father, George David Petry, on the anniversary of his death ten years ago.

It’s dark gray at 1:30 p.m. We’re having snow flurries. I just took a walk, and my fingers are so cold that I can barely type. Seasonal Affective Disorder is going full blast. It’s a perfect day to write about depression, again. (“Another Piece of the Puzzle.)”

I don’t suffer as much as William Styron or Charles Darwin, he of the “hysterical crying” (mine is gentle weeping). Nor do I take the same major solace from work, though I do manage to come up from the worst depths when I’m able to concentrate.

The rest of the article offers some explanation, beyond the SAD. My thoughts loop back on each other, cycling down into just beating myself up. Once that grabs hold, I find it nearly impossible to shake. But it can produce some insights that I put into my writing – if I can overcome inertia and actually get to the computer or at least find a piece of paper and a pen. I heartily disagree with Keats, as cited in “The Upside of Depression” that excruciating suffering is necessary for creativity. But it’s interesting that I came to my conclusion before I had read the bottom line of “The Upside”: Depression forces us to solve our problems by thinking about them to the exclusion of other activities. Part of the evidence came from an experiment in which it was found that people remember far more when in depressive surroundings – gray skies, depressing music playing. And I cling to the idea expressed toward the end that successful writers are “like prizefighters who keep getting hit but won’t go down. They’ll stick to it until it’s right.” There’s hope for me to become a truly successful writer.

Final note on this article: I disagree with the observation of one expert that depression is a plea for help. The last thing I want when I am in this state is attention. The proponents of the evolutionary theory say that while depressed people may be unwilling to communicate, their ability to do so improves.

The authors mention grief in the article but make it clear that there is a distinction between depression and grief, though they share “symptoms,”  most especially the isolation. Even though others may have been bereaved, they do not share my grief for this death. Maybe because I recognize the cause of grief, it feels easier to bear. There is a feeling of “this, too, shall pass,” though not in the four to six weeks that mentioned in “Good Grief.” With depression I never know if it will last a few hours or days. Meghan O’Rourke surveys the state of American grieving, with the principal focus on  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross but beginning with a survey conducted in the 1940s that postulated the four to six week theory. O’Rourke briefly mentions the comparison between grief and the anxiety experienced by children who have been separated from their mothers. She devotes considerable space to The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss by clinical psychologist George Bonanno. He presents the idea of “resilient mourners” who recover from the death of a loved one much more quickly than the rest of us.

She casts a vote in favor of the return of public mourning, which draws the community back into the process beyond just a day or two of wake and funeral. The rituals may play a major role in helping the grieving, but our society is still uncomfortable with truly determining the needs of the dying – and answering those needs (“Killer Health Care”).

O’Rourke also notes that Kübler-Ross’s later career veered off track with, among other things, pursuit of reincarnation. If only she could have hung on for a few more years, she could have joined the ranks of some mainstream folks, doctors among them. I’m reserving judgment, though I do tend to agree with the idea propounded by, I think, Thomas Edison. The miracle, he said, is not that we humans are born more than once, but that we are born at all.

And on that happy note, I conclude from these articles that my bouts of depression have a positive aspect, and that grief is a healthy part of human existence. And yet, and yet …


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