War Of Melancholia
The package came in the mail just as I was about to take my Siesta. I was in my house clothes which really, was nothing else but a loose dress- obviously, I planned to stay in bed for that whole day. Doing nothing has been the norm for me these past eight years. I would wake up late, skip breakfast, eat lunch, snack at least three times, lay in bed, stare at the walls until they bleed, eat dinner, more staring, sleep very late and wake up again the next day to repeat the cycle. But it’s not like this all the time, and today is one of my better days.
It didn’t occur to me that the apathy I felt towards activities I used to do (exercising, for example) was already a symptom of depression until I had a check-up with a Neuropsychiatrist for lower back pain. Even then I was skeptical for I always perceived myself as a lazy homebody.
“You have chronic depression.” My Neuropsychiatrist told me this in a rather cold voice. I believe years of breaking this news to countless other patients has benumbed him from feeling anymore surprise or sympathy for cases like mine. To him it was simply a declarative statement which meant that there is a chemical imbalance in the patient’s brain. Nothing more, nothing less. Shortly after that, he prescribed to me medications I should take and asked me to come back for follow up check-ups.
The tale began with a nondescript lower back pain. For a couple of months back in 2011 I experienced a sharp stinging pain on my lower back along with other symptoms such as numbing of the hands, blurry vision, and urinary incontinence. An MRI scan revealed that I had problems with my lumbar spine but it didn’t quite explain the other symptoms I felt which included fatigue, irritability, and loss of interest in activities I formerly engaged in. I was in law school during those times and sadly I quit after about only four months on the first semester of my freshman year because I simply lost interest. It was not a case of having difficulty with law school nor did I had an epiphany and realized that I wanted to pursue another path, no, I just stopped caring. Furthermore, I found myself getting upset over the littlest of things, crying every night, and requiring double effort to get out of bed each morning.
I casually told all these to my doctor while he was reading the results of my MRI scan. I remember the furrowing of his eyebrows (probably trying to recall if he’d read in any medical books a case where a patient suffering from lumbar spine pains also showed symptoms like irritability or anhedonia) before asking how long have I been feeling that way. I told him I did for over two months already. He followed up with other questions until it lead to him breaking it to me that I indeed was experiencing depression.
Forrest Gump taught us that life is like a box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’ll get. In my case, what I thought was little else but laziness was in fact something more serious. I have been taking medicines for depression for over seven years now with my family being my number one therapists. Having dropped out of law school, I found myself faced with the predicament of how to fight depression when there’s literally nothing to look forward to on my days ahead. I admit, this fact made me all the more depressed that my doctor had to increase the dosage of my medicines. However, a chance purchase of a plain black notebook changed my life for the better.
I wrote my first piece of fiction back when I was seven years old. It was about a ghost haunting a garden. That first writing may not have survived my mother’s vigilant insistence on burning used notebooks she deemed to be litter but it did show me upon reflection some years later that my talents leaned toward literary pursuits. The writing did not end there. I wrote my first poem at nine years old (it was about St. Joan of Arc whom I’ve had a fascination on) and by the time I was in sophomore high school up until senior year, I was a mainstay of the school paper and the batch yearbook, acting as Literary contributor. The seeds of this tendency of mine was planted I believe at the tender age of two when I was read by Lola (Grandmother) my first nursery rhyme. “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” From then on, I never looked back on my way to bookworm territory and along with it came the pleasant surprise that not only was I a reader but that I also had the capability in me to be a writer.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, I was lost. My major, which was Philosophy, did not exactly offer a whole bunch of opportunities in the job market. The only solution I could think of was to pursue law school. After graduation I realized that I was on my own outside the four walls of the classroom. To reiterate, I felt lost. I read books less, and wrote even less until my diagnosis of chronic depression.
The old saying that “fate is very kind, just wait for it” resonates with me and with a lot of other people. The proof I have of this is an unplanned visit to the bookstore I’ve had a few years ago. I had money to spare and randomly picked a notebook to buy. Quite a few months passed before the pages had anything written on them; my depression was like a tsunami, withdrawing from the shores at first, only to surge forward when you least expect it. Being symptom-free was the last thing on my mind. I began to lose faith in everything because I did not show signs of improving.
Then came a little book called “100 Poems” by EE Cummings.
If the colors of my world during the times I was depressed was only shades of black, this was the much needed variety to my palette. Playful and witty, the underlying complexities of the seemingly simple word-play found in his poems piqued my until-then sleeping interest. I devoured each page like a lion who was not fed by the zoo-keeper for several days. I wanted meat and I got it. I felt euphoric. A sudden buzz of creativity flared through my veins and this is where the notebook I bought at a chance purchase came in.
I began to write poems in that notebook everyday. Finally, I have something to look forward to. The words came in like visitors to a feast and it was only a matter of time before I filled the entire notebook with poems up to the last page.
For the first time in four years, I could genuinely say that I loved life.
Books piled up my desk as I had the renewed energy to read more again and I even bought new notebooks to fill the pages with more poetry. It just went uphill from then on.
Delightful as the situation may be, the battle is not yet over. I am recuperating from my symptoms but there are times when I still feel the heavy hand of depression. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to say that I’m not pushing back.
The day before yesterday there came in the mail the four books of poetry I ordered at an online bookstore. These are not only for reading, they are also symbols of the bulwark I’ve surrounded myself with so as not to let depression in. Faith, family, Literature: these are my therapists. I will read these books and savor the artistic effort put into them- it shall serve as impetus for me to hone my own craft. I will find inspiration in creativity because I too, as a created human being is a work of art and works of art are not stagnant, rather, they grow to replenish existence with creativity. Real works of art, which includes humanity, give up a part of itself in order for civilizations to thrive. With these four books in my hands (and certainly not the last books I will read), I am given the opportunity to be inspired to create my own works of art that others in turn, may be inspired for theirs. By fighting depression through creativity, I partake in that centuries-old but nonetheless on-going work of art we all call life.
Depression may still hover in some part of me at some days, but starting today, I am breaking the cycle.