In “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Holly Golightly has a conversation with Paul Varjak, a struggling writer and sometime escort (implied in the book, not the movie). She asks him if he’s ever had “the mean reds.” Confused, Paul asks Holly if it’s anything like the blues. To which she replies, “No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”
Paul says yes, and that’s when Holly confesses that when she gets that way, the only thing that helps her through is to hop in a cab and head to Tiffany’s. There, she calms down right away because of the quiet, proud look of the place.
I’ve never had a place to go to when I got the Mean Reds, felt melancholy, or experienced the blues. But there were things I’d do that would perk me right up.
When I lived in New York, for instance, I’d hop the subway into Manhattan and walk aimlessly through the Village. I’d sit and watch people rush by, wondering who they were, what they did and where they were going. I’d wonder what they were hiding, if they ever got depressed and how they got themselves out of it. I’d imagine elaborate stories for them and usually, by the time I was done, I was so involved in the lives I’d made up for them that I was no longer sad about my own.
Sometimes, I’d take in a movie. Woody Allen’s “Hannah & Her Sisters” once pulled me out of a huge depression when I was in my twenties. Later in life, once I bought a VCR, two personal favorites never failed me; “Victor/Victoria” and “Auntie Mame.” I’m not quite sure if it was the music, the happy endings despite their adversities, or just the pure entertainment that yanked me out of the doldrums. All I know is that they worked.
There were times when only music would help. Many a rainy, gloomy night I put on my Billie Holiday records and listen to her sad voice -- back when I had a turntable and the scratches, crackles, and pops helped add to the mood -- had a glass of wine, and allowed myself the luxury of a good crying jag.
At odd times, I’d remember something my mom said to me once, when I was a child. She said that if I stopped and acknowledged all the things in my life that were good, I’d be too busy to think about the bad.
There’s always been something that helped me through -- depending on the depth of the emotion -- whether it was sadness, melancholy, the blues or even the mean reds.
As a child, I was always prone to all things sad. Music, in particular the Spanish “boleros” made me want to pour a bourbon, pull out the box of razor blades, and crawl into an overflowing tub of extremely hot water and just close my eyes. If you’ve an ounce of Latin blood in you, or have ever dated a Latino, you know what I’m talking about.
Even when I put aside the verbal and physical abuse from my childhood, the poverty and embarrassment of living off welfare, there were stretches of time where I would just mope and sigh.
Now, I know sadness is a part of life. Everyone experiences it. Without sorrow, how would we recognize extreme joy?
The problem is that those moments of sadness have become longer and deeper. All those sure-fire things that once helped, stopped working. I’ve lost the ability to “snap out of it” and have come to a grinding halt.
I lack motivation and focus.
Things that used to please me no longer appeal. I’ve tried writing a new story for the past three months and other than line edits for “Learning To Samba,” everything I’ve started was soon put down. None of it interested me.
I’ve pulled away from practically everyone I know. I’ve ignored e-mail, Facebook and all other forms of communication. In fact the only thing I’ve immersed myself in is my freelance work and the p/t gig I picked up at the Box Office; which, incidentally, I detest.
The sex drive has toppled and plummeted so far it makes the stock market look like a day at the beach. Jerking off no longer brings me pleasure and what’s worse, aside from the fact that I haven’t been fulfilling my husbandly duties, is that even ogling cute and adorable boys no longer thrills me.
In short, I just don’t care.
Then, about a week ago, I woke up with the realization that it had been three days since I’d showered, shaved, or brushed my teeth where I was once meticulous about hygiene, sometimes showering two and three times a day.
That morning, my soul was so heavy I lacked the strength and courage to get up and out of bed. I could’ve closed my eyes and been perfectly content to never wake up again.
I hit rock bottom.
Strangely, all I kept thinking of was how selfish and unfair it would be for my partner to have to deal with telling my family, getting rid of my things, and planning a memorial service.
After many hours, I managed to crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, and head to the computer where I e-mailed someone who had once been a therapist and life coach.
A short while later, my partner came home from work.
In speaking with the therapist today, I realize there isn’t any one particular thing that pushed me into surfing the butthole of depression. It’s been a whole laundry list of items: being laid off; the inability to find work (at first); trying to catch up on all I still owe and save at the same time, after two years of being unemployed; wanting to move from this Godforsaken place; the death of my beautiful Emma; my inability to write and my guilt over staying home writing -- when I was able to do so -- while my partner burns away at a job he no longer likes but needs to keep because he has no other choice…
I could go on, but I won’t.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m turning 49 in three months and I’ve a sneaky suspicion some of this might actually be hormonal; which my Mom has been saying all along. She’s even joked about me running away with some 20-year-old for a weekend and maxing out my credit card to rent a convertible.
I’m sure my partner would let me do it, if that’s what it took. However, since I don’t believe that would work, nor do I have the money to afford boy or car -- plus I’d feel guilty my partner couldn’t come with me -- I have some work cut out for me. But I’ll do what I can to get it going because I’m tired of surviving. I yearn to thrive!
Sadly, the therapist isn’t in a position to help long-term. However, he said he’d guide me if needed, and I got out of today’s session what I was expecting; he pointed me in the right direction.
I’ve already taken the first step. Admitting I needed help, which wasn’t easy to do, and speaking to a therapist was crucial. Now I need to talk to my doctor about anti-depressants, testosterone therapy, and make a list of everything that’s helped make the chains still binding me.
I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted this much personal stuff out there. But in the end I decided it was important to, hopefully, help someone else through it. Perhaps you’re experiencing what I’m going through. Or perhaps you know someone who is. Depression is real and it’s an arduous thing to get out of.
With any luck, sharing this journey will help me climb out of this disgusting vat of muck. Acknowledging the problem has helped remarkably.
Strangely, even writing about what’s been happening with me --to me? -- feels as if it’s helped. I’m hoping that if any of you reading are experiencing the same thing or know someone who is, maybe it will help you, too. After all, since life doesn’t come with a User Guide, perhaps it’s about each of us doing our part to educate one another on the process of “getting older” and knowing what to expect.