We pull truths out of us
like magicians pulling foot upon foot
of rainbow scarves out of throats.

I gag on each knot, and your truths
string our past selves up by their necks,
push them off high rafters. Every day

I grieve for what I thought we were.

I’ve never been to therapy, but I know what a therapist would say about me blaming myself: I shouldn’t do it. I know I was too young. I was a small child. I know it’s OK that I didn’t tell anyone. And I know I don’t have to own anyone else’s pain. Not my mother’s, certainly. I know I’m not her. I know my daughter’s not me. These maxims have leeched into the air of modern life the way hormones from birth control pills have seeped into the water, so why would I pay for them to be laid out like tarot cards?

I’ve never read a self-help book or new age tract, but I know I should be grateful. I know I should live in the present. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I know that life’s not fair, that it’s not a meritocracy. I know I should work harder. I know how lucky I am, and sometimes I feel the luck deeply; it’s a luminous polished stone that fits perfectly in my palm. I gaze on it with wonder, rhythmically rub the cool smooth belly of it with my thumb. But often as it evokes gratitude this fortuitous possession inspires in me fear and guilt, which I know is not helpful. Gratitude. Practice gratitude. Also, breathing is very important. I know if I put the mortgage on autopay it’d be one less chore but frankly, I can’t always be sure there will be enough money in the account on any given day. I know we should be saving more. Five hundred dollars a month per kid for college, one chart said. Bah ha. I know the kids should be read to or reading twenty minutes or more a day. But most days works, right? And ten will do, in a pinch?

I never read health magazines, but I know I should drink eight glasses of water and that the vast majority of us actually do need eight hours of sleep and that I should get my kids in bed in time to get ten and I shouldn’t smoke a single cigarette and no way should I have that second beer when already there are only seven hours left to sleep if I can fall there fast enough. I know I shouldn’t worry about falling asleep, that’s only going to make it worse. I know sleep is aided by a cool, dark environment, that alcohol disturbs it, that there should be no technology in the bedroom. That one’s easy for me, but some sources say I shouldn’t even bring a book to bed. Just one more chapter. I know I should close it right now. I never read women’s magazines, but I know to keep the love alive I should shake things up sexually with my husband, we should take up activities that are new and exciting for both of us, we should speak in I statements when discussing our relationship, I feel, not you make me feel. I don’t know if the I-statements rule applies to sexual matters, I can see there might be some gray area there, but I know I should take responsibility for myself, be proactive, be the change I want to see in the world. I know plastic shopping bags cause damage six ways from Sunday. I should have brought those reusable shopping bags. I usually do! My husband should do it, too. Why does he always forget? I know I should run out after him with the shopping bags in hand. Or actually, I shouldn’t do that. I should let more go. I should let go more. We all should. I know, right? We need to lighten up.

I know I should have told that Walgreens checkout person to take the sunscreen and Trident out of the plastic bag. I intended to put them in my backpack, but I didn’t tell her fast enough, and Jesus, maybe in this case saving the bag is less important than not annoying her with another request. She’s had a rougher day than me. I sense it. I know I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what I need, I know that as a woman I don’t ask for raises often enough (although it didn’t work out so great that one time; I should have read some tips first). I know most sunscreens are shit for you and that I should put some more on my kids right now because they’ve been in the water for over an hour and they’re about to fry. It’s the childhood burns that really set you up for cancer and premature aging, I know that. I know Olay ProX products are supposed to be really very good. I know it wasn’t my fault. I never said it was. I never thought it was. These issues have never bothered me much except insofar as a culture that makes the counterclaims so insistently and declaratively suggests that perhaps they should. That at least I should consider them.

I don’t watch TV or read celebrity magazines but I do look at the internet a lot and for the longest time I didn’t understand how Fergie so often found herself photographed nude. If the British Duchess was really running that far off the rails, surely I would have gleaned it from the supermarket checkout aisle, as I had her involvement with a weight loss plan. But now I know the names of the individual Black Eyed Peas and I saw them in the Superbowl halftime show, and it all makes sense. Sometimes it’s just the one missing piece that makes the whole come together. Ah-ha! That’s it! I get it! I can rest easy now.

One night, after my toddler twins went to sleep, I wandered aimlessly around my dining room. I looked at the dishes in the sink, the pile of unpaid bills and stacks of papers that needed my response, the unread book with testimonials of changed lives, which I’d been reading three pages at a time for a month. I surveyed my options for a moment and decided on the book – in theory, I wanted to change my life.

I went to say goodnight to my teenage daughter, who was watching The Truman Show. I stood by the couch, book in hand, and watched the movie. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the couch, book on my lap. An hour and a half later I got off the couch, picked up the book, and said goodnight. I placed the book back in its spot and stood staring at it for a long time while I considered whether I really wanted my life to change.

