27 March 2012 Tuesday
Nunhead Heights in the warm sun. My pleasant inner-city suburb – which is what Nunhead is called: an inner city suburb, if that is at all possible to be a suburb in the inner city – is very pleasant today. My flat looks over the golf course to the woods of One Tree Hill. The warm air is wafting. I feel the waft.
Why do I feel so miserable?
In New York in the early ‘90s, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with clinical depression. All New Yorkers had shrinks back then – mine being a trainee psychiatrist at the Payne-Whitney Clinic of New York Hospital and charged just ten dollars a session. I had a discount psychologist on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – the richest part of the richest city in the richest country in world.
Well, my doctor suggested I registered as “depressed” to get the $800 a month – or something – disability money – or whatever they called it – available to depressed people. I wasn’t working, in deepening debt and I didn’t have girlfriend. Of course I was depressed. The beautiful Vietnamese girl wasn’t interested in me and neither were any other girls.
Today is the anniversary of the birthday of another deeply depressed person: My mother. She was born 84 years ago, today and died in September of 2011.
During her gloomy days, my mother would lay on the couch for days, or weeks, with the curtains drawn. The house in Great Neck was dark on sunny days. Nothing could rise her – not even her own beautiful son. Nothing.
My mother wasn’t always depressed. Some of the time she was a normal nice person. At other times she was raging with mania. A lot of people, including me, remember her sparkle, energy and her humour.
When she was flying – manic – she always had an excuse for her extreme behaviour. It was John Kennedy’s assassination or my father having an affair with his secretary or his bookkeeper, or some bad food she had eaten. My father was probably shtupping the ladies, and yes, Kennedy was shot, and food can make you sick, but are those good enough reasons, say, to write to the police demanding that her husband be arrested for stealing $250,000 from his business and giving it to the lady bookkeeper? Or to try to run him over in her car on the sidewalk on Allenwood Road? Luckily, she missed the man who was innocently walking home that day. It wasn’t my father.
Those were the exciting times; the manic times. The times she was depressed were bad, but not as bad. At least she wasn’t trying to kill someone. I used to pray for depression.
My father – who must have loved my mother, he put up with her all those years – my father would explain to me that she was suffering from a “chemical imbalance” that could be helped by chemical replacement. Lithium or Depakote or Dilantin were the chemicals. That is what they believed in the 50s and 60s.
When you say someone has a mental illness, “chemically imbalanced” or “wired differently”, or inappropriate electrical activity in the body, or whatever doctors and scientists are saying today causes extreme emotional moods – you are saying that they are broken – that they are a broken machine.
What about the bad things that must have happened to my mother as a child: her alcoholic father and enabling mother? And what about her personal responsibility for her actions? These had been taken away from her when they said she was “mentally ill”.
I would think: Is there a disease which prevents the ill person from saying “sorry” for the pain they caused? Or from saying “thank you” for the help you have given them? Even a blind person, so obviously and completely deserving of the help, even a blind person says “thank you” when you help them across the busy street. I never heard a “sorry” or a “thank you”. Is there a disease which removes the cause of adult behaviour?
“It’s not my fault” was my mother’s motto. “It’s not her fault” was my father’s motto.
As a reaction I wound up blaming myself for everything. Which is why, on a sunny warm day in Nunhead Heights I am feeling miserable about my mother and how I wasn’t able to save her from her life of misery. And that I feel the mess I am in now with my life is my own damn fault. And I feel bad about not doing more to stop the government from paving over the greenbelt. And not doing more to stop parking restrictions from destroying my town. And everything else.
What I am saying is this: Today is my mother’s birthday. I am depressed because of her. But if you were raised by wolves you would act wolfish even if you weren’t a wolf. I grew up with “mental” people and all I know is how to do mental.
And maybe my mother grew up with wolves, too. And maybe she wasn’t a wolf, either. And maybe, all we Schaffers know is that we need to feel sad on a sunny day but deep down know everything is alright?
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