My Indigo Twin: Living With Depression

Ruminant With A View

by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Note: This column, in a slightly different form, appeared in another international publication in 2010.

TEANECK NJ—(Weekly Hubris)—3/14/11—My first memory is of death. A dream of death—my own—at the age of two or three. But it could have been even earlier.

I am in my crib, in a warm, comfortable room filled with light and toys and the morning sounds of Southern California wafting in through a lace-curtained window, and I have awakened screaming from a terrible, terrible dream. Crushed by the weight and soft mass of toys—belovéd stuffed animals—I have been smothered to death in my own little bed.

How I could even imagine this thing before the advent of any darkness in my life, I still have no clear idea. Perhaps the toys did, in fact, fall down around me one night, and I woke in a breathless panic. But how could I imagine death, my own, at two or three? How could I imagine and fear something I had no name for?

And this is not the only dream. There is, was, another that dates from before childhood, from infancy.

I am caught in the middle of what I can only describe as a plain, a vast, flat, dark plain, and I am moving to and fro between two forces, light and dark, which, advancing upon one another, catch me in the middle. There is no escape, I know, and my destruction is assured. The space in which I can negotiate—back and forth, back and forth—narrows, and the immense forces (I would later call them “armies”) that soon clash crush insignificant me between them. (A Freudian might lecture that this is why infants should not sleep between their parents . . . .)

And, as I say, both these dreams came—and the second, again and again—before I had even language, as though language would be any defense when it came.

So, my life began in luxurious comfort, and fear, in equal measures, with a nightmare at the end of each bright, warm day. The certainty of death, of absolute loss, of annihilation, was there from the very beginning, hovering. And it was a certainty that snuffed out any others, taking all warmth out of the comfort that surrounded me; all sweet distraction out of each stuffed animal.

Whatever metaphor I could imagine for myself, for life, and I imagined them one after another, was existentially dark. I was a happy, funny, loving and belovéd—and “brilliant”; never forget brilliant—but very depressed child. From the very beginning. I had a wry sense of humor, an explosive talent for language, but wore also a rictus of pain, if only sometimes visible. If most of us are granted the gift of unknowing in our early years, I was outside that pale, my small mouth opened in a Munchian scream.

The author as a very young depressive
The author as a very young depressive

My father was a therapist, and there would be many subsequent therapists in my life, beginning in early adolescence, when my-father-wearing-his-professional-hat determined, beyond doubt, that what his daughter suffered from was depression.

Even this simple diagnosis was tricky largely because I have “grown up alongside psychiatry” in my half-century—and even feel I’ve stolen an intellectual march on the “science” over the course of the last decade. But, finally, what I suffer from is simply, undeniably, and largely incurably, depression.

Not a rose, by any name.

At first, the diagnostics and the therapeutic options were all too bulky and primitive for this particular patient and her illness. Hard to pick up a small, sick, fragile insect to treat it without killing it. Now, diagnosis has matured and psychiatrists have largely emerged from the vast forests of their formerly idiosyncratic and egotistical -isms and schisms: now, they can actually see the trees (and handle the insects with more precise instruments).

But that doesn’t mean the medications have kept pace. In my five decades as an impatient outpatient mental patient, I have suffered professional fools of all stripes, landing, at long last, in the office of a

man who knows he’s trying to perform intracranial surgery with fire tongs when he comes at me with the 21st century’s drugs. But it’s all we have, he and I, and, sometimes, things get bad enough for me to submit to rough expediencies.

I have called depression my “indigo twin” and, sometimes, the name, the metaphor, is useful, if imprecise. It is as though I had been born with a twin only superficially human, and decidedly blue; a sibling who shadows me night and day, always there, always “mine,” and like mein every respect (when emergent) but one. Color. She is blue. Dead.

Cold. With hands of ice. And her fingers are round my neck in a loving embrace. I am alive. She is dead. And I carry her always with me, her dead, dead weight. She is my past, and my certain future. I lie down with her every evening, and pull up and away from her every morning. And one morning, we will both fail to rise, and she will have “won,” dragging me down into the blue depths from which she, but not I, came, but to which we will both certainly, inevitably descend.

Ah me.

If there was—were?—ever a causal event, an occurrence, that set this poison adrift in my system, which “depressed me, I have no memory of it. But, surely, I experienced far less in terms of early loss, grief and anguish than 99 percent of the beings on my planet. Even The Buddha’s beginnings were less comfortable, less cosseted, I believe.

But, if I search for a “cause,” a “prime mover” in my depression, it is not in the realm of events, I think; nor even, though I go right against the grain here, in biology. I was born looking death in the teeth. But the condition is not quite like diabetes (juvenile), nor childhood epilepsy—not quite. It’s not a question of brain or bones, but of mind, and our species hasn’t really got round to what to call mind, yet, though I doubt it’s a “thing.”

