Looking for America, Coping with Depression (a series)
Like more than 16 million Americans, I suffer from depression. For many years I took medication to help cope with my mood swings. I also talked off and on for over two decades with a wonderfully helpful man whom I adamantly refused to call my therapist. But he retired, which is what happens when you (and your support group) grow older, which is, needless to say, depressing.
I’m not sure what causes my depression. Some of it is unquestionably genetic, as my family has a history of what used to be called manic depression. And some of it is surely situational, for everyone’s life is dotted with sadnesses, and sometimes they simply get you down. Perhaps it’s also seasonal, as the Christmas season can accentuate memories of loss or trigger feelings of loneliness, even when you are among friends and family. Lately, just thinking about the state of our country has triggered symptoms that seem a hell of a lot like depression.
Earlier this week, as the thermometer stayed in the single digits and I mulled over my New Year’s resolutions (those annual promises I keep as long as they’re convenient), I was feeling particularly down on myself. Suddenly, a few modest resolutions didn’t seem remotely adequate, and I felt I needed to make wholesale changes if I was to salvage my life. The phrase, “drain the swamp”, came to mind.
Yet it’s one thing for me to feel a momentary sense of despair, quite another to hear echoing over the public landscape the insistence that America has become so toxic we need to throw it all out and start again. I hear this across the political spectrum, but it is far more insidious when it comes from those in power — from those who are supposed to be strengthening the social fabric and bringing us together.
There is much we can change in America. We can expand the reach of our story to include voices too long unheard. In place of the divisive language of “winners” and “losers”, we can seek to weave our distinctive diversity into a stronger community. What we cannot do is erase our collective history, any more than we can erase the personal stories that have made each of us who we are. Instead, we can embrace them, however inadequate they sometimes seem, and we can participate more fully in the world as we find it and contribute what we can to its improvement.
That’s my resolution. Happy New Year.