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Growing Up and Getting Old Ain’t Necessarily the Same

There are some days when I wake up and my inner 19-year-old is in charge. I feel great, full of energy, and ready to take on the world.

Today isn’t one of those days.

Today I woke up feeling the weight of every one of my 68 and a half years. It’s cold and overcast, and my arthritis is responding with a flare-up in my thumb that makes it difficult to write.

As far as “It Gets Better” goes, it’s on these days that I ask, “When?”

They’re the days I think of my hopes and dreams. Some were shattered, some abandoned, some abandoned, and many came true.

One of the best came true when I was able to fulfill a promise my 17-year-old self made. It was when I first heard Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” I promised that if I ever had a daughter, that would be her name. When I was 25, I made true on that promise. Okay, so I added an extra letter; I thought “Suzzanne” was a better name for the little girl I knew would become a remarkable woman.

Which she has indeed become. Far more remarkable than I could have imagined.

Another dream was fulfilled when our second daughter was born, giving my parents their second grandchild.
She, alas, doesn’t remember her grandmother, who died when Steffani was 4. 36 years ago today, as a matter of fact.

My Annual Day of Mourning

Dec 12 of each year is when I sit down in my chair, sip my tea, and wonder. What would my life be like today had she lived? Would she still love the son who became her daughter?

She was a remarkable woman, my mother. The wife of a minister, she more than my father showed me what it meant to be a Christian.

Sadly, she also bequeathed to my brothers and I her life-long depression. My father once told me that she told him many times “If I didn’t have those children, I would kill myself.”

That, more than anything else, tells me just how much she loved us.

And maybe mourning isn’t the right word. Rather, call it wondering.

How would she react to me? Or her great grandchildren, one of whom is starting out on the same journey I am on?

Hope For the Next Generation

Chloe-now-Cole is developing into a fine young lad. He’s sure to face problems along the way, many of which I’ve already dealt with.

And while I can’t say I have a favorite grandchild, Cole is one of the reasons I no longer consider suicide. He needs me, as I need him. And while I do tell him from time to time that it does indeed get better, I also tell him that it often doesn’t happen as soon as it’s needed.

So Yes, it Does Get Better

Maybe not all at once, or easily. But on balance, my own life has gotten better because of my mother.
And that’s why I know that were she still here today, she would love and accept her daughter just as she once loved her son.

Helen Jane Sheppard (nee Stevens)

Thanks for reading.

 

Stop Saying Suicide Is Cowardly

This is going to piss off a lot of readers, but I don’t care. The people it will piss off are the ones who have already pissed me off by their uneducated, ignorant claim in the first place.

The first thing I’m going to say that will piss them off is this:

If you have never been plagued by depression, or never watched a loved one crippled by this disease, kindly shut the fuck up.

I can’t state this enough. You have no business pontificating on a subject about which you know nothing. And by making your statement, all I hear is, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m going to give you my opinion anyway, because I know more about it than you do.”

I hate to burst your bubble, but here’s an uncomfortable truth: People with depression don’t want to die!

People with depression don’t want to die!


Here’s the thing: on both occasions I tried suicide, it wasn’t because I wanted to die; I simply wanted the pain to stop. I was in a place where I could no longer think rationally. After all, do you really think that if I could see any other solution I wouldn’t have chosen it instead?

And that, dear friends and critics, is the difference between my depression and your “sanity:” the inability to think clearly and rationally. Did I really want to die? Did I consider how my death would affect my family? My friends?

Of course I didn’t: I was so overwhelmed by my depression and its pain and agony that I was incapable of any thought at all, much less rational thought.

Was I a coward? Or was I in a state where suicide was my only rational choice?

Do you see the contradiction here? That I was in such pain that I was incapable of clear, rational thought that to me, suicide seemed to be the only rational solution.

Unless you’ve been there, you won’t understand. And being there, you don’t see any other solution. Which is why depression can so often be a fatal disease.

So before you call suicide “Cowardly,” or “The easy way out,” or any other stupid thing, stop and think: what would you do if you saw no other way out of a soul-deadening, horrifying life of agony, with no hope of improvement?

One more thing: there’s a reason J. K. Rowling modeled the Dementors on her own depression.


We’re All Mad Here

‘“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”’—Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

One of the greatest coping skills I learned after yet another failed suicide attempt (have you ever had a tube inserted in your nose and snaked down to your stomach as part of a gastric lavage?) was something I realized when my therapist told me: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The realization—or rather, the skill—was so simple I was amazed that I hadn’t thought of it before was this: when things get so dark that I start to consider simply ending it all, I put on my headphones, fire up iTunes on my laptop, and put George Harrison on a loop. All Things Must Pass is my mantra. I listen to it over and over again until finally, I believe it.

