Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What breaks us

That bedroom, with its wrought iron bed frame, wooden plank floors, pink cotton curtain at the window and pitcher of fresh picked flowers on the dresser reminds me achingly of my grandparents' house in the country, the room where I slept with my two girl cousins, the ones closest to me in age, the three of us horizontally across the bed so as to fit more easily. Looking at that picture, at the distinct arrangement of the furniture, the floral bedspread and delicate white rattan chair, I could be standing at the door of that bedroom now, feeling the air in there, always chilly and fresh in the hills above Mandeville, where the tropical heat gave way to a surprisingly temperate clime. 

The only thing different is the ceiling, which instead of wooden beams was constructed of pressed tin. Also missing from the picture are the fat Sears fashion catalogs that my cousins and I used to idly leaf through each evening as we chatted before bed, before Grandma came in and turned off the lights and admonished us to go to sleep. She never worried about our bare feet hanging off the side of the bed, still dirty from a day spent roaming the farm, playing hide and seek in the woods behind the water tank, picking oranges off the tree in the grove whose fence we had to climb while dodging pigs. In my memory, how simple those days were, how stretched out before us in sun-drenched dreaming. That photo took me back there.

I had dinner with three friends on Saturday evening. (My husband graciously did the hospital dinner run while I did the social thing. Just one more reason I adore him.) One of my friends, a therapist, had just returned from an all day psychotherapy conference, and she was telling us about a presentation she had heard there, by a colleague who said that the whole cause of depression is the fact that we have not adequately mourned. He proposed that unless we mourn our losses, letting go of that which mattered to us or somehow indelibly marked us—from childhood events to people we have loved to compromised health to aging parents to a time when everything felt charmed and the death of dreams—then we will remain stuck, unable to move forward, desolate. He said that people often fail to adequately mourn; we push away the feelings that attend loss because it is just too painful, but that it is so important to say to oneself, this broke my heart, this broke me

I didn't fully understand the whole thing. I suppose you had to be at the conference or be a psychotherapist to really get it. But I'm still thinking about it days later. And when I saw the picture of that room, I mourned the passing of those long ago summers with my cousins at our grandparents. I think I had no idea that the loss of that time was still an ache in me. It makes me wonder: What else have I failed to mourn? 

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Postscript: My friend Isabella, the therapist, sent me this important clarification by email this morning: "While there is this distinction—based on Freud's paper Mourning and Melancholia—mourning actually never ends. It is activated throughout life and evokes deep sadness but does not inhibit us the way depression does."




12 comments:

  1. Another beautiful post.
    I am not sure what to think about the not-mourning/depression thing. Possibly. But why does it run in families so? Are these the families which hide their feelings away so deeply that they can't be felt?
    I don't know. I do not know. It seems to me that life is one mourning for losses after another.
    How can it not be?

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    1. Mary, I agree with you. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the constant mourning of losses. Perhaps it is just semantics, though, and what that therapist actually meant was we have to make peace with change, accept what is, let go of what was. Maybe his word for that is mourning. Hugs.

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  2. I really need to read this right now. Thanks so much for sharing. It is true: mourning is a passing emotion, but the depression it leaves is so potent. We must know that coming out on the other side is still an option.

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    1. Dear Candice, it is an option. Hang in there, my friend. Much love.

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  3. The bedroom that I remember from my grandparents house still exists because my Aunt bought the house and kept the furniture the same. Well mostly, I have the sewing cabinet that had been there. My aunt will let me go there. Her house, which is also a big part of my childhood is still available to me because my favorite cousin bought it. But the house that I grew up in over the years has sold several times and I don't think they would be comfortable touring their house.

    I am pondering your friend's theory. There seems to be a logic to it.

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    1. Lisa, how lovely to have childhood spaces still available to you. I imagine it must make it easier to connect with who we are over time. And yes, that theory does make you think. xo

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  4. That makes sense to me -- the idea that until we work through things they stay within us, repressed and manifesting in some damaging way. Pretty insightful! I'm not sure mourning means the sadness will never return, though -- there will probably always be part of you that misses those days with your cousins, for example. We all have special memories like that.

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    1. Steve, something about it made sense to me too, although I still have questions. I suppose mourning is active and intentional and depression is what happens to us when we are, for whatever reason, no judgments here, not conscious enough to be active and intentional. My husband once said, Who ever told us that life should always be happy? Who indeed. Sadness honors us sometimes. It makes me sad to think about my dad not being here, for example, but that honors him, the man he was for us.

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  5. Interesting theory...So much of depression has been linked to brain chemistry as well--which is why medication can work well for one and not for another...I wonder what your friend would say about dysthymia---a low grade version of depression that often goes undiagnosed.

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    1. e, sometimes i think we are all engaged in an effort to label and codify the messiness of life, and while some things make sense to some sensibilities, it can seem utterly illogical to others. maybe brain chemistry is what keeps some of us from mourning (as my friend refers to it) because the way we are wired it's just to painful to do. i don't know. i have no idea really. i will ask her about dysthymia.

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  6. I neither think that mourning is finite, nor that all depression is based on insufficiently acknowledged losses. Both of these constructs seem far too restrictive to hold the tremendous
    variety of human experience and biological predispositions, don't they?

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    1. A, yes, my friend clarified for me that mourning is not finite. I think my poor brain unforgivably simplified what she was trying to convey. I tend to think you're right: the variety of human experience and biological makeups can never be held within any single theory. But we try. And maybe we catch a corner of it. I may also have conveyed her colleagues theory in too simplistic a manner, because that's all my particular brain could grasp. It's lovely to see you here, as always. xo

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