My (Internal) Midwestern Landscape

Midwestern Thunderstorm

Here is the look of the Midwest in a summer storm. To me, this landscape is not only the most familiar, it is the most comforting.

How can a sky look so forbidding — so menacing and beautiful — but we are not allowed to do so?

I was 14 and in my first year of high school when depression settled in. Of course, then I had no idea what happened to me. Later in life, I could reflect back on the exact turning point of my life. It was the Christmas holidays of my freshman year in high school. I left school a relatively happy kid and returned in the muck.

I consider myself fortunate. I’ve grown up in much more expansive landscape when it comes to mental health. My parents identified my depression symptoms early and found me counseling. That led to a certain personal understanding of my anger and sadness, which made me likely to get help for myself after I left home.

The Even Ifs of Depression

But in as much as the help does help — and it does — nothing really changed my inner landscape of depression. I believe that is why I feel a certain wave of relief when I drive along the Midwestern four-lane highways. I can see clearly the angry sky, and the clouds far off weeping over the soybeans.

Even IF others experience depression and empathize…
Even IF I have someone to talk to, to offer help…
Even IF the world is a (somewhat) more accepting place…

Even if I’ve managed somehow to get myself today to the gym for a workout, or out the door with the dog… even if…

It does not remove me from my inner landscape.

It is who I am.

The hardest part of being a “depressed” person, I feel, — one who experiences depression on a chronic basis — is the feeling of being “broken.” The therapy and the drugs and the life coaches and the personal trainers. The world has come to line up to make you better. Here’s the “solution,” all here to “heal” and “fix” me.

Then there is the concerned faces and the pampering weirdness that develops in partnerships… that over time get worn by the hard work of it… and no longer feel like partnerships.

The brain knows things like: “Yes, but look at what you have ACHIEVED by overcoming such adversity for so long!” and “Hey! you know it’s not you. Mental illness is a disease“. But who wants to be defined by such things? Who wants to carry a disease around with them wherever they go?

Who wants to have to take a pill to have to achieve their “best” self?

All Kinds of Normal

A friend of mine used to tell me about her brother. He is a manic-depressive adult with a chaotic life whose wild swings in personality created misery for his mother and family alike. I heard her sadness for her beloved brother, who suffered from addiction and DUIs and who tumbled off of his medications whenever he started to feel “normal.”

Then, of course, I couldn’t help but slip into moments of complete compassion & understanding for him. All he’d ever known was the skin of himself. What the hell DIFFERENT was he supposed to be? He had no idea. Re-defining and living “normal” — to him — must have to be like asking him to write a dictionary in a language he’d never heard, spoken or known.

People ask me why I don’t like the East Coast, why I left London, why I want to move.

Truth? I ALWAYS want to leave where I am.

Because part of me — the part of me I don’t fully comprehend or control — thinks: “I can get outta here. If I go somewhere else, it will be different.” As if by leaving a physical place, I can escape out of my internal landscape.

This Small State

The East Coast experience, for me, has by and large, been a closed-off one. At my first job, my male colleagues would shake each other’s hands when they greeted each other in the morning… then sort of weakly, half-wave at me.

Our neighbors only started talking to us after we had kids. People walk down our street and don’t make eye contact. The New England way — so I’ve been told — is a proud coldness, metaphorically represented, as I see it, in the landscape: you can see little or nothing, for the trees.

I’ve been lonely in my life here, raising my family far away from my family, while my husband commutes to work. Friends have been hard to earn  in a small town where friendships are well-established and playdates make strange friend-fellows.

But mostly, having to explain the nuances of depression and its impact on human interaction becomes less and less appealing as I get older.

The reality is (and I’m getting better at recognizing this): I’ve always been lonely. I was lonely in my house on Wyoming, in my flat on Delaware across from the BBC studios, serving popcorn to Brazilians at the Orville Redenbacher cart at Disney World.

Lonely is my internal landscape, an idea that is not eased into small talk. I’ve been lonely in depression, an uncomfortable topic at book club. Maybe being human is just a lonely kind of thing to be (though I’ve hardly ever mentioned it at PTA meetings).

Maybe some humans are built for loneliness and that’s “normal.” I’ve never asked anyone if they agree.

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