I originally wrote this post for Rebelle Society years ago. It remains relevant to my depression story today, so I wanted to share it again. It expresses how despite living with chronic relapses of depression over the past 25 years, I don’t always know in the beginning of each one what is going on. I think it’s something else, usually something that’s my fault, until I finally realize it’s depression again.
Depression came back. It walked right in through the front door while I was busy guarding all of the windows and cracks. It ignored the sign warning that “danger, there’s a dog here to protect me”. It sidled up next to my fireplace and let the smoky stench of difficulty waft throughout my home. I saw it, but I didn’t recognize it, and I was aware of it, but I ignored it. I went to sleep and then all I wanted to do was sleep and sleep and sleep because its presence brings exhaustion to every limb.
I’ve been here before, in this place, detailed it in blog posts and memoirs, shared it over coffee and in classrooms. I am intimately familiar with what depression is, what it looks like in my home, what it feels like in my bones. I have training in it and professionals explaining it and experience with it. And it doesn’t matter, because depression is this tricky thing that manages to convince me that it’s something else this time, every time.
I take synthroid because I know I’ve had low thyroid issues in the past and that’s probably why I’m tired and feel sad. I overload on synthroid and feel anxious and upset and think that if I just stop taking it I’ll probably feel better. I realize that I’m not eating right and after berating myself about that for awhile and starving myself on 1000 calorie diets and trying to eat only things that are green I decide that I should probably take vitamins again. And iron, because I have a history of anemia and that’s probably why I’m tired and feel sad. I take too much iron and my stomach feels queasy.
I see that I am too busy, my schedule is too packed and that’s certainly why I can’t get anything done. I need time and space to be creative and feel productive and get those juices flowing. So I cancel commitments and revamp my schedule and think that soon I’ll be done being tired and feeling sad. But then I have too much time on my hands and the hours yawn open before me and I can’t get myself to get going and I watch too much TV and take naps that are hours long and swear that tomorrow I’ll finish that book that’s been hanging over me for years now. I need to be busier. Or not as busy.
My beaux’s mom is really sick. My best friend seems to be having a hard time. A cat died in a horrible incident at my mom’s animal rescue. A good friend from my online world committed suicide. These are all the reasons that I’m tired and feel sad. They are not the reasons.
The thing about depression is that it’s not consistent. I’ve been here before but it’s different this time, even in the ways that it’s the same. When it comes out of remission, it has altered, and it doesn’t look quite the same even though it’s attacking the same cells in so many of the same ways. I am indecisive again and anxious all of the time. But it feels different. It feels new, like it’s never been this hard, like it’s never been so difficult and devastating and so damn annoying and frustrating.
I look into my refrigerator, thinking that I should eat something, and I almost start to cry because the process of eating seems so complicated. I want carbs and sugar and feel bad about myself when I consume them, bad in my body, bad in my life. I go to the grocery store and can’t decide what to buy and come home with $80 of produce and a bag of Fritos. I eat the bag of Fritos. Then I take a nap because I don’t want to deal with how disgusting I feel. I don’t want to deal with the fact that I’m full but still hungry and that there’s still this question of what I’m going to eat for dinner.
But eventually I wake up from my nap and I forage some type of dinner and from out of nowhere comes the motivation for just a moment to do something. So I answer a few emails or message a few friends or call someone in my family. I write a blog post, apply for a new gig, celebrate the little things that are going right. I list out my accomplishments so I can recognize that I’m doing okay despite the fact that I feel terrible. And my mind thinks, “see, you’re fine, you can do this”. It begins to make grandiose plans of the next three books I’m going to write and the art project I want to work on and the things I’m going to do … just as soon as I take another nap and get that energy together. But when I wake up, I still feel tired, and even answering one more email feels impossible, and I’m convinced I failed at all of the ten thousand things I thought I was going to do in that one moment when doing anything at all suddenly felt possible again.
This is depression, this time around. It’s too many naps and getting angry at myself for not knowing what I want and being fully aware of all of the steps that I can take to pull myself out of this while simultaneously knowing that I can’t pull myself out of it, not really, not quite yet. Because the worst isn’t over. It’s right where I’m at. It’s big and wide and cold and dark and I’m one hundred percent certain that I’m going to get to the other, sunnier side of it, probably even sooner than later, but I can’t see that side from where I sit. No matter how many “right” things I do, I can’t propel myself directly up into the air above to get a bird’s eye view that will make this spot seem smaller and more manageable.
So I own that I am drowning. I swallow the protests and explanations of every other thing that it could be or that I should be doing and I admit that I am wallowing right now. I accept that this is the current state of being, and I confide that I am powerless to change it. I check in with myself and my others and make sure that there is a lifesaver at the ready in case I can’t swim out of it this time. But for now, I just bob in the dark waters, noticing that this is where I am, hoping to eventually be somewhere else again but knowing that for this moment, this is exactly where I need to be.
I curl up next to my fireplace, with a book I might not have the energy to read, and a craft project I may or may not feel better completing. I sit beside the hearth, holding hands with depression. And somehow, I feel not better but less bad. Accepting that I’m not well right now makes me feel less not well. It puts a name and a reason to the myriad other feelings and thoughts that I can’t cope with. It tells my brain to stop trying to explain away everything because it’s all just depression talking and depression is a language that doesn’t make a lot of sense even though it can sound romantic and soothing and convincing at times.
I don’t drown. I refuse to sink. But I don’t swim either. I rest. I lie on my back and let the waters carry me. I swallow until the lump in my throat clears and I can breathe again. And I await the day when I can put my feet down and feel the stability of sand beneath me and realize yet again that I was able to pull myself up after all.