I simply feel I was born “knowing”: Fey, in some way. I was born old, informed, well before my time, of the existential dilemma. In on a bad secret. To carry the metaphor just a step further, I was born with two minds, of two minds, one of which repeated, over and over, to the other, and not therapeutically: “This, too, shall pass: and then there will be nothing.”

All losses, all deaths, all sorrows that I experienced in life were not causes of this depression, this world view, this bleak certitude, but merely served to validate it. They were evidence, proof, for a premise I latched on to at birth.

In 1972, my father, an uncle, two aunts and a great aunt all died. In a year’s time. I divorced the homosexual classmate I had, unwitting, married at 19. I succumbed to an autoimmune illness and was hospitalized, crippled. But I was depressed long before these “events,” these so-called “life experiences.”

In my case, the horse came well before the cart.

Still, it was in that year that I made my first attempt on my life, my indigo twin whispering to me that, if I would only come with her, the pain would cease. I, and my therapist at the time, made valiant efforts to mount a defense, and I came up with the one line of prose that I have used as a weapon (or a spell?) against my “sibling” ever since (in all subsequent tangles with her): “Today is not tomorrow.” In other words, the prognosis (for us all) is bleak, but we have a little time before the curtain comes down.

“Today is not tomorrow” is something like “Make hay while the sun shines,” or “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” It is me pleading with my twin, with death, to let me live out my little proscribed span on earth, but to let me live it till the end. It is the only weapon I can use to prize my twin’s strong fingers from about my jugular.

“Let up, will you, Sis! Don’t kill me, us, while we still have some breath in us! You, Death,will have your day—and perhaps even tomorrow. But not, I think, today.”

And who knows, perhaps tomorrow will bring some new approach, some new therapy, some pill, that will relax the blue one’s embrace; still her chilly lips in their constant hissing kiss; silence my determined twin; release me.

My fondest hope is that I really was born an only child, and will be once again. Alone. Hopeful. And fully alive, if only for the moment.

Note: Early in March, the author entered an N.I.H. drug trial which will consider two drugs in the battle against depression (as well as recalcitrant post-operative back pain): Ketamine (an anesthetic gaining new, 21st-century attention as a “club drug” called “Special K”); and a second medication currently approved only for the treatment of A.L.S., or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” (for further information on the Ketamine study, see: and and Watch this space for updates, as this depressed Yogini, with her recently fused and still excruciatingly painful broken back, heads off to Washington DC.

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, Publishing-Editor of “Weekly Hubris,” considers herself an Outsider Artist (of Ink). The most recent of her 15-odd books is The Visitors’ Book (or Silva Rerum): An Erotic Fable, now available in a third edition on Kindle. Thirty years an academic, she has also worked steadily as a founding-editor of journals, magazines, and newspapers in her two homelands, Greece, and America. Three other hats Boleman-Herring has at times worn are those of a Traditional Usui Reiki Master, an Iyengar-Style Yoga teacher, a HuffPost columnist and, as “Bebe Herring,” a jazz lyricist for the likes of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham, and Bill Evans. (Her online Greek travel guide is still accessible at, and her memoir, Greek Unorthodox: Bande a Part & A Farewell To Ikaros, is available through Boleman-Herring makes her home with the Rev. Robin White; jazz trumpeter Dean Pratt (leader of the eponymous Dean Pratt Big Band); Calliope; and Scout . . . in her beloved Up-Country South Carolina, the state James Louis Petigru opined was “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” (Author Photos by Robin White. Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)


  • Danny M Reed

    Thank you for your kindness and compassionate care when I was sick. I have never known a bag of lemons to taste so sweet. Love, Danny

  • eboleman-herring

    @Danny: Not always noted for being able to turn my own lemons into lemonade, I’m utterly thrilled to be able to do it for an other. May the sourness of life become sweeter and sweeter for you (and me), and for all those in similar groves of sadness. Fondly, e

  • Burt Kempner

    I, too, have felt Churchill’s black dog tugging on the cuffs of my pants. Two years ago Death and I stared each other in the face. He blinked, but I know he’ll be back. In the meantime, let me add as much to the world’s dwindling supply of beauty and compassion as I can. My heart and soul are with you in this struggle, Elizabeth. As Danny noted above, your kindness is healing and, yes, it does matter.

  • eboleman-herring

    Hey, Burt! I was discussing, with an NIH shrink this morning, the odd (to him, seemingly) fact that, no matter how depressed, I manage to go right on writing. Writing, for me, has been like breathing: an activity perhaps distorted by, say, being at rest, or running uphill (or away from sabre-toothed tigers), but a constant. As there are high-functioning autistics, and other high-functioning this-and-thats, I have always considered myself a high-functioning depressive. The current psychiatric climate persists in trying to label anyone not curled up in a fetal position “somewhere on the bi-polar axis.” I do not concur. But it DOES mean I will not be, as they say, “a good fit” for this particular clinical trial, so I will probably be returning to New York much sooner than I’d thought/hoped…to search for another Ketamine study closer to home. I, like you, believe that the surest “cures” on this planet are loving-kindness and creativity. Sunlight and salt water are my own tonics, and I would rather spend my few pennies on those luxuries than so-called psychotropic drugs. More anon. Love, e

