Dark nights of the soul

  I just finished reading "My Crazy Brother" (HCN, 3/31/08). I cried. I'm a 30-year teaching veteran, 22 of which I've spent in a tiny community college in Colorado, where higher education is 49th in the nation. My classrooms are filled with under-, un-, wrongly and oddly prepared students. Social workers, school counselors, and other do-gooders whose helping hands are tied (by the system you describe) often send their crazies to us. Because I teach writing and literature, many of them "come out" to me, and some have become my friends.

We also make contact because I'm a lifelong depressive. My 20s were a blur of anxiety attacks and cycles of sleepless, paralyzing sadness. At the end of them I married, and my 30s and 40s were spent raising a family and making my life as a teacher.

Periodically across the decades, depression has dependably struck me down. Outside my immediate circle of family and close friends, few ever know of my "dark nights of the soul." My daughters and my wife, however, have paid dearly; without them, and a handful of other family members and friends (as well as medication and therapy), I would not have survived any number of these episodes. I'll be honest: Suicidal fantasies have often been my only comfort. Ray Ring came to understand this about his brother; that meant a lot to me.

Pushing 60, I've been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Depression is one of the most common symptoms. For the rest of my life, then, I'm not likely to "beat it." I do what I must and what I can to endure my depression. I work hard. I keep my family close; almost no one else knows. Until now.

Ray Ring, thanks for sharing your story, your research, and your passion and pain. I doubt your call for meaningful mental health services will be heeded, but I hope so!

Wayne A. Gilbert
Aurora, Colorado