The Black Lagoon

What a great image – the Black Lagoon.

Clipped from

Clipped from

Maybe something like this image?  It communicates darkness, the foreboding, the potential danger.  It also signals the idea of Isolation, which the agoraphobic mother in the book If I Fall, If I Die suffers from.

When I and my sister were growing up, our years followed the usual rhythms of childhood in America, from the first day of school in September, the holidays and Winter Break, Spring Break, and then the glorious long days of Summer.  But an additional cycle overlaid and influenced our external yearly cycles, and that was the cyclic ebb and flow of our mother’s mental balance between the deep depression she would suffer in the winters, and the exuberant manic states that she enjoyed in the summer months.

Many people suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  The darkness of winter, with short days and long nights, lead many into a darker outlook on life, and it’s harder to stay upbeat and optimistic.  But our mother’s depression was orders of magnitude more severe than the usual SAD symptoms.  Darkness was certainly an overriding feature of her life in the winter months.  She often would struggle out of bed to get us ready for school, insisting on our swigging down a glass of OJ, enriched with bitter ascorbic acid to ward off those nasty cold bugs (Linus Pauling’s theories on megadoses of Vitamin C were a guiding principle in our home).  After getting us fed and out of the house, she would retreat to her bed, with curtains closing out all daylight.  Her description of that state of depression was that it was like being in the bottom of a very deep well, out of which she couldn’t envision climbing out of.

As a child and a young adult, I was impatient with her.  Just get up!  Get moving!  You’re not in a well – you have choices.  That was, until I hit my own experience with clinical depression in midlife.  Wow!  All of a sudden, that image of the deep dark well was all too real for me, and I finally had sympathy for how hard it had been for her.  I was able to admire how brave she was to struggle to get breakfast into her kids in the morning.  That was no small thing.  She also figured out compensatory strategies, like shopping for our Christmas gifts in July, when she was usually riding high on her manic swings, and had all the energy in the world, knowing that it would be impossible to tackle the malls or even mail-order once the depression sucked her down into that deep dark well.

So, while I like the words Black Lagoon as imagery for the distortions of reality caused by mental illness, such as agoraphobia in the case of the book, or depression in the case of so many, but the word Lagoon just seems too lovely and benign.  When we think Lagoon, don’t we usually picture this?

Lagoon-Green-Water-1920x1200So, I think I prefer the image of the deep dark well as the image for the trap of the distorted reality that mental illness inflicts on its sufferers.  The nature of a well is that it is narrow, constricting, dangerous and cold.  As an avid listener of the radio program and podcast This American Life, one of the stories that added to my vision of the malignant nature of a well came from a story by Ira Sher, The Man in the Well, about a group of children who choose not to get help for a man trapped in a well.  Although that story was not about depression, it seems an apt metaphor – none of us on the outside (and upside) of that well can do anything to rescue the person trapped in the bottom (although, certainly mental health professionals and medications help a lot!!).

If I Fall, If I DieThis post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie,about a boy who’s never been outside, thanks to his mother’s agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.