Recovery: A Saw Blade and Alpine Climbing (Journal: July, 2008)


I had thought that an increase in medication would signal a decrease in depression. But my psychiatrist corrected my logic and chose two separate metaphors to describe my recovery: 1) A hand saw; and, 2) Alpine Climbing.

Picture a well-made 26″ cross-cut hand saw with its blade facing upwards.  Don’t look at the teeth but look at the blades carefully honed angle-of-rise as its surface broadens to eventually equal the width of the handle.  And the teeth are hand-shaped on a grinder causing the familiar serrated edge which means there are several contact points (peaks and valleys) along the saws blade.  My mind when in major depression is like a serrated cross-cut hand saw blade. There’s a consistent up hill climb but in order to achieve the handle one needs to live through a number of peaks and valleys.

Similarly, the Alpine Climbing endeavor is peaks and valleys to which I am ignorant: I am not a mountaineer, having lived for 50+ years at or slightly above sea level.  But something odd occurred recently: my sea level suddenly rose skyward and I, lacking any previous experience went tumbling like poor Jill after Jack tripped showboating his coronet.  And then there it was, sea level, way up there, beyond tree canopies, even higher than some clouds.  It wasn’t until my psychiatrist explained that sea level remained fixed; it was I who had tumbled downward, spiraling like bath water down the drain.

From its approach I studied the aspect or face which I would climb to reach my first base camp.  The first leg I climbed alone (except for talk therapy and psychiatric medications) and joined my psychiatrist/sherpa at base camp where he was waiting with our racks.  We left the dark despair and feelings of hopelessness at base camp in mid-July, 2008.  We lightened our load by leaving behind my feelings of worthlessness and the idea that my life has collapsed, I am invisible in my own life and I would be better off dead. We both agreed that we didn’t need to drag those thoughts with us to the summit. We shouldered our racks and tightened the harnesses, checked and rechecked; thus began my apprehensive and cautious attempt to the distant summit of Peak Recovery.  The trek had been an exhaustive challenge across an unfamiliar landscape filled with dark crevasses of suicide and treacherous, newly fallen snow provided a dense foothold for our crampons, but which also hid the setbacks of insufficient dosages. But the activity of climbing and breathing the thin, cold air provided a sense of refreshment and newfound challenge.

Friends of mine and especially Nick have asked why I would’ve been so lucid for so long, then after meeting my psychiatrist it seemed as though my bottom gave out. It wasn’t until this afternoon as I write this entry that the reason occurred to me: I had spent the better part of two years in an utter state of unhappiness; unhappiness in my job, unhappiness in my relationship and unhappiness in my life. Yet, everyone in my life thought everything was swell and marvelous and happy! I had tried everything I knew how, from changing jobs, to self-medicating, to alcohol abuse, but nothing would erase that consistent gnawing pain I felt in my heart, or quiet those scratching, irritating noises in my head. Right up to the end I tried desperately to hold on, to simply hold on to the last end of rope, my fingers bleeding and numb. Until I saw my psychiatrist for the first time and he said, “there’s nothing to be ashamed of when you ask for help. You cannot possibly do this alone.”

It was then, right then, that I knew the futility of my fight; it was right then that my heart recognized kindness and a serene noiselessness smothered the incessant clamor filling my head.  This epiphany of surrender brought an end to my life as desperation.  When I released my hold my consciousness experienced a forced power-off; a reboot in safe-mode.  When I eventually opened my eyes there stood my psychiatrist who helped me to my feet and said “Now we can start at the beginning rather than the end.  The end which you fought valiantly to avoid never would’ve been avoided. Life starts when labor ends.  We all start on the heels of the end.”

My recovery continues to be slow with delays and disappointments along the way.  And yet, as we stop to rest I tell him of the anger and disappointments in my life. My psychiatrist/sherpa listened intently and then offered the most important advice of all: “Climb this mountain as though your life depends on it, because it does.”

One thought on “Recovery: A Saw Blade and Alpine Climbing (Journal: July, 2008)

  1. I live with bi-polar II illness. I live with the notion I have been abandoned from a 4 year old’s perspective. Through therapy I found my feelings were valid but uninformed as my mother’s mastectomy was very real as was my pain. I see things happening and wonder why me. I lived in my fairytale fantasy land for over five decades and am finally coming to terms with my past through the help of my friends (crucial) and therapist. Acceptance of one’s life can be painful and useful to move toward the horizon.

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