Self-help

Transcending Depression: Quest Without a Compass

By

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Synopsis

The author's personal narrative represents the chronology of his mental illness over a span of 49 years, as well as his attempts to understand it and cope with it. Selected entries from his journals constitute the source and follow an authentic progression over time. In them, he relates insights about the origin of his disorder. He also describes thoughts and feelings that arose and his reactions to events that took place at various times, as influenced, for better or worse, by psychiatric medications and supplements. The primary motivation for presenting his history is to encourage others who grapple with either chronic depression or occasional bouts. He hopes his journey resonates with some, validates feelings, and sparks the thoughts "I'm not alone" and "I will feel better." This book can also help family members and friends of the mentally ill find compassion and enable them to understand the struggle. It could, as well, benefit those who care for the depressed, and interest the curious and the voyeur. The author's goal is to save lives.

1971-1980

 

1971

Englewood, Colorado


This weekend my new friends in Crested Butte exposed me to ideas that should make my life easier and keep me from getting depressed as easily or often. The first is I must love myself before I can love others or find inner contentment. Second: Others cannot hurt me; I can only allow myself to feel hurt. Third: I cannot change other people, such as inconsiderate smokers, only my reactions to them. So when I get dispirited, the questions arise, why have I let myself become hurt? And why have I stopped loving myself? 

 

After writing up my memories of the weekend, I no longer pity myself. I no longer have to react to other people the way they appear to expect. I’ll be me. For the first time in ages, I don’t have any problems, and, for the first time ever, I feel like a man.

 

* * *

 

Expectations unfulfilled are the major source of my depression. The best thing to do is have none. If I must have them, I’ll expect the worst and be prepared for the consequences. 

 

Denver, Colorado

 

Today I left [my wife] Barbara, [our children] Andrea, and David and moved into a rooming house at 931 E. 17th Street. I can’t stand the put-downs and domination any longer, the ways she expects me to behave, and the responsibilities she puts on me. 

 

* * *

 

This summer grants my last taste of freedom for a while. I have no responsibilities except to myself: consider marital options, break isolation and meet others, journal, and accomplish personal growth. Each afternoon, barefoot, I take up residency in Cheesman Park to make new friends. After I move to Boulder in September, studying for my doctorate and teaching two accounting classes won’t allow time for such luxuries. 

 

Boulder, Colorado

 

I feel lonely and anxious about my future. I’m starved for love.  What if my new woman friend doesn’t like the frightened me? Our Friday date is only three days away. 

 

* * *

 

This time we didn’t click and my new friend doesn’t want to see me again. I’m thinking of killing myself. But it might be a tragic mistake. I might regret it later.

 

* * *

 

Yesterday at the Colorado-Wyoming football game, the thought occurred to me, in the last analysis, only I can bring myself out of this misery. No one else can help significantly when I’m as depressed as I was Saturday morning. At times like that, I should not think in terms of “What can someone do for me?” but, rather, “What can I do for myself?”

How did I pull out of it? I planned my evening: fix chili dogs, play my new Moody Blues album, perhaps study a bit, and listen to my radio. It felt good knowing I could do it alone and dig it. Then the phone rang, my neighbor came to the door, I met her sister, and it was beautiful. 

 

* * *

 

A week ago was Super Saturday. My girlfriend stayed the night before; I met Janet at the Packer Grill in the afternoon; and that evening, I drove another woman friend to Estes Park, both of us singing to the radio. Last night Janet and I made love and she spent the night for the first time. Do I deserve to be this happy? 

 

* * *

 

Barbara and I should have split long ago. I married Mother’s twin, living to please her, watching myself constantly. She delighted in controlling me, and disapproved of my weight, my hair, the way I act in social situations, even the way I yawn! She demanded submission. But still, despite her hostility, living with her felt secure until she started fucking other men.

 

* * *

 

Janet has moved in with me and my world seems complete. She even accepts my need for alone time.

 

1972

 

After nine years of marriage, I’m free. Today our divorce became final. What a shame it happened on Leap Year Day ‒ I can celebrate it only every four years. 