The other realization changed my entire outlook on life in general and my lifelong chronic depression. This time it was something I read:

The question we should be asking is not “What’s wrong with you?” Rather, we should be asking “What happened to you?”

That changed my perspective from “What did I do to deserve this?” to “What caused this to happen to me?” And even then, it took a much longer time to drop the “to me” and stop looking at myself as a victim.

I am not a “victim of depression;” I am a survivor. I now approach this struggle in much the same way practitioners of Aikido approach their opponents: find your enemy’s strength—in this case, his energy—and turn it against him.

I’ve spent years discovering my enemy’s strengths. Knowing them, I have learned how to turn them against what Churchill called his “black dog,” and what Rowling put a face to with the Dementors.

The result? Between those two realizations, new medications, and therapy, it’s been over 3 years since my last suicide attempt, and 2 years since I’ve had even so much as a thought of harming myself.

We may be, as the Cheshire Cat claims, “all mad here.” But that’s no reason we can’t fight back. That’s no reason we can’t be mental health ninjas.


Do you suffer from depression? Do you have thoughts of self-harm? Of suicide? You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255. Even though I’m on the mend, I still keep the number on speed dial.

A Cup of Bitterness

As I was growing up in a tea-drinking family, my mother’s universal remedy for just about every conceivable ailment was a cup of tea and a side of cinnamon toast. This was so ingrained in me that even now–at the age of 67–I still find comfort in a cup of tea.

“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.” ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

Changing Tastes

But as George Orwell tells us,

“…I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones. All true tea-lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes….” ~George Orwell, “A Nice Cup of Tea,” Evening Standard, 12 January 1946

In my own case, I find it to be true. Oh, I’m not ready to go full-on Orwell in my habits–I still prefer milk and sweetener in my cuppa–but neither am I content with the tea of my youth: weak, insipid tea brewed from a bag and served with so much milk and sugar that it might as well have been called tea-flavored milk.

But I’ve slowly been cutting back on the additives. Less sweetener, less milk result in a more astringent taste. A slight bitterness. Sometimes I’ll add some Tea Masala, that Indian blend of spices that results in what I call Masala Chai, and most people erroneously refer to as “Chai tea,” not realizing that the very word “Chai” means “tea.” So they’re ordering a cup of tea tea.


Then again, what else would you expect from the nation that gave us the baseball team called “The The Angels Angels”? And just why in the hell did they move them from Brooklyn in the first place?

But I digress.

Flavored Teas

With the exception of Masala Chai, I find the idea of adding flavors to tea quite abhorrent. You are no longer drinking tea but rather some watered-down Kool-aid substitute.

And that’s why, with rare exceptions on the even rarer exceptions that I go to a restaurant, I won’t order tea. This is simply that American restaurants don’t know how to make a proper cup of tea. And why do we spell it “rest-o-RANT” but pronounce it “REST-ront,” anyway?

These are but a few of the thoughts I have whilst enjoying that all-important first cup of tea of the day. There are some mornings when all that gets me out of bed in the first place is the whistling of the kettle when my roommate boils his own pot of water to pour over the coffee grounds in his French press coffee maker.

And not even that works all of the time. Sometimes my depression is as black as my roomie’s coffee.

Still, I continue to find beauty, comfort, and bitterness in a cup of tea.

Dark Days Ahead

This week begins my annual decent into darkness. It generally starts around Thanksgiving and stays until after Valentine’s Day. So if I don’t post as often as I would like, that’s why.

Thanksgiving, because I’m reminded that I’m alone. My children and grandchildren are on the opposite side of the country, and while my wife and I are still married, that’s just a technicality. Her family has severed all contact with me.

December brings with it my mother’s birthday, followed a few days later by the anniversary of her death. Then comes thee gloom of Christmas spent alone, followed by New Year’s Eve spent the same way. January is usually pretty much of a blank, followed by February and the second anniversary of my father’s death.

All of which would be bearable were it not for my

  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Seasonally Affective Disorder
  • Chronic Depression
  • Gender Dysphoria


Yeah, I’m a mess. But as the song says,

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down

I still have my tea and my books. Oh, yes: and my blogs. They’re really my on-line journals, which I write in to keep my sanity.

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down

Love and hope,

Robyn Jane