Thoughts: Tom the Berserker


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I went into therapy about a decade ago because I felt like I was coming apart. A couple of months after I began, my life really did fall apart.

Regular readers already know my story. I fell into a black place. Depression on steroids. You know, the kind of depression you read about where you feel paralyzed, where you can’t get going, can’t make yourself do things, where you struggle to get going in the morning. Yeah, I was pretty much the poster child. Cue fetal position.

Some people ask me if I have “triggers” for depression, things that send me into a dark place. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that because sometimes you live with something so long that you don’t really think about it. It just is. As I have thought about it, and looked back, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that simple.

There’s no “one size fits all” way to deal with depression. It seems to be part art and part science and part war and it takes a while to sort out how much of which it takes to beat the beast back.

There’s the science of course. We know that depression is a disease or syndrome – it’s physical. Most of us have a mix of chemicals and hormones that keep us thinking and feeling in healthy ways. For a few of us, that mix gets out of whack, and our brains begin to lie to us, tell us things are bad, that we aren’t loved, that we can’t get going, that it’s useless, that we are useless, unlovable, not enough, that life is hopeless.

And our brain, wonder that it is, is pretty stupid. If our mix of chemicals and hormone tell us it’s hopeless, it believes us. It becomes reality.

To get past it, first we have to get our chemical mix right. That’s why we take medication. (I call mine “happy pills” even though that’s not really what they do.). For me, and most of us, it doesn’t fix much, but it at least makes it possible for us to do the other half of what we have to do without the chemicals in our head sabotaging us.

You see, that brain of ours has been lying to us for years, maybe decades. And when we tell ourselves something over and over and over, that dumb brain of ours believes it. It becomes OUR reality. So the second part of the journey is to start re-teaching our brain. That’s what therapy does. It helps us find the lies we’ve been telling ourselves, the things we have been hiding from or have put into some closet trying to avoid the pain or the confusion, the things that have told us what a useless piece of humanity we are, or have paralyzed us.

That’s actually pretty hard work. Really hard work. I’ve had to do physical therapy for injuries and that kind of physical work HURTS. It takes time. The progress is slow. It’s frustrating.

Therapy is harder.

But it’s an essential part of the process. ad oh so worth it. And if we see it through, with a good counselor, it can work wonders. On depression, and a host of other things. I used to laugh at shrinks and the whole idea, a belief inherited from my father, who had a disdain for such things, thinking that it was all mumbo-jumbo. I am an evangelist now.

So, with all that background (Sorry, I tend to wander, and nothing is simple so I tend to tell too many back stories. Sigh.), let me answer the question, or at least begin to.

If we depressed folk are on medication, then hopefully the chemicals in our brain are all nice and balanced. And if we’re doing the therapy part, we’re making progress in undoing the lies our brain has been telling itself. All is good… except.

Except our brains are not a stable thing. No, I am not saying we’re all psychotic, but only that things change. As we age, as we live with more or less stress, the chemical mix may change. So even with my “happy pills”, I may not always be in balance. As long as life goes on with normal ups and down my depression is pretty much under control. Until it isn’t. Until something changes.

That something can be a trigger. Or it can be chemical Or it can be a wearing down because of stress or self-neglect (We depressed folks are notoriously bad at self-care.). It can be fast, or (more commonly) it can sneak up on us while we are not watching.

That’s where the third factor comes in. Anger.

First, let me tell you that I hate anger. HATE it. As a kid, I bore my father’s temper with fear and trepidation. He could totally paralyze me with his anger, and for much of my life, and I do mean most of it, anger had that same effect – it paralyzed me. I hated it in others. And I hated it when I felt it, sure somehow that I was bad when I showed anger. It took years and years for me to move past that point. I still go, very, very briefly into that fight or flight place when someone is unloading on me , but it’s crazy brief now. It just doesn’t have that effect any more.

And maybe, more importantly, I have learned how to use my anger. Like a sword. Like a shield. Not on myself. Not (often) on others. But on my depression.

I have declared depression to be my enemy. It has, after all, all the elements of a good villain. It lies. It is controlling, but always negatively. It’s sneaky. It is destructive. I had a good life before my depression and my depression has cost me a lot of years without that good life. I don’t hate well, but I will tell you this. I HATE my depression.

Hate is very valuable in this context. It gives me an energy to fight depression even when I am tired, beat up, worn out, don’t want to and would just like to give in. But anger, well used, has a power and energy that I often lack on my own. It is my arch nemesis. Like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes. Always there, in the shadows, lurking, waiting.

This is not being mad. We get mad at people and it flares and goes away. This is an abiding, fiery, deep-from-my-soul anger. My depression took a lot from me, and I have taken it back. I fight to defend what I have reclaimed. Fighting and anger are still not comfortable to me, never will be. I love peace. I love low stress.

But anger fuels me every day. And without it, I would be riding much more of a roller coaster with my depression than I do now. Anger puts me on my guard, on the offensive and gives both my medicine and my cognitive work (therapy) a fighting chance. Because it IS a fight.

Is it right for everyone, this anger? I don’t know. It works for me. Others who do well with their depression tell me that it works for them too.

A lot of us who are open about our depression, talk about how we suffer depression. Some manage it. A few of us talk about battling it. I don’t want to suffer it. I am not even satisfied managing or battling it. I want to be a frigging berserker, horned Viking helmet, shining broadsword, steel shield and all, screaming like a madman as I charge it each day, eyes ablaze and full of fury

Quietly of course. Don’t want to wake the neighbors.

Be well. Travel wisely.

Tom

7 comments

  1. Thank you for your words. Yes, I know somewhat wheref you speak, having fought depression most of my adult life (and I am now 87 years old) and I too have a daily happy pill and grateful for the lift it does allow. I do so much enjoy your thoughtful, honest blog. Happy for you that you have love in your life.

  2. Loved this post, Tom!!! Yeah, I try to keep it down for the neighbors, too! 🙂 I refuse to let this win! I have my first appointment with my new counselor in Austin on Tuesday and I am really looking forward to it. I met him last year and I think he can help me work through some of this stuff.
    You go, Tom!!!
    Syl

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