Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Quick takes from a chronic mood swinger on a serotonin low

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Happy June!

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Sometimes I think that hell is closer than it used to be. Not because people are so much worse than they were a hundred years ago, or because the economy is in bad shape, or because some guy ate another man's face in Florida, but because darkness no longer feels like something that's "out there" when I pray, "Lord, do not let me be led into darkness." 

The stakes seem higher for my soul, here, sequestered in a family, than they ever were when I was a teenager, surrounded by external temptations of the flesh. When I was younger, hell was the difference between jumping off a cliff and not jumping.--"do this and live vs. do that and die." Dying seemed to take such effort, a concentrated force of will.  Hell was on the other side of a great leap.

Now, "do that and die," is something as simple as allowing myself to think spiritually destructive thoughts, imagining unrealistic outcomes for my life, thinking I'm special or worthy of temporal reward.

Darkness is a disposition of the soul, and it's only a flicker of a thought away. I am more likely to succumb to subtle temptations that strike internally on a lazy afternoon, than outrageous ones that require leaving home and encountering strange people. Darkness is right here, right on the other side of a good intention, or in the discouragement I feel when I've settled on a bad one.

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I hope this feeling comes from developing greater delicacy of conscience. When I was younger, I knew mortal sins were killers, but I didn't realize that venial sin was also destructive and brought on a slower more agonized death--the frog boiling in water it doesn't realize is hot. 

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I also think women sometimes go a little bit nutty in their thirties--probably it's just me. On the whole and objectively speaking, my thirties have been pretty good to me. Good kids, good marriage, good home, good faith. But on a smaller scale, they have also been fraught with doubts about whether or not I've made meaningful use of my time. 

I know having children and being a mother is meaningful and redemptive, so I'm not lying awake at night asking myself "is this all there is?"  I like my life, and while I remember what it was like to feel overworked and resentful about staying home with small children--that's not how I feel anymore.

The trouble is, I know this is not all there is, and at times, I've used the kids as an excuse to sit around at home examining my navel. The truth is, there are poor people to feed, books to write, friends to invite to dinner, and many, many people on the Church prayer line, among other things.

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There's nothing more inspiring than ineffective people complaining about how ineffective they are, is there? That's why I'm glad the Darwins posted the Novena for ordering a life wisely. I'm doing it.

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Another weird thing about the late thirties is that hormones get nutty, fluctuating between the realms of teenager and old woman with no middle ground. I'm not just talking about zits and wrinkles, but about moods and dispositions--like this is my particular form of manic depression, whereby I'm either old lady or child rather than manic or depressed. 

Is my life before me or behind me? I don't know. Am I mature or immature? Likely both. I really hope I'm a late bloomer, spiritually, personally, socially, artistically, etc. I hope I'm a better mother when I'm older, a better writer, a better Christian, so that my best days may be yet to come. 

If they're behind me, I'm sort of sad. If all that's left is redemptive suffering, well then, I'm sort of ambivalent about death. It could happen for me any time and I'd be fine. As Hans Keilson said, "My death is not my business," insofar as external elements are its cause.


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A couple months ago, my husband and I saw the movie, Melancholia, which is a strangely beautiful movie about the end of the world. In the first part of the movie, the apocalypse is far off--a rogue planet moves towards the earth--and a young woman, on the night of her wedding, succumbs to the internal darkness, destroys her fledgeling marriage and falls into a deep depression. As the planet moves closer to the earth, and the apocalypse is imminent, this same woman is surprisingly calm and peaceful in the face of her coming death, while her sister struggles to make preparations and find somewhere to hide.

The movie has stuck with me, especially as I've noticed handfuls of acquaintances making preparations for the "last days" or "hard times," or what have you, storing up canned goods, getting cash out of the bank, investing in gold. Affliction must be right around the corner and God has put it on their hearts to be prepared.

Maybe hard times are coming, and maybe they're not, but one thing that I think the movie Melancholia gets right, is that it's hard to be troubled by the end of the world when the apocalypse has existed inside you.

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Personally, I can't think of anything worse than being the last man standing. I'd rather stockpile appetite suppressants than rice and beans--make a quiet exit early in the famine rather than fretting about where my future meals will come from when the stockpiles run out and people turn savage. I'd rather volunteer to take the first stand at the firing squad than spend a life on the run. I'd rather look the smart missile in the eye than build a bomb shelter. I'd rather die in the city, toasting at a nice restaurant, than hiding in my basement or running for my life.

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I'm having people over for dinner. Cheers!

18 comments:

Erin said...

Betty, the way you put words together is perfect. I've always thought I'd rather be the first person "gone" than "the last man standing." It would be easier and more peaceful, I think. However, I wonder too whether that is a selfish thought. Is it the easy way out? I don't know. Sin is much more complicated as an adult than it used to be as a kid.

Michelle said...

I love everything about this post. You touched on everything that has been on my mind this very week. Except Meloncholia which haunted me for days after watching just not this week but months ago. Thank you for your words. I feel normal after reading them :)

augustine1121 said...

