Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Shades of Grey

It’s still winter here in northeast Ohio, regardless of what the calendar may be saying. We don’t have weather right now, we just have shades of grey. My son, Randy: “I don’t know, Dad, seems like every day is either light grey or dark grey right now.”

I find it harder, and longer, and more of a conscious struggle to soldier on in the face of the obstacles and set-backs of daily life at this time of year. Tiny, insignificant inconveniences take on a wholly unreasonable level of importance (a series of dropped cell calls yesterday, for instance), making whatever shade of grey at least momentarily darker. The medical term for this is “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, and man, I’ve got it in spades. The effect is different on any affect I’m sure, but it makes me dark and edgy, on the verge of eruption, the trigger hair and phasers set on annihilate.

And yet, while my challenges and obstacles may or may not subside as grey FINALLY slides into Spring, I know that for me this is just a seasonal effect, born of geography, and borne as a consequence of geographical choice. With some 5 major moves behind me I have managed to land each time at the same latitude, plus or minus the same relative number of cloud-covered days, covered in mud and shivering.

There live among us souls for whom grey is not a seasonal phenomenon, who struggle each and every day to lighten the internal weather as they soldier on. For them even the lightest days are dark, and the best days are those that have the least pain. The darkest days are down right frightening, unknown and unknowable to the rest of us, where there may be only a speck of light somewhere on the far horizon, with consequences and choices that are more frightening, still. These individuals live in a world not of their choosing, shades of grey surrounding them always and everywhere.

Depression, real depression that descends upon a person and declines to leave of its own accord, is fundamentally different from sadness, from unhappiness. It is organic. It comes from within. While one may be able to pinpoint an event or time that might be a trigger, depression once it sets in is not reactive to any one aspect of a life. It is not present in response to something or someone bad. True depression, as well as its close cousin anxiety, gurgles and bubbles and flows from a toxic well within, a cold weather front that arrives and stays.

We live, or fancy that we live, in a country with “up by your bootstrap” values. “Come ON…get OVER it” is a mantra ingrained in our national psyche. Frankly, that actually works very well, eventually, for the sadness or unhappiness one feels in reaction to unpleasantness. Depression, however, is as unresponsive to platitude as this Cleveland season of Grey, and depression has no calendar to eventually force away the Grey.

People who inhabit this world in which shades of grey are all that exist have a problem which is as serious and life-threatening as any other “invisible” problem. Think diabetes: there is no outward manifestation of diabetes, no stigmata to alert the observer to its presence, and yet without insulin the diabetic will die. So, too, the soul afflicted with depression must be treated for what is organic and internal. Voluminous research has shown that a combination of “Talk Therapy” and medicine is necessary, and that for most it is necessary for the better part of a lifetime. Without this lives are lost. We’d not deprive the diabetic of insulin, would we? And yet…

Various medicines for “depression” are rampantly prescribed for varying degrees of sadness, unhappiness, even ennui. I confess to being conflicted about this. Who am I to deprive anyone of additional happiness, or less sadness, or even less time in the middle of life’s  great Bell Curve of emotion. But these medicines are expensive, and the “market” effects of their broader use affects the conversation about treating organic depression as the medical entity that it is. This is a hard conversation; where is the line?

Smarter people than I have failed to find a bright dividing line, to be sure, but there IS a difference. We lose people we love who live only in a world with shades of grey. At some point, for some, only the grey remains. No light is visible, and only one question exists in that world of grey. Do I live with the pain, or is today the day the pain ends? Grey descends into dark. The weather becomes deadly.

Every now and then, through any number or routes, a light begins to glow in one of these people. Nurtured, caressed, husbanded and encouraged, it grows steadily and slowly. To be sure, it waxes and it wanes; there are setbacks wherein the light may be rendered not more than a tiny ember. But in these fortunate ones it never goes out; it continues to grow, bringing light as surely as Spring lights the grey.

To witness this can be as thrilling and monumental as a sunrise in the mountains, or as subtle and delicate as the opening of an orchid. But oh ho, to be there to SEE this, to be a spectator to this, to see light where there was only dark, brilliant color where there was only grey. One night, in a darkened car on a grey, starless night, I drove home bathed in this light emanating from the back seat, so long in coming but now so bright and so strong. The obstacles and the challenges remain, as they always will, but they will seem so much smaller and more manageable in this light. It was hard to drive, so brilliant was that light as it shone through my tears.

So brilliant is that light as it awakens me each morning, still the father of not two, but three children.

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5 Responses to “Shades of Grey”

  1. April 29th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Dora Anne Mills says:

    How beautifully expressed, Darrell. Thank you for sharing!

  2. May 21st, 2011 at 8:25 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Perhaps the best I’ve ever done, Dora Anne. Because it is so meaningful, perhaps the best I’ll ever do.

  3. March 12th, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Stephen says:

    Darrel, my wife lives with depression every day and I have seen her dark days, watched her skirt the edge of black days and every now and then felt that joy as she catches a glimpse of colour. I just wanted to say thankyou for an amazing, and powerful blog entry. So many people don’t understand true depression. I wish you and your child every success in continuing to shine light into their “darkness”..

  4. March 12th, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    Stephen, Clan bingo sends it’s love to you and your wife. Megan is well and happy, though it takes an ongoing effort to remain so. She would tell your wife to seek always the light, ever toward the light. We all know what it is to walk in your shoes and watch. My very best to you and your wife.

  5. August 12th, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Sandy Hurst says:

    Still beautiful and so well said, Darrell. Thank you.

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