Damn. Today I realized that I am having a bout of depression. The clues have been there for several days: I get through the most necessary tasks like feeding the kids, washing enough dishes and clothing to keep everyone fed and dressed and I get to work. Apart from those basics, I spend most of my time in bed. I’m not sleeping, not crying, not usually reading, just lying there. Sometimes I am daydreaming. Mostly, I’m hoping to work up enough energy to do the next thing. When I do something else, like shoveling snow in the sunshine, I do feel better while I am doing it but then it is back to inertia.
This year I have learned that another clue, or symptom to watch for, is how I think of myself. I mean, to listen for the tone of the mind-chatter, the way we address ourselves fairly unconsciously through the day. This week it’s become mean and ugly (“of course I left that glass by the edge, so it would fall over. How stupid can I get?”), where I have worked to keep it fairly kind or at least neutral most of the time. It sounds like a string of verbal self-abuse, and when I recognize it, I cringe. It is both a symptom of a depression and an irritant though it was not a cause. The antidote for me is to remember my counselor asking, “if this were your best friend telling you she feels this way, what would you say to her?” Then I have to extend that loving, accepting attitude toward myself.
I hate feeling this way. I hate that I can be doing dishes or folding clothes and suddenly have tears streaming down my face. I am determined not to let the kids see it, because there has been enough upheaval, enough depression in their lives already. I hate feeling no interest, no energy, no point to doing anything. I hate experiencing life this way. But I realized that I’ve been automatically resisting it, as if I can pretend it’s not happening and it will go away, or as if by telling myself that I’m pathetic, I will snap out of it.
One morning last week I was walking in the hallway to the elevator at work when my heel slipped on the slick floor. My hands being full, I had the presence of mind to just let myself fall, so I landed pretty evenly on my rear and my left leg. I had realized that I was going to fall and that jerking around was just going to make it more jarring. In a similar way I had to identify the depression and that it might just help to accept it. Years of experience helps. It is like trying to tell yourself you’re not really getting sick with a bad cold or a flu: to a point, the positive outlook might help work through it, if it’s not a bad case. If it is bad, though, sooner or later the only thing for it is to accept it and treat it.
If I let on that I am having depression symptoms, there are people who will ask, “Are you taking your meds?” Yes, I am taking my meds. “Do you think you need different meds?” Not at this point, no. Believe it or not, sometimes an episode of depression is an appropriate response to significant stress. Significant stress for me right now includes going to a new group in which I process the specific emotional and sexual abuse of my (former) marriage. It includes having apparently imagined a connection with someone, a friend, who is not interested in me and whom I have alienated, and the shame and loss I feel over that, though it has been a year. It includes an autumn in which my younger son who has Asperger’s Syndrome, was struggling more and more with schoolwork and with appropriate behavior at school until he was getting sent home by mid-day a couple of days a week, and needed a partial hospitalization program (on an anti-depressant himself, he is doing much better now, thank God). It includes the day-to-day maintaining boundaries with the ex-husband so our children can enjoy a relationship with him, as well as getting kids to school on time, working, parenting, homework and household stuff. It includes living hand-to-mouth, as most people are doing these days. It includes my older son’s weight issues, which have progressed to insulin resistance and may be diagnosed as Type II diabetes. It includes finding a neighbor of eight years has used deception to go into my home, into my bedroom and to take things that belong to me and then lied to my face about it, because she apparently has developed a drug problem. It is as though the only things I can see are the many areas of my life that scream "Fail!" It takes intention and practice to remember there are things I am doing well, I just can't see them at the moment.
I am not asking for pity. This is just part of my journey and right now it is hard. If it doesn’t lift in a week or so, then I need to see a doctor. In the meantime, the only way out is through. I get up every day in spite of feeling weighed down. I go through the motions even though it feels like there’s no point to trying. I remember that it will pass. I try to have patience when I can’t focus on details, and when I can’t do everything that others expect from me. I am not doing things well because I barely feel up to doing them at all, like trying to function with the flu.
Most important at this time, I choose carefully the people with whom I reveal the feelings of helplessness. Sometimes the people who most want to offer a hand are hoping you will keep holding on and pull them through their own mess.
The up side of depression is that it I usually write more, in part because I don’t have the energy for the things that often distract me from writing. Housework? Who cares? Visiting people? In this frame of mind? It is awful to see the downer effect I can have on others. It is better to write. In fact I worry about upping medication because if I never feel like this at all I am afraid I will lose touch with part of myself, and it is the part that creates the most. There has to be a balance of controlling symptoms so I can function with allowing for some difficulty so I can be who I am.
The best friends to have around when I have an episode of depression are the ones who acknowledge it with a little compassion and let it be. These are the friends who accept me, with and without the weepies. Even on the bad days there are moments that I can laugh. I go to The Bloggess regularly to see what she has to say because she is always hysterical. Then I send a link or copy an excerpt in an email to my office friends to make them laugh, too. Somehow I can make funny comments in my emails, but not on the site. That’s something to work on once I’m feeling better.
The people who are hardest to have around, though I know they mean well, are the ones who say in so many words “cheer up.” They don’t realize that it is already difficult not to hate myself when I feel so lazy and worthless, or that I am trying to breathe through an impending panic attack because I just can’t handle picking up the papers I dropped on the floor. I can’t will away a depression any more than one could will away a migraine or high blood pressure. Some people just won’t believe that until they’ve had the experience themselves. On occasion I feel the urge (to use an expression of The Bloggess) to stab them in the face. Ok, not really. There isn’t enough energy for that, and then I would just feel worse. But thinking it almost made me laugh.
I can’t control this but I will get through it. The caveat is that sometimes depression doesn’t go away and the person suffering it can’t see it very clearly. Someone who is showing signs of depression for longer than two weeks or who feels like it would be easier to die is someone who needs help: talk to the person and to a mental health professional if you think it is necessary. I hope I am never that person, but I could be. Today I just want this episode to be over. Preferably right now, but I can work with ‘soon.’