Transitions and Depression – Sandy Reiff

by Sandy Nevills Reiff, BA, CADAC

I first saw lots of river runners as a specific group in 1968-69 when I worked at Marble Canyon. At that time, some factors stood out as pretty unique, and which, for some, were difficult. It was a young community overall, filled with kids who desperately wanted to be on the river. They had dreams of adventure and of being heroes. Often they were thrown into leadership roles with little training and no norms. The pressures were great because boatmen were, (and are) in a way, expendable. An impatient and eager group was standing right behind them to take their place if they didn’t get it and get it fast. These were young people who often were far from home for the first time- thrown into a culture which was just beginning to define itself. Often it was defined as party hearty, fast and furious, quick adulation, simply by living out many people’s dream – being a boatman – Huck Finn reincarnate. Pretty heady stuff – and not conducive to planning ahead for other seasons. An ability to solve serious problems was quickly developed, but the nature of river running doesn’t encourage long-range planning with an eye to the future. The adrenaline rush, the easy availability of adoring young and often temporary partners, was in direct contrast to the end of season scrambling for that winter job to survive until the next year. For the many of our community who gravitated to winter jobs with the same fast and easy payoffs, the time to be still and assess didn’t happen then either. What I’ve seen in the survivors of that quick moving transient world is the ability to develop deep caring for each other while maintaining the easy acceptance of here today, gone tomorrow. Add the absolute denial of the river companies and river people themselves to plan for long-range security, retirement, etc., even health insurance in many cases, and the stage is set for potential trouble. For that river runner who was literally swept into the current, the reality of more intrusive controls on the river, the demands of an often chronically – injured and aging body – a golden time of living in only the present now finds him/herself unprepared and apprehensive for, “What next?”

Facing high water at flood stages may be easier than facing that your chosen way of life is being restricted and disappearing due to personal and societal changes. Low water ahead with previously unseen obstacles now visible. The tightest friendships often are with those who are facing the same challenges. The usual problem-solvers may not work anymore. This can be a setup for depression – I’m not talking about the occasional down-in-the-dumps day everyone experiences. I’m talking about the real thing – a disease, curable, but a serious disease which gradually saps the joy out of living; which makes hope an illusive word in a sappy song, and the future an idea filled with despair and mockery.

New channels need to be explored, but first some of the warning signals of depression need to be mentioned:

  • Absence of joy – a flat feeling which doesn’t ever quite go away.
  • Chronic tiredness – feels like slogging through mud emotionally and physically.
  • Quick to anger, perhaps to cry – not necessarily tied to external events.
  • Absentmindedness – the inability to remember why you’re standing in the boathouse with an oar in your hand.
  • Drinking and/or eating a lot more with less relief or
  • Loss of appetite – nothing tastes good.
  • Sleep issues – either sleeping too much and/or an interrupted sleeping pattern – both with exhaustion.

Suicidal thoughts and plans crop up as a reasonable way to solve problems – but maybe not enough energy to follow through (most suicides happen when people are recovering from depression because they have more energy and don’t know they’re on the way back up). If you or someone you care for has all or some of these signs, it may be an indicator of Clinical Depression. The key to treating depression is NOT to ignore it – it does not go away on its own. It is, however, highly treatable. The earlier the better – the sooner diagnosed and faced the sooner people get to plot their new channel.