People like me, people who depend so much on a sense of humor and a good laugh on frequent occasions, are usually subject to depression. The bad thing about being up is that eventually, you come down. And the higher up you go, the further down you fall.
I have learned a great deal about surviving a depression in my time on Earth. I have been in the emergency room for a sufferer of depression three times, one of those when a child hurt himself. I have talked people out of a suicidal depression in the middle of the night exactly three times… three very long nights, two of them over the phone, not knowing where the sufferer actually was. I have had three different family members in psychiatric care, hospitalized for a week, five separate times. They don’t tell you these things can happen in teacher’s college. They don’t tell you that sometimes it is part of a teacher’s job to deal with it, both the depression of students in your care and family members subject to the effects of stress in teachers’ lives.
I have lost three former students to suicide. (Typing that line just made me cry again.) One of my high school classmates ended it all with a gun. And, of course, we all lost Robin Williams to the deadly darkness of the mind as well.
And I am depressed right now, a depression brought on by a week’s worth of weather-related arthritis pain. I was also betrayed today by someone whom I thought was a friend. But before you panic for my safety and call a hotline in my name, don’t worry. I know the answer. I fought depression long and hard enough to know where the ladders are in the mythical dark pit of despair.
For one thing, you have to make the sufferer remember the good things in life. There are people and places and things to do that everyone can use as that wonderful good that you have to live on for. Listing things you have to stay alive for is a ladder. I have children still in school. I have pictures to draw and stories to write before I am through. There are people I love that I have to live for. I wrote about one of those yesterday, and I have at least two thousand more.
In fact, I met a former student in the Walmart parking lot the other day. She had lost her mother to suicide. She suffered bipolar disorder and depression herself, and in her junior year of high school, we almost lost her. But she had to stop me and make me recognize her to show me that she has made it. She is alive and happy, years after the fact. She is now a rung in my ladder.
When you have to talk to somebody who is dangerously depressed, it is not enough to keep saying that everything is going to be all right. You have to show them the ladders. It helps to know where the suicide hotline telephone number is posted, or have a copy of it in your wallet. It helps to know where to find good professional help. It helps to know that every school has a counselor who will either provide the help or direct that help to you. That is another important ladder.
Eating chocolate helps, or fruit. Serotonin levels in the brain are low if you are depressed. My wife left apple turnovers in the refrigerator for me. Of course, non-chocolate candy is a bad thing. A sugar high leads to a sugar crash, and that is worse than where you started.
Singing songs also works for me. Hence, the novel I am working on is called Sing Sad Songs. Even singing sad songs increases the oxygen flow to the old brain and helps it think more clearly, sing more melodiously (not odiously), and feel better. Ladders made of candy and ladders made of song… bet you didn’t see that one coming. Telling a joke, even a bad one, can make a ladder too.
Writing this blog can be used as a ladder. As I close in on 700 words, I am feeling better than I did when I started. So, please, don’t be afraid of the darkness, and don’t let it defeat you. You can win. I know it. Because I have walked that path, fallen into that pit, and found the ladder out.