Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"A buzzing fluorescent light that you can't turn off"

For my money, it's his best column ever (it might be his longest as well).

I actually met Chris Rose and his wife Kelly years ago at a popular restaurant they frequented before they were married. She's a magnificent woman anyway, but for her to stand by him while they both struggled with his descent into illness -- and back -- she's earned bonus points in heaven. She's a keeper, and I know Chris is good to her. He became a changed person around her.

There isn't a honey-do list long enough to reward that kind of loyalty Chris!

I've both celebrated and criticized his columns in this forum, but he's earned the journalist's "get-out-of-jail-free card" with this last column.

Nice job Chris. Thank you for your courage in going public with your illness -- your "brainstorm" -- and for your effort to shed light on the misconceptions. Thank you for doing it so eloquently. And thank you for explaining that medication doesn't have to mean a change in the way one sees the world.

I only wish you might have clarified further how every person's "brainstorm" is different, how the side effects of medication are sometimes intolerable, and in no way is suicide the inevitable outcome for every person. You also missed another major issue. Symptomatic of the "brainstorm" illness is the logical opposite of depression: mania. It's in fact one of the reasons why some people don't want to get off the roller coaster. The inspiration that comes from the "lows", as well as the "highs", is difficult to let go. And in any discussion about this type of illness in which people can function -- nominally -- fairly well in society, it should be remembered that nobody is "normal".

Still, I can't recall the last time I've read such a courageous personal testimony, and I sincerely hope your treatment continues to work for you.

Chris Rose, "Hell and Back" (my emphasis):

I stopped talking to Kelly, my wife. She loathed me, my silences, my distance, my inertia.

I stopped walking my dog, so she hated me, too. The grass and weeds in my yard just grew and grew.

I stopped talking to my family and my friends. I stopped answering phone calls and e-mails. I maintained limited communication with my editors to keep my job but I started missing deadlines anyway. ...

Hopeless, helpless and unable to function. A mind shutting down and taking the body with it. A pain not physical but not of my comprehension and always there, a buzzing fluorescent light that you can't turn off. ...

In his book "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness" -- the best literary guide to the disease that I have found -- the writer William Styron recounted his own descent into and recovery from depression, and one of the biggest obstacles, he said, was the term itself, what he calls "a true wimp of a word." ...

"Told that someone's mood disorder has evolved into a storm -- a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else -- even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that 'depression' evokes, something akin to 'So what?' or 'You'll pull out of it' or 'We all have bad days.'"

Styron is a helluva writer. His words were my life. I was having one serious brainstorm. Hell, it was a brain hurricane, Category 5. But what happens when your own personal despair starts bleeding over into the lives of those around you?

What happens when you can't get out of your car at the gas station even when you're out of gas? Man, talk about the perfect metaphor. ...

I started talking to Kelly about plans -- a word lacking from my vocabulary for months. Plans for the kids at school, extracurricular activities, weekend vacations. I had not realized until that moment that while stuck in my malaise, I had had no vision of the future whatsoever.

I wasn't planning anything. It was almost like not living. ...

Measuring depression is not like measuring blood sugar. You don't hit a specified danger level on a test and then you're pronounced depressed. It is nuance and interpretation and there is still a lot of guesswork involved.

But here's my doctor's take: The amount of cortisol in my brain increased to dangerous levels. The overproduction, in turn, was blocking the transmission of serotonin and norepinephrine.

Some definitions: Cortisol is the hormone produced in response to chronic stress. Serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters -- chemical messengers -- that mediate messages between nerves in the brain, and this communication system is the basic source of all mood and behavior.

The chemistry department at the University of Bristol in England has a massive Web database for serotonin, titled, appropriately: "The Molecule of Happiness."

And I wasn't getting enough. My brain was literally shorting out. The cells were not properly communicating. Chemical imbalances, likely caused by increased stress hormones -- cortisol, to be precise -- were dogging the work of my neurotransmitters, my electrical wiring. A real and true physiological deterioration had begun.

I had a disease.

This I was willing to accept. Grudgingly, for it ran against my lifelong philosophy of self-determination.

dangerblond -- living on a thin line

Gentilly Girl -- PTSD or Katrina Syndrome?

Ray in New Orleans - III


At 10/24/2006 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

I just read it (by way of Dangerblond's). It was amazing. Then I went to Ray's and read his elegant discussion of a related subject. Then I went to Maitri's and learned something really sad. Now my heart hurts (and I'm already taking Wellbutrin and don't even live in New Orleans). *sigh*

At 10/24/2006 04:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry; I still think he's a self-aggrandizing, wanna-be jerk. I also don't think he's above exaggerating his experience with depression in the hopes of winning a Pulitzer the next time around.

And did no one seem to notice that he didn't "believe" in depression until the stress of having an undamaged house on Audubon Park finally blew his tiny little mind? Way to be empathic for the first 45 years of your life, Chris.

Frankly, I wish Spy Magazine were still around to prank call him pretending to be a NY Times editor and offer him a job there. Ten bucks says the "It's hard, but we have to do what's best for the family" column would appear within a week.

I honestly don't know why so many people think it's great that a hysterical, low-rent Roland Hedley ("The story's not important, it's my relationship to the story that's important") from Wisconsin holds forth on what New Orleans is really all about several times a week. It would be one thing if he were a transplant who really got it. But he doesn't.

At 10/24/2006 06:53:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Hmm ... a interesting perspective anonymous. I'm sure I've criticized Rose at one time or another for the same reasons you stated. If you focus singularly on the benefit to society of someone expresses the experience of depression in an empathetic voice, I'd hope you might agree that in this one instance, he's redeemed himself. Wouldn't you agree, even a little?

At 10/25/2006 09:36:00 AM, Anonymous slate said...

I also read his column in NOLA when it was first put up. I was astonished at his courage and candidness. I'm not a big Chris Rose fan, but this is as brave as it gets. I'm really proud of him.

I've written a lot about mental health and New Orleans and how mental health care anywhere is hard to come by, but here, nearly impossible, (he must have a good health plan). Nevertheless, I'm in hopes that he got one person to get help who otherwise wouldn't have. That's so important.

At 10/25/2006 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Yeah, I'm with you there Slate. And I'd add that the piece has value if it brings understanding to people who might otherwise criticize those who seek help as weak. It isn't weakness -- it's strength of an extremely courageous kind to accept that one needs help -- and *that* shouldn't be criticized.

At 10/26/2006 10:40:00 AM, Blogger G Bitch said...

I'm also not a huge Chris Rose fan but I respect him for his struggle and his willingness to be open about it. You don't need for your house to be blown down to feel pain, depression, anxiety, any of the symptoms of PTSD, etc. That suck-it-up who-do-you-think-you-are attitude brings more damage than solace.

It's not easy to leave someone you love who is depressed. Part of you knows it's not really your loved one, that something has taken over. No matter how painful or annoying it all is, you know the person you love is in there somewhere.


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