BLACK

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It hits sometimes. Snuffling like an old dog in grass. Nothing will shake it, not even brand new lustrous lipstick called Plum Kiss. When it comes, it comes, and you have to accept it.

When I was fifteen the doctor said I was depressed. Clinically. He recommended a facility because he was concerned about my neatness. Hair pulled back in a ponytail so tight my eyebrows were raised in a constant expression of surprise. School uniforms ironed four times in a row before being worn. Schoolwork so precise I drew rigid holes of concentration in the page.

I was surprised by the diagnosis. I didn’t think I was depressed. Just angry. My mother panicked. She thought depression meant talking to yourself and spitting at strangers. She put me in therapy where the psychologist and I did 101 things with Rorschach tests. Apparently there are no incorrect responses when looking at an ink blot except for : ‘Someone spilled ink on the page. Again.’ I made stories up about my childhood, like how I’d been raised for four years by a band of gypsies or how I believed I was related to the Russian Tsars; a direct descendant of Anastasia. My therapist never commented but scribbled furiously on her notepad, her brow furrowed.

I was put on antidepressants but ended up being hospitalised for two weeks with a severe allergic reaction to them. So I continued therapy without them until my childhood as told to my therapist, was as colourful as a Hans Christian Anderson story.

In my final year of University my best friend died and I descended into the abyss again. They tried antidepressants again. Same reaction. I wanted to drop out of University, backpack around the world, but my mother insisted I finish my degree, submitting me to a bi-weekly regime of therapy and support groups. Everyone in the support group cried, drinking endless cups of black coffee. I noticed how all of them wore a piece of black clothing and wondered if their choice of outfit contributed to their mood. One girl told me she was depressed because she was a child prodigy (violin) and the pressure on her was enormous. I told her I was depressed because I was a direct descendant of Vlad the Impaler and was afraid of sunlight.

The counsellor told me being facetious would not help me cope with my condition. I argued that being facetious was what helped me get up in the mornings. She labelled me as uncooperative and a smart-ass. I dreamed of her waking up in the morning with a zit so huge on her nose she wouldn’t be able to leave the house.

I have had several situations in recent years where I have had antidepressants prescribed for me and have taken them with the vain hope I could keep them down for longer than an hour. An allergy specialist has discovered I am allergic to most of the active ingredients in antidepressants, as well as penicillin and pseudoephedrine. Which means I am either going to die a very nasty death from an incurable infection or I will always be the boring one at parties.

Apparently, this reaction to antidepressants and other pharmaceutical drugs isn’t all that uncommon. A young girl died in Sydney a couple of years ago from taking an anti-acne drug. Her throat closed up. I think there should be some kind of test before these drugs are administered; because let me tell you, when you are depressed and you have a severe allergic reaction to antidepressants, your mood ain’t too pretty afterwards.

I see a therapist occasionally when the blackness hits, but mostly, I deal with it myself. Acknowledging it’s there is important, as is not trying to rage against it.

I go for long walks. Counting colours in the street. I always begin with black when I feel like this. It was raining today. It was cold. I counted twenty four umbrellas. All of them were black or navy blue. As if rain isn’t depressing enough. I think it should be mandatory to have umbrellas in jolly colours or with uplifting or humorous slogans like : Smile, and the world smiles with you or It’s Raining Men, Hallelujah!

I counted 50 pairs of shoes. They were black or brown. I saw two black cats, three black dogs and twenty five people with cranky expressions. A man in the Burger Bar was reading a book with a black cover. He had a black cotton scarf tied round his throat. A teenage boy had a Black Sabbath T-shirt on. Another wore AC/DC’s Back In Black.

A twentysomething girl wore black jeans that were too long for her and dragged on the ground. Their hems were wet. Three crows huddled in a maple tree, black as ground-up coffee.

You would think it would have the opposite effect but noticing how much our daily world is coloured with black, actually lifts your mood. You plunge into the day fully-clothed instead of half-naked with apprehension.

The rain plummets down the stormwater drain, churning like rapids. Leaves tumble and drown. A woman in high heels (black) runs for cover, throwing her arms up like a child on a rollercoaster. An old man has trouble lighting his cigarette, mumbles :’Bloody rain’ and heads for the nearest shop awning. A little boy splashes in new shoes, sitting in a puddle.

The blackness taps me on the shoulder but it is a touch more akin to that of an old friend than an old adversary. I know it well by now. I know its ways. Its threats don’t scare me as they used to.

I let the mist from the rain drizzle my face and head for home. The blackness is not as bad as it seems. It pursues me but cannot stop me from seeing a word written by the rain, a word I knew was there all along – HOPE.

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17 thoughts on “BLACK

  1. Unfortunately depression has been an unwelcome stranger in my life too. It started with post natal depression when I had the twins and then struck again when I was diagnosed with MS (a very common reaction I am led to believe). Luckily for me I can take anti depressants because I found they really did help me to balance but mostly I just deal with it myself. Sometimes you just have to ride out the storm until it passes and becomes something more manageable. It’s a horrible illness that still has a lot of stigma attached to it and a lot more people suffer from it than we could ever imagine. I hope you find away to escape the darkness Selma.

