Winston Churchill

I started out writing an August newsletter filled with musings on the last lazy days of summer.  How I had noticed that the sun had changed, how it no longer beat down quite as ferociously as it had during the month of July.  How it seemed somehow softer, more diffused as each day passed.

But there was something I wasn’t going to write about…that this change brought a certain familiar restlessness inside me.  And that this isn’t the first summer I’ve felt this way. The anxious feeling starts in my chest and always comes when I’m about to turn the corner into September.

Berklee is going to start up in a few short weeks so maybe these are first day of school jitters. I’ve had them since the first day I taught, and still have them, despite the fact that I’ve been teaching for 150 years.  (For those of you non-teachers, “teaching years” are like dog years – add 10 to the number of years you’ve been in the classroom.)

Maybe it’s knowing that my kids are going back to school. I’ve got one heading into his sophomore year in high school and the other finishing up her last year in elementary school.  And I definitely feel them assuming adult form little by little every day.  And as they get older, so do I.

And I can’t ignore the singer/songwriter anxiety which I carry with me always.  It ranges from fear that it’s all been some fluke, that every song I write will be my last to jealousy when I go on Facebook and see other opportunities that my peers are having that I’m not.  Studies have proven that Facebook makes you sad. If Facebook is hard on regular people, I can speak personally that it does damage to us sensitive, artistic types.  A friend of mine described Facebook as “crack for insecure singer/songwriters” and I can’t disagree.

Call it what you will, this feeling can only be described as the blues. In this case, the summertime blues.  If I were truthful with myself, I would have to say, I’m a little depressed. This feeling lingers around me, and I try and shake it off, but it’s an effort. Getting outside and walking the dog helps.  Or breathing and forcing my body into relaxing.  Or losing myself in a cooking show or in an America’s Next Top Model marathon.  Sometimes, but not always, losing myself in music helps, but that’s not a happy place for me if I’m feeling bummed out.

And then I heard the news about Robin Williams.

He made me laugh time and again not only in his movies, but in his standup routines. And oh, did I have a crush on Mork! Robin Williams seemed like the kind of guy it’d be nice to know, to hang out with.  He thought faster than a normal human being and his comedy was a torrent, it washed over you like a wave.  I knew he’d had substance and alcohol abuse issues – what stars haven’t? From Michael Hassselhof’s drunken hamburger video to Mel Gibson’s heavy breathing rage, I, like the rest of the world, have watched movie stars go off the rails. That was nothing new.  But to find that he took his own life because of depression – that put a whole different spin on it for me. Looking back, obviously Robin Williams was manic. Duh. How did I not know that?

I have relatives and friends who suffer from bi-polar disorder, and I know that as high as one can go in your manic phase, eventually, the pendulum swings downward.  And whether you’re bi-polar or just depressed, I also know first hand that climbing out of that dark place is no easy accomplishment.  Winston Churchill used to call his depression the “black dog”, and spent most of his life

Black Dog picture Picture by Lecates
trying to keep the dog away by heavy alcohol use. I have lost friends and family who, like Robin, were not able to keep the dog at bay, despite support from loved ones and medical intervention. And I have felt the pull of sadness that threatens to color your whole world a deep shade of blue.

So, what’s the answer here? What can we learn from losing this well-loved public figure?  Maybe there is an open window to this closed door.  Maybe we will now shine a spotlight on the fact that depression is real. It can even strike down Mork.

Here is Haunted Heart.  I wrote it after dealing with my own depression.

Caught in a haunted heart
Circling back to find the mark
The moment I knew I belonged to the dark
Caught in a haunted heart

Tell me you feel it too?
A shift to the world we thought we knew
A half empty glass
A change in my laugh
The deep end of my blue

Morning’s always feel like rain
Even on the sunniest of days

Caught in a haunted heart
Hold me so I won’t come apart
Wish I could wish my way out of the dark
Out of this haunted heart

Love to you all.

xoxo Susan