NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning
In my first practice it was common for whole families to be my patients. Grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, cousins, and other webbed relations. My fondest memories of those years revolve around witnessing the love, tension, and ultimate cohesion of these complex units of humanity.
One day Grandma came for a routine follow up visit. We reviewed her blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol numbers. She wanted to lose some weight. Everything was stable, but something seemed off. I could not put my finger on it, and when I asked if everything was okay she said yes. This scenario repeated maybe once or twice more over some months, and slowly we agreed she was depressed, though I’m not sure if I ever used that word. There was no trigger, no event. She had not had a history of depression. She was just down, she did not know why, and she could not make it go away.
Grandma came from a culture and a generation that did not feel comfortable doing talk therapy. She was also reticent to take prescription anti-depressants, even if they might help her feel better. But she was happy to see me more regularly, just so I could keep track of her medical problems and make sure she was okay. We reviewed the same list each time: fatigue, low mood, anhedonia. No suicidality, biometrics stable.
Sometimes I would also see Son, Daughter-in-law, or Granddaughter. I would ask them how Grandma was doing. They never used the word ‘depressed,’ but they described how she was ‘kind of down,’ ‘sad,’ ‘going through a hard time.’ And then they would tell me what they were doing about it. Someone would always be at Grandma’s house, keeping her company. Sister would invite her out to lunch. Granddaughter would take her out shopping. Everybody attended to her just a little more, rallying around her, and nobody ever talked about why.
Grandma herself rallied, and her depression lifted over time. In Chinese the expression for this is equivalent to having ‘walked out’ of it, like depression is a long tunnel in the mountain. What a privilege to bear witness to this phenomenon—the family saw Grandma walking in a dark place, and they moved in a little closer, each with their own candle, lamp, or torch. They helped light her way, and they all walked out with her together.
I had a shit day today, mostly of my own making. Cramming in too many things, all scheduled too close together, trying to do too much, falling down on multiple levels, and adversely affecting multiple people around me. I almost bailed on a chance to be with an amazing group of people tonight, out of exhaustion and self-loathing. But these were my friends and I had not seen many of them in several months. I felt quite listless at the beginning of dinner, not unlike I imagine Grandma felt. But as I communed with my tribe, reconnected, and met a new friend, I started to feel better. The yummy duck helped, too. They could intuit a shadow on me. And with gentleness and respect for boundaries, my friends rallied around me. It was not pity or sympathy. It was genuine empathy and wishes for my well-being. So I rallied, too.
Things feel overwhelming more often now than before. The anger, bickering, blaming, and self-righteousness I see, hear, and feel all around (and within) me really gets under my skin—ha, literally, I guess. I know this will never be a permanent state; I will feel better tomorrow. It’s also an interesting opportunity to observe how I’m walking the self-care talk—including the self-compassion part. Fascinating.
Well friends, that’s what’s on my mind tonight. My patients save me by teaching me.
I’m going to bed. So I can rally some more tomorrow, and maybe help someone else do the same.