I will keep you in my prayers. As a man in my early 30's I also struggle with depression and periods of intense self doubt. Thanks for writing this post. It was a great source of comfort for me.

Charming Disarray said...

"I also think women sometimes go a little bit nutty in their thirties"

Oh please say it isn't so. It gets WORSE?

Matthew Lickona said...

Oh, it sounds like your guests are in for a de-LIGHT-ful time, yessir.

Actually, they probably are. When I'm low like this, I'm really good at the fun-times patter.

Also, "please prove you're not a robot" in the comment moderation field is making me depressed just reading it.

Good night, Mrs. Duffy.

Lizzie said...

Betty, you're the business. I've been wondering about whether my best days are gone and whether all I have ahead is redemptive suffering. You've articulated my recent questions and fears so beautifully. And, as Michelle said - thank you for these words as I feel normal too after reading them!
God bless - similar to Matthew, I love your closing line that you've got friends for dinner! I hope you laughed lots...

BettyDuffy said...

Erin, I've wondered about that--whether or not it's selfish, but you know, somebody's got to be the first to go. Anyway, we'll probably not have much control over it. I'm just playing with preferences.

Michelle, I sort of want to watch it again--but I may be a glutton for punishment.

Augustine--I always love company in my misery, but I'll pray for you too.

CD, it probably won't happen to you--and at its worst, it's only intermittently nutty, not consistently nutty, so, only half-bad.

Lickona, you'll have to ask the Darwins how I did. I do tend to rise to social occasions, which is why I plan them when I'm low. Fortunately, we've made it through 26 hours in the car together, so, I know they can stand me either way.

Lizzie, I'm choosing to believe the best is yet to come--for both of us!

Matthew Lickona said...

Aw, I'm jealous.

Elizabeth said...

30s are rough times, as is the whole of midlife. Have you ever read Etty Hillesum? I think she would strike a chord with you, as she has with me. Here's a excerpt in an attempt to persuade you: "This, too is one of my latest achievements: the realization that every moment gives birth to a new moment, full of fresh potential, and sometimes like an unexpected present. " Also: "it sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death to our life we enlarge and enrich it." She wrote her diary, containing these observations, as a Jew in the Netherlands, facing deportation and ultimately, death, in her late twenties.

mommyadventuresintx said...

Flippin loved this post. The thrill of knowing that "I'm not the only one!!" never goes away. As one always experiencing some existential crisis this hit home. :) I'm 28 so this notion of the 30s frightens me- guess I'm an early bird.

Sean O said...

"Its hard to be troubled by the end of the world when the apocalypse has existed inside you."

I know this feeling.

Must see that movie.

MrsDarwin said...

Here's yer social report: Betty's an elegant hostess and a crack Euchre player, and her husband makes these pancakes of bliss which we'll be remembering fondly for weeks to come.

BettyDuffy said...

Aw, you're sweet, Mrs. D! Really, we had a blast, and it was very difficult for a sour mood to last in your company.

Dawn Farias said...

" Darkness is right here, right on the other side of a good intention, or in the discouragement I feel when I've settled on a bad one."

You always say what I feel, putting the words together much better than I ever could.

Glad you had a great dinner with friends.

Rebekah Durham Hart said...

Thank you for this post. These same troubles have been on my mind over the past few months and there is so much truth and hope in your words. Thanks!!

Nancy Piccione said...

Great writing as always!

I don't know if this helps or not, but 40s are much, much, much, way much better than 30s, in my opinion. Yes, there is still craziness & hormones, but I find it a much happier and finer place than my younger years. Hang in there, all you young people. ;-)

Emily J. said...

Just saw Melancholia and have been puzzling over it all day - a couple of differs I have with your notes (don't read this anyone who wants to see the movie): It's the brother-in-law, not the older sister, who stockpiles supplies, while remaining in denial about the ultimate end. Meanwhile, the older sister runs off and buys the cyanide or whatever, which the husband ends up taking after all his stockpiling. Isn't the younger sister's depression is related to her prescience about the apocalypse, so all the trivialities and bad relationships at the wedding don't seem worth maintaining. Only the older sister makes the effort to love the younger sister despite her illness, even though she says she hates her. She takes her in against her husband's wishes, bathes her and makes her eat, etc. So when the end finally is near the younger sister can finally let go of her sadness because she's right after all, she doesn't have to put up with all the social relationships, and she hasn't found anything meaningful in life, so why not die a beautiful death in the magic cave? Or maybe the planet really is a symbolic double for the younger sister, and she has metaphorically killed everything around her because of her melancholia. Or the other way around: melancholia exists because of inevitability of death, and of seeing the meaninglessness of life in the face of impending doom. But at the end of the movie the sisters are finally at peace with each other and the little boy because they all love each other and hold hands with their eyes closed.

All this to defend the older sister...:)
. . . And because I can't decide if it's ultimately a nihilistic movie, or one that is about love.

BettyDuffy said...

Come take care of me!

I'm not going to argue with what you took from the movie. I sort of want to see it again, to see what you saw. I didn't really think the younger sister was prescient about the end. She sees the planet--although, I guess I am sort of remembering a scene where she says something like "I know things."

I need to see it again.