 

* * *

 

I’m jealous of Janet’s friendships with other men and it irks me she keeps a private journal. What’s she writing about me? I’m anxious because we have no commitments. It bothers me I’m so insecure and depend on her this much. I feel inadequate, just like last spring before Crested Butte. I’ve made no progress since December and am setting myself up for deep depression. 

 

* * *

 

If I can’t let Janet go, I’ll lose her. I must become self-reliant. I can’t depend on her, only on myself.

 

1973

 

How often I write in this journal is an index of how much personal growth concerns me. I haven’t written much lately.

 

1974

 

One important thing I learned this week is when sad and unhappy, I should go off alone and work it out myself instead of depressing everyone around me. 

 

Corvallis, Oregon

 

These days I have no happy times or sad times, either. My life is even and measured with no peaks or valleys. I feel content but wonder if I’m alive.

 

* * *

 

Janet and I are settling into our duplex and I’m getting ready to teach my first classes at Oregon State. I feel excited about this new life chapter but anxious I don’t have enough time to fully prepare. I’ve never taught seniors and grad students before. 

 

1975

 

Sometimes when I’ve been despondent for several days, it helps to discipline myself by saying, “I’m going to think only positive thoughts.” Enough is enough!

 

* * *

 

Tonight Janet and I exchanged karma. When she picked me up at the university, I was bouncy and gay but she was irritable. As time passed, her spirits rose and I became pensive and serious.

 

* * *

 

At those times when I’m weak, needy, and depressed, I must remember there’s someone who feels worse. To that person, I would appear whole. 

 

1976

 

I gave up Janet today. She moved out and took all her possessions. If she wants to be solitary to “get herself together,” it will be just that: without my support. We had no commitments. 

 

I will make it alone. But I just wrote her that although angry, I want her to come back to me. At this time I can accept these contradictory thoughts and will try to be patient.

 

After dreaming about it for years, now I have the freedom to pursue other women but no longer the desire.

 

* * *

 

Although I’m lonely, several parts of living alone have great appeal. Like getting up in the morning when I want, exercising by myself, and listening to music when and as loud as I wish. I can put on the aftershave Janet hated. I haven’t yet learned to live with myself so I’m not ready to live with someone else again. 

 

* * *

 

A major difference between separating from Barbara and from Janet is that after leaving my wife, I wasn’t used to smiles and affection. Wow, do I miss Janet. 

 

* * *

 

Last night a woman friend didn’t give me what I wanted (a good screw) but she gave me what I needed (good advice). 


* * *

 

How am I today? Teetering on the cusp between depression and euphoria.

 

* * *

 

I want someone to take care of me. In my 34 years I have never accepted full responsibility for my own welfare, feelings, or happiness ‒ a dangerous state. What would it feel like to not give women power over me? I’ve never approached that ideal; it’s totally alien. 

 

1977

 

While Janet lived with me and for months afterward, I was a half. I’m aiming to become a whole. Right now I’m at least a three-quarters.

 

* * *

 

What took me out of my melancholy yesterday was talking with people, not spending time alone. It was very good chatting with several friends, then sleeping by myself.  

 

1978

 

After four months of dating, Carol and I have broken up. I ended the relationship, mainly because she read my journal while I was taking a shower. Then she blasted me for what I’d written about us: doubts I’d ever want to live with her. But I deeply miss our closeness. For now I’m going to have to reconcile myself to having no lover. 

 

* * *

 

For the third straight day, I’m feeling totally apathetic about everything. It was a chore getting prep done for tomorrow’s classes. I did the bare minimum. It’s impossible to give ‒ other people just aren’t worth my time. 

 

* * *

 

Last night on the phone I told Carol I was hurting. At the end of the conversation, she said, “Well, I leave you to your depression.”

 

* * *

 

I want Carol back and tonight have no motivation to live without her. That’s really sick.

 

It’s distressing there’s nothing between living and dying. The life switch is either on or off. I want to stop this pain but lack the courage to kill myself. Death is so final. 

 

I could shoot Carol, then myself.

 

* * *

 

The fact I’m desperate is tremendously liberating. I contemplate doing things my filtering system would ordinarily censor, like moving back to Colorado this summer. 