Major Depressive Disorder (Source: NIMH)

  • Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.
  • Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
  • While Major Depressive Disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.
  • Major Depressive Disorder is more prevalent in women than in men.

*

I had to look those numbers up, because too often I feel alone in my diagnosis.

You see, contrary to most people’s impression of me, I am depressive. Clinically. Sometimes, debilitatingly. But only my two closest friends and my psychiatrist (no, not even my family) know how grim I can get.

*

Here’s how it usually goes when I mention it to the uninformed:

“I’m sad.”

“But your life is so awesome. You are so awesome. Cheer up!”

*

I don’t know how to write about it. It’s embarrassing. And I don’t understand it.

But I do know what pisses me off about it.

Articles like this one, recently published in The New York Times:

Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy

The article examines the switch from psychiatric talk therapy to becoming mere pill factories and how disgruntled older psychiatrists are (or aren’t) about it and how patients are suffering nonetheless.

*

I was going through a crippling wave of depression about seven years ago. I was finally convinced to see my friend’s psychiatrist. I was terrified. This would be my first trip to a real, live, “New York Shrink”.

I had been to one social worker/therapist in Chicago six years before that, but with awful results. After two visits and a recommendation for a bottle of St. John’s Wort and a couple bars of dark chocolate, I was sent home with a treacle-dripping “Feel better!” and a wave.

And that was during the truly borderline years.

So while I told myself that a ‘professional’ would be better than that particular weirdo therapist, I knew I didn’t want drugs to solve my problems. I knew I was a smart person and that I could figure things out if someone would just listen to me and understand me and give me some tools to help me fix the sadness.

*

I got a prescription for Zoloft at the end of my first visit.

“After you’re chemically balanced, we’ll be able to figure out what’s really going on.”

After I was chemically balanced, I had nothing to talk about.

*

Sure, I was no longer on the emotional roller coaster, but neither did I have the capacity to talk about what was making me so miserable, because suddenly nothing was making me miserable.

I spent two years rehashing broken relationships, parental annoyances, professional disappointments, but they seemed so inconsequential. I was putting on a performance for her, because that was what I felt I was supposed to be doing, and I didn’t want to waste a penny of my $200 45-minute hour.

Also, I got fat.

Zoloft stopped what little metabolism my diabetically-inclined body has, and because I was an emotionless blob, I started eating and staring at the television all the time.

More than usual, anyway.

Add ‘overweight slob’ to my weekly schpiel.

*

Eventually, thankfully, my rational senses took over and I weaned myself off of the drugs and the shrink’s staid head-nodding, non-responsive “um-hmm” attempts at fixing me.

And for a while, I was better. I was. My brain came back. I met a guy. The thrill of meeting him was exhilarating, the orgasms were mind-blowing and the break-up was devastating.

As it should be.

*

Life resumed its normalcy.

*

Slowly, ever so slowly, the depression came back. I don’t know where it came from. It’s genetic, I had learned that, so certainly it was in my DNA. A chemical imbalance? Maybe. A learned coping mechanism? Sure. I could see that.

But whatever it was, things were getting bad again.

Really bad.

And I didn’t know how to deal, other than I knew I needed to talk and I didn’t want to keep bothering my two friends. I know friends say that’s what they’re there for, but nobody is there for long when things get like my things get.

So I looked for another psychiatrist.

But no drugs this time. I was adamant.

Plus, it took me two long years to lose those additional 40 lbs.

And I was lookin’ good.

*

I found one. One who was in the business for all the right reasons. He didn’t think I needed drugs. He even gave me a massive discount because I was broker than broke.

I talked.

He talked back.

And it helped.

A lot.

*

I’ve been away from him and our bi-monthly sessions for nine months and I can feel the all-too-familiar twinge creeping back.

But I recognize it now. And I know what to do before it gets too ugly.

I have to go talk to someone.

*

No drugs.

*

Talk.

*

My appointment’s next Tuesday.

I watched a tear roll down Valerie’s face. She said nothing for the longest time, then she stepped in close and whispered, “I lost my husband to drugs.”

I didn’t respond.

Did you plagiarize any of Numb?

Next question.

This month over at my fiction column here at TNB, I decided to have my focus for August be about Jewish authors in the name of the upcoming High Holy Days. I had a stack of books I thought I’d go through but found, of course, that list was a bit too ambitious. I find myself trying to do too many things, always saying yes, never saying no to anyone or anything. My therapist is always telling me that I’m like a pretzel, always ready to twist myself into any shape necessary to accommodate others. While I’ll always disagree that I’m not that flexible, I know she’s almost always right. That’s the trouble when one person knows you better than you know yourself.  I hate being a foregone conclusion, so this was my attempt to prove my therapist wrong by setting some limits and reviewing books I’d already made time to read.  If they happened to be Jewish authors, well then, so be it. (Tod Goldberg, you know you’d be at the top of my list of authors to pimp out if you weren’t already so good at it yourself, just sayin’.)

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.