Happy New Year! Happy New Year?
Tonight, I went to my fourth Champagne-a-palooza at a good friend’s very fabulous DC condo. This was the first time the annual Champagne shindig fell on NYE so I showed up with Paul, my bff, and her boyfriend in everything sequined or sparkly that I could find in my closet.
Sometime well after midnight, when the cheese fondue had long since been swapped out for chocolate, and the soiree was getting a little slurry, I sat on the edge of a couch to catch up with a friend, Rockbottom, who I see twice a year at most. Rockbottom doesn’t fuck around with small talk.
Right away, I could see Rockbottom was different. She’s artistic, optimistic, deeper than Adele, and cooler than Dave Eggers. Maybe she was just a little drunker and a little older. Rockbottom said she was tired of fighting a great sadness. She was clinging to the edges of deep hole. The harder she climbed the farther she slipped. She said she thought she needed to stop resisting, hit rock bottom, start at zero.
Of course, I was a little worried. While we aren’t super close, she knows me better than most people because she’s so open to asking personal questions and sharing about her own life. I love that in a pal.
Because I’m a major depression survivor, her words worried me. I said if she really wants to let herself fall and face the shit, the sadness, or worse–the nothing which is the true form of depression–she needs to be sure she can climb back out of the pit of despair. Nothing is worse than the hopeless, emotionless darkness within depression.
As William Stryon points out in his memoir about his experience with clinical depression, it’s too bad that we don’t have a better word for this disease. Depression isn’t just feeling sad or even being wracked with grief.
Clinical depression feels like treading water alone in a gray sea below a gray sky and seeing nothing in the distance. Depression is nothing, nothing, nothing, and then some guilt over wishing that you had never been existed.
Depression is made worse by societal stigmas about seeking therapeutic and medicinal intervention, and pressure to “stay positive” or “snap out of it.” Old people and baby boomers, who were raised in an era where depressed people were expected to “grin and bear it “or magically “snap out of it,” especially need to shut the fuck about depression and do a little research. It’s genetic, and can be as serious and deadly as cancer. I know. I’m still surviving cancer and clinical depression, and worry every single fucking day that my current excellent mental and physical health is too good to be true.
Back to Champagne-a-palooza…
Simultaneously, across the party, an acquaintance I’d heard about through the 30-something grapevine who I’ll call Slurry Pants stumbled through the party slurring apologies. Her beau was wasted and she needed to get him back to her place asap. I’d heard that these two drink and fight like UFC champs. Lucky for them, they forget half of what’s said and hope their friends don’t fill them in the next day.
So I wondered: how do you know when you’ve hit rock bottom? Do you have to fall so far to climb back out?
If I were Rockbottom or Slurry Pants, I would have sought therapy already. I can tell a depression is coming in the same way I know when a chest cold is brewing. The symptoms are subtle, like a tickle in my throat, and the vague sense of unease and fatigue. Then comes binge drinking. Then comes the crying. Then the anger. Then some bad, bad decisions, like insulting my sister who I love more than almost anybody, or attempting to/successfully dumping my boyfriend. (Thank goodness, Paul won’t let me).
This destructive behavior stems from a desperation to keep feeling. Anger, sadness, guilt, shame, are better than the void that opens under my feet when I’m depressed. And then the nothing. That’s my rock bottom and by then, it’s usually too late for an easy fix.
It took nearly thirty years for me to recognize the signs and know when I need to take action. I don’t want to hit rock bottom. My rock bottom is hell.
For Rockbottom, I think her instinct to “let go” and hit the ground isn’t necessarily a bad idea. She knows she needs make some major changes in her life. Even though she loves her job, she doesn’t feel fulfilled. She’s ready to find a significant other after many years of living single. She travels on her own, organizes massive art parties, and speaks with a genuine confidence that doesn’t come from a mean girl place that I think is unfortunately rare in women. What “rock bottom” means to her is letting herself experience the full spectrum of emotions rather than ignore the need to cry or mourn the many lives we lose every year without even realizing it. The American mantras “positivity/laughter is the best medicine” (ugh) and the idea that feeling sad equals failure closes us off from the joy we could feel afterward.
In the case of Slurry Pants and her beau, hitting their rock bottom might be something more serious. I’m not judging the drinking. Drinking is fun. I LOVE drinking but I don’t do it any more. I miss it a little bit.
Even binging can be okay on occasions like NYE. I spent 28 years binge-drinking until I caught the cancer. It made for some good, uninhibited times but it’s the same shit every weekend.
Slurry Pants and her beau drink and party and fuck and fight because they are too afraid to feel anything. It’s the kind of rock bottom where they might wake up in ten, twenty years and wonder what the fuck they were thinking staying together. They both have some serious soul searching to do about why they are self-medicating this way. What are they masking with booze? Why are they still pounding shots when everyone else is sipping champagne? Can we catch our friends before they hit rock bottom?
But Slurry Pants and boyfriend are plummeting towards a different sort of rock hard bottom: one that might mean rehab or worse.