My mother suffered from depression and was a pharmaceutical drug addict. I say this without rancor, and I can also attest to the fact that my father was a classic enabler before that word was coined. In those days, it was—wrongly or not—the norm to care for a spouse or family member struck by what was then called neurasthenia.
My mother realized very young that certain drugs alleviated her sadness. She tried hashish, opium, cocaine, and the American-issued methamphetamine during World War II. She took them to be a good person, a good offspring to an uncaring father, a good wife to a loving husband and a good mother to two estranged daughters and one confused son. She was also a good musician, a good writer, a good actress, and a good painter, who became depressed when none of these skills were recognized as she thought they should be.
I remember when I was little that she would stay in bed a week at a time with unidentified ills. My father would fret; he would coddle her and cook clear soups and tell me to watch out for her while he was at work. She was easy to take care of; she survived on tea and toast. In time she would reappear, wan and exhausted, wearing a thin and sad smile. She never spoke about what had bedridden her, but I would notice that her intake of pills increased.
The holidays always got to her. She would host large soirées deemed highly successful, but she seldom enjoyed them.
I have read that depression is hereditary; I suspect this is true. The holidays provoke in me an almost bone-crushing sadness. I’ve spoken with shrinks and counselors and friends and acquaintances. I’ve been given drugs, meditation CDs, a yoga mat and exercise DVDs. Suggestions to alleviate the unhappiness have ranged from long walks to energy water, biofeedback to journaling, exercise to keeping my home filled with company.
Depression is odd. About twenty percent of the population suffers from it at some time. It’s been written about extensively, and writers are often its victims. My experience is that it makes me feel worthless and unimportant; it strips me of friendships, takes away my self-esteem and my sense of pride, and it makes me think anything I write is sophomoric and leaden.
Difficulties start around Halloween. I no longer get kids coming to my house; the traffic where I live has blossomed and there are no sidewalks. For years I put out a bowl of candy for the possible stray trick-or-treater, but a couple of Octobers ago, a family of raccoons got into the Snickers and Junior Mints, papering my front yard with wrappers, so I stopped feeding the wildlife.
Thanksgiving, the celebration of excess, is demanding. I’ve spent many of them by myself, sometimes by choice, other times by circumstance. I’ve fixed excellent one-person meals; my greatest success is a boeuf Bourguignon sans vin. Failures include carbonized lamb chops and adhesive spaghetti squash.
By the time Christmas rolls around I am almost down for the count. Like almost everyone I know, I resent the commercialism, the music, the forced jollity, the crowds, the Santas, the Salvation Army folks with their bells, the traffic and, eventually, the sad little evergreens that litter the gutter.
I have memories of strange Christmases in France as a kid, and one in particular stands out. I was six or seven, and my parents had hosted a réveillon, a party that would start late and end at dawn. I got up as the last guests were leaving, and, as soon as my parents were safely in bed, I began drinking anything and everything left in glasses. I had red wine, white wine, champagne, cognac, Armagnac, Ricard, framboise, Benedictine, poire, Pernod, and God knows what other liquors, and then I passed out under the couch. My parents found me some hours later. I didn’t get sick, and I fear that night set a bad precedent.
New Years? What can I say? It’s amateur night and I often stay home. A couple of years ago when I did go out, I witnessed the aftermath of a horrific traffic accident that involved several cars and three body bags. This year I had two Seven-Eleven quarter pounder hot dogs with chili and cheese while I sat in my car and watched the traffic speed by.
The last event of the silly season is my birthday. I haven’t celebrated one in a long time. I have no plans of breaking that tradition in 2017.
The redeeming factor, now that the holidays are done, is that the days are already getting longer and that this year, by cracky, it would seem the climate change people are right. It’s January 5th and yesterday it was 56 degrees outside. It even looks as if we’re getting a false spring; there are buds on some of the trees in my yard and jonquils are peeking through the topsoil.
I have made no resolutions except to write more and be a generally better person. The former will be easier to accomplish than the latter.
This time next year I will be elsewhere, and we’ll see how that goes.