  • Amy

    I love this piece. I remember interviewing you for a paper in college. You talked about the darkness of 1972 then. I also love that you have a way to say “Today is the day.”
    I used to say that I was born angry. Depression and anxiety are, in my humble and hypomanic opinion, appropriate responses to our reality. (Especially now that we are aware of so much that happens.) I learned in undergraduate school that psychological research showed that people who experienced depression were also statistically significantly more likely to be realistic, not idealistic, in their responses to test questions.
    My dream at 7 was of a big head being smashed vertically from above and below while a barren waist land of dust and tumbleweeds lie below. Then of me as a child skipping on the sidewalk and somehow breaking my mother’s back – stepped on a crack. Next a house exploded in fire and extensive gore. Who knows what it was, a terror that plagued me at the time. I found, at the end, that I was slashing through the dream in some autistic-like trance with paper.
    As it turned out, I was sleep walking and tearing toilet paper from the roll in the bathroom. I still remember my mother giving me full pulp orange juice in an attempt to wake me and that I got a chill when my father explained that he had a similar dream. His ended with strings, not paper. I think it also omitted the explosion. Not sure.
    I remember reasoning, at some point, that I would be restored to sanity over a pressure-filled and crazy world full of death and destruction through writing. Clearly, I should take a class. At least I could dig out the ole Handbook. I bet I made 10 errors in this post alone.

    Blessings to you,

    ( You know about the indigo children idea, right? Pop spiritualism, it may be.) I bet, if you carried wisdom and experience as you came to be here in this life, you also brought forth a joy for life. What a wonderful thing to teach her that she is free to be alive, elsewhere and you so in the now.

  • eboleman-herring

    Ahhh, Sweet Amy, you who taught me, so long ago, the concept of being “bright and shiny.” Probably, in my antiquity, I hadn’t actually listened to REM before I met you and Kim in class. I think, if Kind Fate exists, it was Kind Fate that brought you and Tyrone and Kim and me together in one classroom, and it is Kind Fate that has kept us linked, all these years. Depression’s a gift best borne by many shoulders, as I’ve learned on this ward at NIH/Bethesda. My fellow sufferers are a brilliant, compassionate, suffering group, and I will leave remembering their courage and grace. Sooooo ironically, one is from SC, and one is from Ga—and we know all the same haunts/understand all the same lingo. The Ga “other” is, in fact, my roommate, and I’ve really lucked out here! So….with crap comes also creme brulee, it seems. Never forget that! Love you! Boleman-Herring

  • Danny M Reed

    My first memory was the personal conviction to stop crying and peeing my pants when something bad happens. Although having acheived partial success I confess the cure is having nothing bad happening. I wait for Godot it seems, Elizabeth. Still, Godot is not whom I await just now. At NIH/Bethesda we had a brief review. I’m going home in about two weeks. Home is going without me I find: I have no home now. My wife gave up and wants no more of me. They say:

    Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone. Not Bill Shakespeare, JM Cougar

  • Danny M Reed

    My wife has this stuffed toy dog named Paco that she threw in the garbage all the time and I would rescue Paco each and every opportunity. He is still around since her childhood only because I saved him numerous times. Sounds cheesy, maybe, but Paco was my heart and soul. I would write a children’s book about Paco if it weren’t so damn depressing. Being an adult doesn’t make it any easier to be depressed and anxious. I appreciate your optimism, Elizabeth.

  • Danny M Reed

    Thank you, Elizabeth for The Other Side of the Road when I was isolated and alone. Forgive me, I needed your kindness more than you can know. Heartful Compassionate Attention or Mindfulness has really helped. I found I had Awareness to a degree but like a bird needs two wings I lacked Compassion. I could not fly. With Compassionate Attention I feel there is freedom I did not have before. Ketamine freed me of Guilt and Shame for three days.

  • eboleman-herring

    Danny, I may be a bit farther away than I was in Bethesda, but I’m right at the end of the phone line, and you can always reach me at I truly believe Ketamine is going to be the answer for many of us suffering from lifelong depression–Ketamine delivered at appropriate doses and on a regular basis. This is what my research tells me. I have the added difficulty of recalcitrant post-op spinal pain, and Ketamine’s the drug of choice for that challenge as well. I’m looking into a Cedars Sinai Ketamine trial, and it’s listed as not accepting applicants quite yet at, but at least it’s listed. You are going to be much better off w/o someone who trashes Paco in your life, even if it takes a while. Just call and talk to me when you want. For two weeks more, you’re going to have some really fine fellow sufferers around you as well: talk with them. I won’t mention any names here, but you know who they are. Hey, maybe you guys will perform Hamlet at the dinner table in my absence?? Last week, I had to leave behind some of the dearest people I’ve ever met, and it hurt like hell. I won’t forget you, and compassion knows nothing of geography. Paco Lives!!!! XOXOXOXOXO e