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“I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all,” is a popular cutter mantra. The absence of feeling, the seemingly eternal inner pit, is so horrid that self mutilation and pain is preferable to ever present ennui. Living one’s life in a virtual emotional deprivation tank can lead to a need to replace the nothing with something, even if the something is pain and visible scars: Seems odd until one has experienced the void, then it kind of  makes sense.

Alcohol is another popular means to deal with the void of depression. When the demons of the mind are so insistent that they can be neither quieted nor assuaged many of us turn to drink. Drinking assures us that the troubles we have can be remedied. Have a few drinks and feel better, have a few more and feel nothing, have enough and we can pass out and “sleep.” Feel too much? Have a drink. Feel too little? Same prescription. Every drink makes the weight of depression seem lighter while actually making the burden heavier. The morning after is always difficult but that can be ameliorated with a stiff drink or two: I recommend vodka followed by mouthwash as this doesn’t weigh as heavily on the breath.

Am I a cutter? Nope, never. An alcoholic? Ditto. Do I understand the void of depression? Better than I would ever have thought possible six months ago. Half a year ago I fell into the pit and have so far only managed to climb far enough so that I can see a tiny circle of light high, high above me; a circle so far away that I fear I may never climb out and recapture the me that was. My current position is a dark and horrid place where I sit and do little but it is far and away superior to the spot further down from whence I have climbed, the place where the demons rule and pain is omnipresent. I am ascending, albeit at a glacial rate.

My wife has been with me for thirty six years. She has seen me struggle with depression for short periods of time but we both attributed my funks mostly to seasonally affected disorder, a condition where a lack of sunshine brings you down, or major life events such as the deaths of my parents. This is different, harder, more pervasive and more devastating. I am taking medication which is also new for me.

My darling is a hard, no nonsense woman who is a delightful match for my castles in the air mentality. Ours is usually a dove-tail joint but lately my fingers do not lock with hers and she finds herself doing more and more of life’s lifting. It is hard and demanding on her as she tries to be patient while simultaneously pushing me to climb toward the light. Hers is a thankless task. One of the things that we both know is important is physical activity. Through the decades we have competed in hundreds upon hundreds of events together and though we’re both in our mid fifties we still count on races to push us into being more active. Great plan if one’s brain is functioning correctly except, of course, mine isn’t.

She pushes, she pulls, she prods. She does so for my benefit, for hers, for ours. With depression and inactivity came a drop of fitness and weight gain. The older I get the more running beats me up and oddly enough where I now live in Florida is less amenable to cycling and swimming than the Midwestern cities we have lived in previously. The drain is spiraling down as she tries to pull me up. Her fingers grasp for mine but it is my job to take her hand.

Two weeks ago we did a 5K running race. I ran more slowly than ever in my life but in that race I felt the pull of competition and at least tried my best. Sore knees and one bloodied and blistered heel did not reduce my feeling that I was moving toward the light. I race, therefore I am. Beats battling the void that cutters face with the help of their razor knives.

(Because I recognized the upswing that accompanied my 5K I fictionalized the account in my post https://keithakenel.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/first-timelast-time/ I am happy to say that the character Stephanie is my wife to whom I hope to remain faithfully married till the end of our days. Depression hasn’t completely eroded my ability to reason.)

We did our first triathlon of 2016 yesterday. A sprint for which we, and especially I, were grossly unprepared. (The goddess broke her collar bone Thanksgiving of 2015 and has been recuperating since. Like so many things healing gets harder with age.) We had to get up at 4:00, something that in my pre-depression days would have been easy, and I only went because my wife had signed us up. Ennui as life style. Go team.

After we did all the pre-race necessities we headed down to the beach. Triathlons usually have waves of competitors and her wave was about nine minutes before mine. We kissed before she left and she said to me, “Try to have fun; okay?”

I gave her a half smile and replied, “I’ll try, but don’t count on it,” and then waited for my wave where I lined up at the very back of the competitor field. The gun went off and I strolled into the water, walking until my fat, bloated belly was submerged at which time I started  slowly crawling through west Florida’s Fort DeSoto’s calm, waveless, Gulf waters. I was swimming, but I was barely keeping my head above water.

When my feet hit the beach and I started toward the transition area to grab my bicycle one of the volunteers asked, “Sir? Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answered, wondering just how pathetic I looked to have this be my greeting after only the first leg of the race. My pride forced me to jog to my bike and once I started riding I was able to pass a few cyclists which put me into a more competitive mindset. My speed was dreadful, fully 10% slower than I usually achieved but at least I was starting to enjoy the physical agony. I cycled, returned to transition where I shed my bike shoes and helmet and donned running shoes and running cap.

My decline in running speed was even worse than my cycling had been but I was by God racing. I ran, trying to catch runners ahead of me and working as hard as my poor abused body would allow. As the band Wet Willie sang in their 1974 hit, Keep on Smilin’, “Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain, just flowin’ with the changes and singin’ this refrain.” I was racing, if ten minute miles can be defined as such. I was racing and I felt better experiencing the pain of effort than I did feeling the nothingness of void. What was that about cutters?

Over the last six months I have been awash in a deprivation tank and my lack of input has  mostly been interrupted  by large sharks with huge teeth. Depression is a hideous beast quite adept at circling and finding one’s soft spots. My triathlon was no miracle cure. I awoke this morning and struggled to get out of bed but at least for the short time that I was racing the pinprick of light at the top of my pit was directly overhead and illuminated my world from darkest night to the shadow of twilight; hardly enough light to see by but at least I could make out my hand in front of my face. As my choices seem to be quit or listen to Wet Willie I’m gonna’ try to keep on smiling.

“Well, you say you’ve got the blues
You’ve got holes in both your shoes yeah
You’re feeling alone and confused
You got to keep on smilin’
Just keep on smilin'”