 

* * *

 

Perhaps I should listen to more cheerful music. Linda Ronstadt’s songs are incredibly depressing. I should play more of John Denver’s. 

 

* * *

 

Over coffee at the Beanery this morning, I searched for someone to save me. I decided to save myself and left.

 

* * *

 

Phone conversations with Mother bring me down because she’s always unhappy. Tonight I told her that each time we talk, I’d like her to tell me one positive thing.

 

* * *

 

I don’t want to teach any longer. I’m sick of the deadlines and pressure, sick of the endless interruptions, sick of answering the same questions, sick of advising and serving on committees, SICK. Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I have to stick with it.

 

I’m derailing myself from the tenure track but will honor my commitment to finish this school year. Now I feel freer to be myself in the classroom, to stop screening my words. I’m no longer as concerned about whether my students like me.

 

* * *

 

Since quitting my job, I possess more opportunity than ever before in my life. My decision about where to live doesn’t have to be influenced by Mother, my job, or my woman. Only me! I could move somewhere the sun shines in the winter. I can change my name.

 

1979

 

At least when I’m depressed, I’m in the now. In fact, all my feelings are in the now. Only thoughts can exist in the past or future. 

 

* * *

 

Most times when despondency comes, there’s a spark of strength I can choose to act from and still be me. With other people, I do often have choices, a set of alternative responses, some more tactful than others, that are genuine yet fit my mood.

 

* * *

 

No event is depressing. I may feel depressed; if so, I take responsibility. 

 

* * *

 

When I’m feeling morose and relief finally comes, it happens because I discover a plan. One that should keep me centered on a healthy track for a while. The interesting thing is, there’s no consistency to the type of plan. I believe it’s the spontaneous formation of the plan that’s critical, that provides the incentive and energy to emerge from my gloom. The shape or content is irrelevant. 

 

Durango, Colorado

 

Dejection overcomes me when I’m dishonest with someone. Last night I fought hard to hold back my anger at my closest friend here for trying to shame me for drinking wine. I acknowledged the feeling but it didn’t die. It’s still here this morning, plus now I’m down on myself for not being truthful. 

 

* * *

 

Many times I can readily talk myself out of the dumps. It’s clear I don’t always want to. 

 

* * *

 

Today I’m mildly dejected but have no idea why. Everything’s going great in my life ‒ I don’t have a thing to complain about. Yet nothing appeals to me, not even listening to music. Could it be hormonal, this depression? I certainly don’t feel like being around anyone. I’m most content sitting in my favorite chair, quite alone. 

 

* * *

 

[My ten-year-old son] David is visiting from Boulder. Yesterday we took a fun picnic lunch up to the Gold King Mill. But today I can’t stand the sight of him. After just having [my twelve-year-old Daughter] Andrea here for five days before he came, I desperately need my own space. I’d like to find a hole, crawl down it, and cry myself to sleep. 

 

* * *

 

When I can’t get in touch with anything besides the blues, maybe I’m just not aware of what’s going on in my life that causes them. 

 

1980

 

Low spirits engulfed me yesterday. Unlike last fall, I decided to do something about it. Here I am on this wonderful train ‒ it’s my hospital. I’m recuperating and thinking clearly. How delightful, this Chicago adventure that depends on no one. Traveling alone, I can be totally selfish.

 

* * *

 

Since moving to Durango, I’ve met lots of people, made many acquaintances, but can count only one friend. I left Corvallis for what? To hike every day, usually by myself, in my favorite spot on earth until winter sets in. I abandoned my home, my support group, and a university professorship ‒ three deaths ‒ to live where I was sure to find a new partner. No such luck. Yes, teaching had burned me out, but the job provided purpose, self-fulfill­ment, social contacts, and prestige. I’m despondent and lonely, plus I crave structure.

 

* * *

 

At times I miss teaching so much, tears fill my eyes. Starting in two weeks, I’m going to teach a beginning accounting class for adults Thursday evenings at the high school. This job will give my life a framework, and enable me to help other people and pursue quality in an area where I have expertise. Although my savings are dwindling and I welcome the income, it’s ironic someone should pay me. 


