Tuesday Apr 07

Whether You’re a Literary Writer or a Construction Worker: Depression Affects One in Twelve of the Population

If “the world is a vampire,” as the rock band, Smashing Pumpkins. says, then society is blood pretending to be water. Society pretends. A lot.

Tell someone you have depression, and you’re stylish; you’re the acceptably mentally disordered actress Brooke Shields, although you are less likely to have her stunning face and much, much less likely to have her fame. Tell someone you’ve spent a few nights in the Bellevue Hospital psych ward in New York, and, suddenly, you have the darkest, red blood no modernday vampire would ever dare to sip.

Tell them you’ve attempted suicide and watch them back up.

On the web is my short story called, “Crows and Sparrows,” a sporty, diaristic tale by this fifty-six-year-old fiction writer. It’s a first-person narrative of an emotionally troubled middle-ager who spends his days wondering if he is crazy, or if the world is. A closer look at my other writings, and you’ll find I point a stiff, hard finger at society for my own problems. In my novel Don’t Forget Me, Bro (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015), I write, “I went insane going insane. Where was my president? My senator? My neighbor? My brother? Can’t somebody step in and be my placebo?”

“There is no strategy in dealing with me,” I have said more than once, recalling years and years of blind trial-and-error of antidepressant drugs.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, some thirty antidepressants crowd the pharmacy shelves. Another sixty anxiety treatments have made the population of the depressed into pill-poppers praying for sunshine. The madness of it all is that any course of action in medicine is crisscrossed and often nixed by insurance—what medications it will cover and what it won’t. It’s big business, being sick, whether with diabetes or clinical depression. That’s no secret.

An excerpt in my diary reads: “September: Tried Prozac. Dizzy, bloated fingers, dry tongue, no erection. October: Tried Lexapro. Same. November: Tried Paxcel. It packed nothing. Crap pill. Christmas: Tried Trintellex and barfed on Santa’s lap. My shrink is guessing!”

One drug did alleviate my depression to a degree, but Medicaid didn’t cover this medication. For three months prior, my psychiatrist had supplied me with free samples of it, but my good doctor was unable, after repeated attempts, to get the medication approved by my insurance. I decline to name the drug, but I will say that one of the drugs that made my condition worse, my pharmacy kept refilling and refilling until it is now spilling out of my medicine cabinet.

I hold an MFA in creative writing from University Central Florida. I’ve worked successfully as a weekly reporter and college teacher. I’ve never been in trouble with the law.

“The Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 for me,” I said just to my cousin. “But the only brick and mortar place for suiciders is the county jail. There, they take your shoestrings from you, so that you can’t hang yourself! Funny, I can teach at a university in the day and sleep beside a petty thief at night.”

My cousin did not laugh.

As a writer, I have ruminated—rumination is a dangerous state—in more than one hundred published short stories on the madness of going mad, often remarking bitterly on the leery stares from those with a whiff of my condition. Years ago, I applied for a job at the Church of Scientology, and when I revealed I took an antidepressant, I was called “impure” and dismissed, just as the Nazis called the Jews, among others.

As a hell-bent scribbler, I know I am not alone and, in the long run, actually in good company. A headline in The Atlantic reads: “Writers Are Twice as Likely to Commit Suicide.” Hypergraphia, research shows, is the incendiary device—activated. Basically, the intense desire to create and its practice turns on a cake mixer in the lower temporal lobes where emotions, memories, and the facility for language are generated. E.L Doctorow said, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

Depression in writers is a wicked problem. Occupational hazard? Maybe? Acclaimed poet Sylvia Plath was neurotic but not narcissistic enough to live, apparently. She did little to stoke her creative juices by putting her head into an oven and turning on the gas. Everyone blamed poetry. Ernest Hemingway did little to advance his career by shooting himself in the head with a Civil War revolver. Everyone blamed pain, in his mind and body.

I mock death. I comb my hair in the mirror of suicide. The only reason I am alive is that I am too vain to die. I won’t give death the satisfaction.

Whether you’re a literary writer or a construction worker, or both, the facts say: One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Around one in ten children experience mental health problems. Depression affects around one in twelve of the whole population. 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.

Shooting sprees, drug overdoses, divorces—what is being done?

“Public policy makes a difference in the lives of both the people living with mental health conditions and the people in their lives,” claims the main web page of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Really? What is this so-called public policy, and what difference is it making?

NAMI’s softly pastel-colored website uses safe language in talking about the warning signs of mental health conditions. It also promises support for those signaling their end. Support, eh? I recently left six messages [count ‘em—one, two, three, four, five, six!] with a live receptionist at NAMI to be forwarded to a higher-up, whom I choose not to name, but this grand fellow never called me back. I simply wanted a return call for practical advice regarding my depression. Two emails to him also went unanswered.

What does it all end? That you’re on your own? That the hurting have to shout out louder?

If actor Michael Biehn as “Kyle Reese” in The Terminator were to speak to this issue, he might say, “Listen, and understand. Depression is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!”

John Michael Cummings is the author of three novels and more than one hundred short stories. Cummings holds a BA in studio arts and graphic design from George Mason University and an MFA in English literature and creative writing from University of Central Florida.

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