The Power of the Mind, For Better or for Worse

Written by on February 21, 2011 in Sports with 0 Comments

On the sad news of Dave Duerson’s death.

Depression Attrition: One of the fittest does not survive.
It was recently reported that Dave Duerson, former All Pro defensive back on the Chicago Bears, All-American Football player at Notre Dame University, and by all accounts, an intelligent and kind and physically fit man, died, apparently by his own hand.  Shortly before he died, he sent text messages to his family asking that his brain be examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to depression, dementia and suicide.  The poem below, entitled “Battle,” was written prior to Mr. Duerson’s death.  Whether it describes his mental state I cannot say.  But depression and mental illness touch so many people and their families, and now, with government programs being cut or unfunded, and insurance companies refusing to cover people with mental illnesses or attempting to avoid covering treatment, those who feel little to no sense of hope are even more likely to feel hopeless.  Shall we just toss them aside and force them to suffer alone, without treatment or hope?  What of their children?  What of their families?  Have we lost our hearts?  Have we lost any sense of compassion?  Isn’t that a sad commentary on our society?  On our political values?  Survival of the fittest indeed. At times, everyone feels frustrated, unhappy or even angry, and sometimes even hopeless.  For those who are truly and clinically depressed, those feelings are magnified many times.  Most can be treated, but few have the resources to obtain treatment without insurance or government assistance.  Should we abandon them, or hope that their families can help them? Sometimes those families don’t have the knowledge or the resources to help.  What then?  Is the concept of “survival of the fittest” intended to somehow allow us to discard those who suffer?  Does that concept make the rest of us feel better?  If so, how frightening is that?  Our enlightened, compassionate world is losing its light and its compassion.

 

I tried to imagine what it must be like for those who suffer from depression.  Here is “Battle.”

 

                Battle

The pounding of my heart echoes in my ears—
crashing reverberations
that thump without remorse—
rhythmic, seismic, chronic—
unsyncopated renderings of the
throbbings in my head
that in their turn do not rest—
a drumming rogue uncontrolled
but now controlling me.
 
When the battle is within you
and it finally settles down,
you know it is but momentary
but that will have to do.
It is water on a too-hot fire
that can only quell the flame,
but the heat will yet repeat itself
and you can only wait.
There is no peace for very long
for you know that in the end,
there is nothing you can do
and nowhere you can run:
the shadows in your mind
are made longer by the sun,
and the hours without thunder
grow shorter every day:
the lightning and the thunder
will always have their way.
Your darting eyes seek escape
but you’re condemned to stay,
for every path leads nowhere
and every road is blocked.
The battle lines are always drawn;
the doors are closed and locked.
 
My voice screams out in silent plea—
garbled words, slurring speech—
impotent against the tide
of ceaseless echoes deep inside
a mind once sharp and curious
but now no longer so—
a prisoner of ineptitude—
traveling freely everywhere
with nowhere left to go;
and there is no way to get there,
and there is no way home.
 
I’d settle for a stalemate
in this war that rages on—
the winner by attrition
is just the first to die.
Frozen in my tracks
by the lightning in my head
and the thunder in my chest,
I am anchored in the quicksand
that  holds me in arrest.
Where now is my bed?
Where shall I find rest?
Where now can I go
so I won’t hear them anymore?
                     –
I am the shackled prisoner
in a life I do not own,
an invited but unwanted guest
at the party I have thrown.
I simply seek a moment’s truce
through eternal rest,
but once again I hear the sound
of pounding in my chest—
ominous and frightening,
a distant, rumbling drum;
soon I’ll see the lightning
and the battle then will come.
Silently I pray for help
so I can yet go home:
I listen for an answer,
knowing there is none.
 
Daniel Mark Extrom
                         January 2011

Copyright Daniel Mark Extrom 2011.

All rights reserved.

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