* * *

 

In March I’m driving to California to take a short break from this miserable Durango winter and attend a sensory evaluation wine class at U.C.-Davis. It will also give me a chance to visit my favorite wineries. I haven’t been this excited in months. 

 

* * *

 

Today I tasted at Chateau Montelena, where Catherine Anne Marshall guided my tour. I dared ask her out to dinner and she accepted! Afterward she invited me to her apartment and we spent the night talking. We even discussed marriage! My mind races ahead, hoping to persuade her to visit me in Durango this spring.

 

* * *

 

It’s been a month since we met. Three weeks ago, Cathy made it clear she will not be ready to live with me or any other man for at least a year and wants more experience with men. But now she says she’s thinking she’ll quit her job and move here. What if she doesn’t? Just like after Carol left, I feel desperate. I’ve made her my anchor.

 

* * *

 

Being giddy and witty with a woman friend last night didn’t negate my underlying sadness. Laughter on one level doesn’t preclude simultaneous depression on another. Sadness and happiness are not opposite ends of a scale. 

 

* * *

 

Cathy now shares my little home and, as much as her company excites and invigorates me, it’s tough making the transition from single to couple after living on my own for two years. Since neither of us has a job, we spend almost all our time together. I miss my own space and feel disheartened. Today I went to see my physician and started taking antidepression pills.

 

* * *

 

Tofranil[1] is probably going to make a tremendous difference in my life. I’ve needed help long before this. Suicidal thoughts consumed me four summers ago when Janet left and again after moving here. I’ve always thought I could pull myself through anything and that positive thinking would be my salvation. But it was a losing battle, perhaps because of a chemical imbalance over which I had no control. 

 

* * *

 

Cathy and I spent a wonderful summer here but both of us dread winter’s coming. We’ve decided to move to somewhere in northern California, hoping to find jobs in the wine industry. I cringe to think of packing and moving, and am anxious about finding another comfortable place to live and meaningful work. But Cathy will bolster me through this passage. 

 

Amarillo, Texas

 

I’ve been here two and a half weeks, hoping Mother will be able to leave intensive care and go home. Today, against her wishes, the doctor put a tube down her throat and said her chances are 30%. She blames me for not honoring her wish to die in peace. Thank God Cathy is here to help, but I need a break from her constant company – I can’t think. This damned Norpramin[2] causes milder side effects than Tofranil but it isn’t working. 

 

* * *

 

Mother passed away at 1:30 yesterday morning. I do not feel sad. Cathy and I drove to the hospital to say our farewells. Then I notified relatives and made funeral arrangements. Everyone is pulling my strings. I’m having a hard time dealing with this pressure and wish the world would stop spinning to let me jump off for a few days. Mostly I want to get back to Santa Rosa [California] and move on with my life, but I’m the executor of Mother’s will and have to make Amarillo my home base for several more weeks. 

 

* * *

 

I dropped back on Norpramin from 150 to 100 mg because of trouble thinking and little sexual desire. Its benefits are questionable anyway ‒ I feel lost and look forward to nothing. Anger and dark thoughts surround me. After returning home, I need to find a psychiatrist fast. 

 

Santa Rosa, California

 

I just made a list of activities the past year that helped me overcome despondency: hiking, reading, writing, and listening to music. Interesting, almost all involved no one else. That seems significant. Since Cathy came to live with me, I’m often rude to her, longing to be alone. A lack of solo time may not have caused this depression but I require it to feel good again.

 

* * *

 

I’ve backed off Norpramin to 50 mg and my mood has greatly improved! To her delight, I ravaged Cathy today.  


[1] A tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), one of the earliest the FDA approved, in 1959. See https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/daf/index.cfm?event=overview.process&ApplNo=011838

[2] Another tricyclic antidepressant (TCA). The FDA approved it in 1964. See https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/daf/index.cfm?event=BasicSearch.process

 

About the author

Larry Godwin’s first book, Surviving Our Parents’ Mistakes, debuted in 1999. His articles about depression have appeared on the websites of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Canadian Mental Heath Association. view profile

Published on June 05, 2020

30000 words

Genre: Self-help

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