There are a handful of posts in my Drafts folder that I can’t find the words to finish or don’t have the guts to publish. They’re important to me, but I question if they’ll resonate with you. This post could easily become one of those posts. I’m not going to give it a chance to, because there is a tiny chance these words can make a difference for someone.
So here it goes.
I’ve struggled with depression for the last 20 years. Usually in the winter, every winter, some times in other seasons. It comes and goes, sometimes with more heft than others. Sometimes more fleeting.
When it settles in, I still wake up, get out of bed, and fulfill my most basic obligations. For years that meant showering, dressing, and going to class or going to work. I would do those things (and related tasks) without feeling engaged in them. Now, I feed, clean, and shuttle around the kids. I go through the motions.
The thing is, it settles in secretly. Slowly the things I enjoy fall away. Food loses its taste. I forget about music. Color fades. I slow, slow, slooooow down until I – the “I” that is Me-not-my-obligations – grind to a halt.
I close up. I don’t make plans with friends. I don’t reach out to family, or new people, or anyone, really. I stop talking to my husband. I can’t pull together words for this blog. My body becomes a bag of bones while the rest of Me floats somewhere else. Then that bag of bones starts to sink.
You’re familiar with Newton’s First Law (the law of inertia), right? That an object is going to resist a change to its state of motion? It helps make sense of why a depressed person can’t just “snap out of it.” Often it’s hard to recognize that depression is a condition that is happening to you. That it’s not true that you’re a terrible person, an unfit mother, a failure, unlikeable and unloveable. That thinking these things does not mean that you’re weak and incapable of life. These thoughts creep in, swirl around, and create a vortex that pulls you down. Fighting the pull of that gravity is physically impossible for someone in the depths of depression. You just… can’t. Maybe you recognize that it’s happening and know exactly what to do to feel better. You just CAN’T make yourself do it. The downward pull is too great. So you keep sinking.
My recent depression came in the disguise of uncharacteristic rage. I assumed I was easily infuriated because I have two small children and haven’t had a good night’s sleep since the middle of 2012. Or because of the deployment, then the after-effects of the deployment. Then there was crying for no reason. Then there were really terrible thoughts about disappearing from this world. Even then, under a barrage of symptoms that are glaringly obvious in hindsight, I was uncertain that I could be in the throes of depression.
Depression is an illness. You can’t just turn it off any more than you can just stop having the flu. But just as you can treat an infection, you can treat depression. Often, though, it’s difficult to recognize the symptoms. In fact, it wasn’t until coming out of my darkest time in this recent depression that I realized it’s something I’ve battled for decades. That all those other times were It, not just me finding life way more difficult than everyone else.
As such, I don’t often reach out for help. My experience has been that I hit a bottom with a little elasticity to it, springing back up to the Me that’s out there. This winter has been different. The demands of being home with two small children has left me with very little time to retreat from the world and bottom out. When I just want to hide under the covers, someone needs or wants something for me. The simplest tasks seem insurmountable, and when my 3-year-old decides to be Three instead of Cooperative, I explode. I ask WHY WHY WHY can’t they just leave me alone for 15 minutes in a day? WHY can’t my children see I’m desperate to a better mother and could be if only they would stop crying/pushing/needing/wanting? The immense guilt I feel for behaving that way, for thinking those things, it’s the anvil tied around my ankle. So I’m talking to someone to help me through this.
Last week’s trip to Hamburg and Amsterdam changed my course of motion. The change of scenery, the charge of seeing a new place and making inspiring discoveries, they have drawn me closer back to Myself. I tasted delicious food. Marveled at beautiful light. Smiled at the hidden jokes in the lilliputian civilization of Miniatur Wunderland. Enjoyed time with my family.
While I’m starting to feel better more often than not, I know I need to tackle this at its roots. I want the best life for my kids, and being a mom who yells at my preschooler for taking 2 seconds too long to put on his pants is far from the best I have to offer.
I’ve chosen to write this post with the hope that it might reach someone like me, who may be experiencing depression without recognizing it. Here is a link to more information about depression. Or perhaps you are close to someone who exhibits signs of depression. Here is a list of things you can do and say (and not) if someone you care about is depressed.
One in 10 people are likely to experience depression at any give time. Sadly, depression can be deadly, and I’ve known people who have taken their lives because of it. Please, if you think you need help, reach out. If you know someone who needs help, let them know they are loved and valued. It can get better.