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  2. depression,,, i know her well… she isn’t camping out right now,, and i have no desire to lure her in… but she will be back… she always is….

    chin up selma,, she leaves just like she comes,, as a thief….

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  3. Oh, the way you give depression a hearty thump on the noggin by being facetious… and counting colors… and…. ah, such strength. Your attitude is inspiring. Right now, I think the only thing keeping the dark visitor at bay for me is the list of things I need to get done before we leave for Germany.

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  4. As someone who’s never had depression I’ve found it hard to know what it is to be depressed… until now that is.
    More strength to you Selma.

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  5. There are eastern cultures where white is the colour of mourning. I wonder if people in those cultures feel a terrible feeling of whiteness whenever they are depressed.

    Sorry to hear you’ve been depressed. Glad to hear you’ve found hope. Good writing as per usual.

    David

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  6. I know the blackness all too well, right know I feel as if I’m in a black hole… its weird how it just creeps in and takes over, you can actually feel the change – I was told its a brain chemical imbalance… I think I will try looking at colors and counting them… I know right know I’m trying to knit to keep the mind occupied and distracted, since I’m a newbie to knitting I really have to concentrate… Selma, your stories are a thing that put a smile on my face sometimes… its so true how little things can help!

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  7. I am currently getting a doctor to look at my depression in a new way. Without an attitude. It;s funny, when I’m in the hole everything turns grey.

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  8. Selma, you are a strong and brave woman – finding ways to keep depression from taking away hope. I have struggled with depression for decades now and I suppose that is why I surround myself with colour and flowers. Depression robs us of much and the trick is to find ways to keep it from engulfing us entirely, whatever they may be.

    Your writing is exquisite.

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  9. Hope is found in the blackness, much like life is found in death. But sometimes, it can be like needle in a haystack, you know. I admire your strength, Selma.

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  10. GYPSY – I am so sorry you have experienced depression too, especially while coping with MS. Your kind words and shared experiences have made me feel so much better. Thank you.

    PAISLEY – I know. She is whimsical with her comings and goings. Thank you for your kindness.

    MS KAREN – lists! That’s what I forgot to mention. They work wonders for me because they shift my focus. I am so excited you are going to Germany. I hear the beer and knockwurst is very good.

    ANGRY – with kind people like you around how can I stay down for long? Thank you.

    DAVID – how interesting about the white. I feel colour is quite a powerful force in our lives. You’ve got me interested now, I’m going to read up on it.

    TBALL – little things definitely do help. Knowing someone else feels the same way and understands is such an antidote to the blackness. Thank you. Good luck with the knitting, I’d like to offer some tips but everything I knit ends up looking like a scarf. Haha.

    BEC – I hope the doctor can offer some viable alternatives. There are some really good programs out there. Any time you are feeling low, email me. I would be more than happy to help.

    KATE – you are so right. You have to trick depression into submission. Thank you for the wonderful compliment, I feel exactly the same way about you. The colours you find in the natural world are astonishing. You often brighten my day!

    CHRIS – Thank you. The needle in the haystack analogy is a good one. Even though it seems hopeless, you’ve got to keep looking, right?

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  11. It’s funny how some people don’t think depression is for real, its just being stressed out! Yes school and work can be stressing, but that blackness/depression is real. Anyways I’m glad that there are other people like you who know what its like… and yes my knitting so far is only scarfs… and with the winter we are having I think they will be practical, just hope I finish one before winter is over! Maybe I will try knitting a hat once I’m done a scarf!

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  12. Ive battled depression and anxiety my whole life. Ive had my share of antidepressants, and I think they make me worse…. I know the BLACK….I just ride it out until it passes, but it still sucks when it shows up.

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  13. Thank you. Really. AM going back on Tuesday for blood tests and then back again two weeks later for results and (please God) solutions!

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  14. GROOVY -it’s funny you should say that because one of my therapists always got very nervous around me. When I was full of all that teenage angst I used to love freaking her out. Now I feel guilty because I realise she was probably just concerned.

    TBALL – it’s real all right. You should do a stripy scarf in bright colours or shades of green. They say green is very soothing. I love knitted hats with pom poms. When I was a kid I had one of those pom pom makers. I had over 100 pom poms lying around in my room with nothing to attach them to. It was great fun!

    MELEAH – so sorry you experience it too. It certainly does suck. You have the best attitude of all – just ride it out.

    BEC – I mean it. Don’t hesitate. I hope the results come up with something that will help. But remember, you’re not alone.

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  15. Love this post – laughed out loud at: “Which means I am either going to die a very nasty death from an incurable infection or I will always be the boring one at parties.” It’s not funny – but you are funny.

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