My mother was quite adept at her use of the English language – her vocabulary was impressive, her grammar impeccable, and her writing engaging. Although she did graduate from high school, her depth of learning came from her own initiative. She was largely self-taught when it came to language arts.
She was also a lifelong musician, having played the piano from the time she was five until her death at 57. During her younger years, she was also quite the vocallist. Both areas of music garnered her quite a bit of success and potential collegiate attention, though she never attended due to circumstances out of her control. Our family certainly benefited, enjoyed, and to varying degrees carried on her musical legacy.
I happened upon an old poem she had written, probably at least 30 years ago. She’s been gone now for almost 16 years, but I’m thankful to have bits and pieces of her legacy, including her music and writing. Her poem, though, deeply troubles me. I think my mom battled with depression most of her life, and this poem, entitled “Despair,” is suffused with hopelessness.
From my understanding, most types of depression are not hereditary, except for maybe manic depression or bi-polar. But what is handed down through generations are ways in which we handle the stressors in our lives. I know my mom withdrew when she was under stress. So do I. She had a fiery temper which flared when she was under stress. Until I was about 20, so did I. When things got significantly difficult for my mom, she had an escapist mentality – she had things that she clung to beyond moderation to try to take the edge off of stress. I’ve seen that trend in my own life. Bottom line – I appreciate the legacy she left behind, her writing, her musicality. But she, in part, helped pass on to me a less-than-ideal way of handling small and big stresses.
I am not saying that she is to blame for my severe depression that I’ve been climbing out of for the last 11 months. However, I believe I have followed the model she set for me in handling tough stuff for the majority of my childhood and adult life.
Reading my mom’s poem is a renewed wake-up call for me. How did I used to cope with stress? How do I handle it now, now that I’m aware of my depression, now that I am aware of what triggers my knee-jerk reactions to stress? Am I making progress?
I want to encourage each of us to take inventory of what we do under pressure, under stress, in the midst of difficulties. Write down all the habits and thought patterns that you revert to by default. Examine them each carefully and determine whether they are healthy and helpful. If not, talk the list over with someone you trust. Ask them for advice and accountability in trying to overcome those things. Pray and ask for God’s supernatural help, that He’d transform those stress reactions. Replace any of those negative stress reactions with productive, positive things. Learn to talk through your frustrations with people in constructive ways. Discover new hobbies. Take a daily walk. Whatever it takes to turn the tide on detrimental behaviors related to stress.
Here is a copy of my mom’s poem. While it’s well written, it’s sad, melancholy. Enjoy and appreciate her words in an artistic sense, as I do. More importantly, let her poem be a compelling reminder of how stress can suck the joy out of life. Conversely, if stress is handled properly, we open ourselves up to many avenues of joy we otherwise would have missed out on.
Oh, for the gift of tongues
That I might speak of that
Which is hidden in the
Deep, dark corners of my mind!
I have struggled -in vain-
To plumb the depths of my very soul
To find some breath of reality –
Just some hint of meaning.
Long have I probed
With cold, cruel fingers –
Trying to penetrate the
Very core of my feeblemindedness.
But look! See there?!
A small glimmer of light!
The light of truth, and
The reason for these truths:
The reason for death and destruction –
Hatred and cruelty; the reason for
Sorrow and pain, agony and heartache;
The reason for living.
It is the light of hope!
Hope for your world -and mine
And for all the worlds to come –
And ————the light of love!
Oh, no! ——–Please, no! It’s gone!
The light is gone! And now,
Now, truth, reason and love
Shall remain unrevealed—
Locked up in this —- this
Damnable dungeon —
Buried in this grey, cold
Lump of clay —
To lie there —