Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dare the Dragon of Depression

In the relentless gray of this November day the cold rain halfheartedly maintains its soggy grip on near-leafless trees and unmowed lawns. It is drab, dreary, and the sunny days of last week, last summer and some future day seem depressingly distant.

On days like today the dragon of depression stalks me, breathing not fire but darkness on me and others who are already tired and stiff from trying to control the constant tremors. The fierceness of our Parkinson's foe often leaves us too fatigued to find any hope to re-light the lamps that dragon breath has doused. Sometimes we cannot fight the darkness, the depression caused by constant demands upon our deteriorating bodies. Sometimes we can barely grit our teeth and close our eyes to glimpse some distant light of memory or anticipation. Sometimes these stressful short, fall days and restless long nights leave us feeling desperate and alone, wrung out.

How do we face the dragon of depression? How do we battle back from doom-filled thoughts that discourage and disturb us?

I am but an early onset traveler on this narrowing road called Parkinson's. I am not dominated yet by symptoms, but still challenged to fight back harder every day. But I do know that 50% of those who deal with this disease will have to battle the dragon of depression. Already I have felt the cold breath of the dragon trickling down my spine from time to time.  I needed a battle plan, a strategy, and a weapon. So far I have chosen those set out below.

While seemingly trite, my overarching battle plan is to 'take each day as it comes', which, as those who have tried know, is much more difficult than it seems. When dealing with despair I seek to avoid the anger and frustration that follows the thoughts of how I got here. Why me? Why now? Who did this to me? What could I have done to stop it? In the darkness a rearview mirror is helpless, and lends itself to paranoid reflections. I cannot fight the battle today by focusing on the ones that could have, or should have, been fought yesterday. Likewise, tomorrow has not yet rallied its enemy forces against me. Fear of a difficult future does nothing but sap the energy I need for today's contest. I must face only the fight before me! I believe I have what it takes for that.

My strategy is simple: learn to not fear the darkness, take solace in its silence, embrace it as a friend who can teach wisdom about who I am and how to meet the challenges, present and future. Running from or in the dark is dangerous, and panic leads us nowhere. It is not the night that need be feared. It is the fear itself that leaps inside of us, our breath quickening as we drop our guard and run headlong to escape something we carry with us. The preferable path to take is to wait, accustom our eyes to the darkness, and move deliberately through it, observing the directions that are best to take. It need not be a journey taken alone. Friends, be they professional or personal, are often necessary companions. We will find our way out.

The weapon I attempt to employ was reflected this week in a card I received from a friend in the legal profession who stated that this blog reminded him of the old Chinese adage, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness". We do not have the power to convert the night to day, to control the sunshine, to banish the gloom and darkness. But we can light a candle. And wielding its tiny flame we can keep dragons at bay. There is always hope if we but seek it. For some it is the hope of finding a cure that lights their way through the darkest hours. For others it is a faith that no matter the difficulty there is a purpose in it all. As it says in the Bible, "... we do not lose heart... we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed... therefore we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4).

So, as the winter wrestles warmth away and sometimes leaves me weary and overwhelmed, I will sit quietly sipping a glass of Pinot Noir with my wife, light a fire in the fireplace and determine in that moment to let the flames defeat the dragon.


  1. I struggled with the diagnosis of depression. I also found out that I not only had PD I also had to deal with depression. Three weeks after that revelation I heard you speak at a Parkinson's meeting. Your A-Z of Living Positively With Parkinson's and your response to my emails helped me face the dragon. Thanks for writing about depression and sharing your positive slant on it. Love your blog. Please keep writing. You make a difference.

  2. We just read your latest post.
    Thanks for helping us to understand something of the challenges you face, and more importantly, something of YOUR COURAGE...keep on you dragon slayer!
    we love you Bob!
    D and A.