In Which Hope Deserts Me, Then Returns

December 8, 2009 at 3:21 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A statue of Pandora from the Louvre.

A statue of Pandora from the Louvre.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the myth of Pandora. The story opens near the beginning of time, just after Prometheus has brought the gift of fire to humanity. The earth is a paradise, but the gods are angry that humanity has received this crucial gift. So Zeus gives a young woman, Pandora, a locked box, and tells her not to open it under any circumstances.

Of course, like any curious young lady in a story, she opens it the minute she’s alone. Thousands of monsters come streaming out and go to work tormenting humanity. There’s Disease, Death, Sadness, War, Terror, and so forth — every awful condition that you can imagine was imprisoned, personified, in Pandora’s box. Pandora struggles to slam lid shut, and manages to trap the last creature: Hope. The moral: As long as humans have Hope, they can live with every imaginable plague and horror.

The opposite is true as well: Once hopelessness sets in, you’re ready to collapse over a hangnail. I’ve been thinking about the story, a sort of ancient Greek theodicy, because I’ve been struggling to regain hope since my last depression. I find that the Greeks had it right, as usual. When I feel hope, no matter how irrational, I can live with my condition; when I can’t believe that there’s a chance that my condition will improve in the future, I’m overcome with despair.

I had a terrible migraine on Friday, and it drove me into a bout of petulant, self-pitying despair. I had been looking forward to the long weekend so eagerly, only to spend a day of it feeling rotten and flogging myself to take care of mandatory tasks like picking my car up from the shop. So naturally I spent Saturday wallowing in self-pity.

I’ve spelled out the problem in this space before. Every time I manage to get my life running fairly smoothly — to put on regular appearances at church, for example, and to maintain a little garden — a depressive episode slams me down and I withdraw entirely, thereby destroying the little life I’ve built.

I’ve been through this cycle dozens of times, and for me it’s the most discouraging feature of manic-depression. The life I build between episodes isn’t stable enough to withstand a serious depression. I haven’t yet figured out how to break this cycle. I do rebuild, of course, like a spider weaving the day’s web. My work tears, and I mend it. Hope always does return eventually, and I manage to believe that this time will be different. As I grow older, though, it’s getting harder to believe, and harder to rebuild.

Enough of that. The more I think about it, the more likely it is that depression will return. A part of hope, it seems, is self-deception. I like the irony of that: therapy is supposed to be about uncovering the truth about yourself, but it is built on the irrational belief that things will be better this time around.

Wow. What a discouraging rant. It’s tough to be realistic and honest without giving up hope. John McManamy’s book, which I’ve reviewed in this space, manages to walk this line. He’s realistic about how tough and wily the disease actually is. That’s refreshing after reading several books that seem to suggest that a cure is one chakra balancing away.

Saturday and Sunday I wrote endless pages trying to find hope in my situation. None of the usual appeals to courage and discipline worked — I didn’t give a rat’s ass, and I couldn’t see any point in setting goals, or even just trying to entertain myself. Me, myself and I finally reached a truce Sunday morning, and I managed to clean and purge my closet. The bargain I struck with myself was purely irrational: I set a series of tiny, tiny goals (1. Go downstairs to get laundry; 2. Put laundry in basket and return upstairs; 3. Fold laundry; and so forth) and forced myself to spend an hour working on them. At the end of the hour I lay down for 15 minutes, then I got up and worked for another hour. Since amusement was out of the question, I focused on accomplishing a few basic tasks. After several hours of this I went to dinner at my parents’ place and watched the first quarter of the Vikings game, then returned home and went to bed. Yesterday morning (Monday), hope had crept back, and I could function as usual.

I’m not sure what the moral of that story is. I know now that Alexander Pope was right when he wrote that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” It does. We’re animals, and we are designed to function, to go on living. So I went on, and by Monday, I felt marginally better — enough so that I could set more goals and begin to look forward to taking the week between Christmas and New Year off, and even to returning to work on January 4, when I will begin a tough new assignment.

So I managed to soldier through, and now I do feel better. I will rebuild again, damn it, since I don’t seem to have much choice about the matter. And I do hope that things will be different and better, that my 40’s will be better than my 20’s and 30’s were, that the gods will give me something besides hope alone.

At least I have a clean, well-organized closet. Things were getting pretty hairy in there. And even as I write this, I think, What does a clean closet prove? This hope I’m feeling is totally baseless and irrational, and will just lead to further pain when depression knocks me flat again.

I do feel hope, though, and even gratitude. I prayed all day Sunday for the strength to stay out of bed and carry out a few, simple tasks. I got that strength (or found it within myself, if you prefer), and now I can appreciate my tidy closet and even inch forward in this space.

Love to all.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Excuse me for writing OT but what wordpress template do you use? It’s looking stunning!!

    • It’s called “Pool,” and the banner is by a friend, Michael Siegenthaler. His website is under my links, I think.


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