The paper guy's here!" Every Monday morning a cashier at Eckerd's drugstore greets me with these words. A manager gives her a key and she fishes $3 and change from the cash drawer and pays me for the copies of The Kansas City Star sold the previous week. I pick up the 10 or 12 unsold papers and throw them in my car, next to the returns from the supermarket, the doughnut shop and the Texaco station.
Quite a difference from a year ago. Then, I would announce myself in response to a judge's perfunctory order: "Counsel, state your appearance." Instead of delivering papers from 1:30 a.m. to 6 a.m, I spent my nights sleeping and my days in an office, a courtroom or a library.
It all changed 12 months ago. For the second time in six years, I abandoned my solo law practice. I stopped returning phone calls, forgot to pay bills and ignored court dates. I began to sleep 16 hours a day. By July of last year I stopped coming into the office, leaving it to fill up with unopened mail and indignant phone messages. By August I was behind on my office rent, and by October my landlord asked me to leave. I ate, but nothing tasted good. I slept, but woke up tired. I felt like a stranger around my wife and two daughters. Thoughts of suicide shadowed me. And in the midst of all this, I knew. IT had returned.
Tracy Thompson, the journalist, calls IT "The Beast." To Winston Churchill, IT was his "Black Dog." To me, it is both of these; a nameless, faceless thing that infects me with a despondency so bleak I fear that I will never feel joy again. IT is depression. Twice now IT has laid me low.
Trying to throw me a lifeline, a friend offered me a job delivering newspapers. To my great surprise, I found myself almost enjoying the job. Contrasted to the stresses of maintaining a law practice, this mindless work of assembling and bundling papers in a dimly lit warehouse was a welcome distraction. When I left the warehouse to deliver the papers, to vending machines, gas stations and supermarkets, I began to catch glimpses of small joys.
After months of hiding from people and avoiding conversation, little by little I got to know some of the night-dwellers. The clerk at the Phillip's station who plays country music and seems to have an obsession with Patsy Cline. The jogger I always pass at 4 a.m. With friendly greetings and idle conversation, these people, whose names I still don't know, began to draw me out of my darkness.
At the end of each night I look down at my hands, stained with ink from handling 450 newspapers. I stretch and feel a tightness in my shoulders from lifting the 40- or 50-pound bundles into and out of my car. The grime and the pain serve as wake-up calls for my tired body and mind. And every Sunday morning, when my friend hands me a modest check, I begin to feel just a bit more confident.
Depression is an insidious disease. On one level it is about neurons and synapses, seratonin levels and dopamine readings. On another level it is memories of trauma stashed in dusty corners of the mind that manifest years later in fear and anxiety. And on yet another level it is a crippling, dispiriting mind-set that convinces me I am worthless and helpless.
For almost five years I have been on a steady regimen of antidepressants, from Prozac to Serzone. When I build up a tolerance to one drug, my doctor simply switches me to another. Except for some inconvenient side effects, they have been my safety net, stopping my free fall into madness.
For most of the same period I have been in individual or group therapy. I've learned how some of the difficult periods of my life have shaped me and contributed to my depression. The memories of my drunken mother and the Jim Beam and Coors bottles strewn around our rented houses help me understand why I'm so fearful of failure, so introverted and so reluctant to trust others.
For all the insight and help I've received from drug therapy and psychotherapy, I still have feelings of worthlessness. Every bout of depression eats away at my self-esteem, and no amount of drugs or talking can restore it. That restoration has to come through a different vehicle. For me, that vehicle is physical work. Every time I look at the calluses on my hands, I realize that this job provides me with a reason to get out of bed.
One day soon I'll be ready to leave this job behind, but I'll never again view work as just a paycheck or a daily obligation. It will always be a part of my therapy, my healing. I don't know where my next job will be; in the courtroom, the classroom or the office. But wherever it is, my work will be a weapon in my arsenal against the attacks I know will come again and again, because the Beast will not be satiated, and the Dog will never be securely leashed.