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Homecoming

Notes from the depression files

By: Tricia Caspers
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I don’t call it my happy pill. I call it my “I don’t want to die” pill.

I have to admit that at first I did think of the antidepressant I’ve been taking for the last nine months as my happy pill — only jokingly, only in my head — but then it occurred to me that the drug doesn’t really make me happy so much as it allows me function.

I started taking the prescription after nearly a lifetime of convincing myself that I was doing just fine thank you very much. Besides, I’m a writer, I told many a therapist and doctor. What if I lose my creative drive?

And then one day — the result of forty-something hormones, maybe? — I couldn’t fake it anymore, and I realized I wouldn’t get much writing done if I was dead.

I swallowed the bitter pill along with my pride.

It took me a long time to notice the change, but here it is: When I wake up in the morning I am not staring at the ceiling from the bottom of a well of despair. My first thought might be, “I have to pee” or “I hope we’re not out of cream.” My first thought is not, “I don’t think I can do this whole life thing anymore.”

I once read advice from a running coach who said that when a tired runner still has a long hill to climb, she doesn’t focus on the finish line in the distance, she focuses on the next tree or the next signpost. She tells herself she just has to make it another ten feet, and then another. This, I imagine, is solid advice for long-distance runners or for anyone in the midst of a long haul.

However, I see now that, “I have to stay alive long enough to make it to the next milestone” is not a healthy way to live, and that was my life.

I asked my husband if he thought I’d changed.

“Not really,” he said. “You’re just you, except not depressed.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Except.

Except the writing.

I recently revisited a blog I kept while I lived in the New England woods where I was (often) a depressed stay-at-home mom. The writing, as I read it now, feels frantic and fevered. I can feel how much I needed to write to stay sane.

Now I know I will be sane whether or not I put ink on the page, and that seems to take away some of the urgency, but it doesn’t change my love for the words. In the past I would sit and my desk and write and cry and write and cry some more.

Last weekend my poet-friend and I went on a mini-retreat to Truckee, and I told her I wasn’t sure I was capable of crying on the page anymore, but then we wrote poems about swordfish, and there I was, lifting my spectacles to dab at the wetness in my eyes.

(A swordfish is incapable of ever putting down his sword. I find this fact very sad.)

So crying-writing is still possible, but even if it wasn’t I’m scribbling away, just without the frenetic energy.

But I visit my doctor soon, and I have to decide: Do I stay on the medicated path or do I see if I can’t manage to keep myself from wandering into the swamp?

Last time I wrote here about depression, I wondered why so many of us are battling this beast. Author Sebastian Junger has a theory he shared in an interview with Oprah. In researching his book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” he discovered that people are less depressed when they live in tight-knit communities working toward a common goal — even if that goal is as simple as survival.

The wealthier we are, as a society, the more independent we are, and our independence isolates us from our communities. As a result we are all so tragically depressed.

Or at least I am. Was.

Along with millions of other Americans.

So I suppose one way to be medication-free is to start a commune in my backyard and live off the grid, hunt and forage for my meals.

I’m not ruling it out.

Tricia Caspers is an award-winning writer. She may be reached at caspers.ross@gmail.com