I'm not entirely sure why I feel the need to admit this here, to a literal and figurative world of virtual strangers. It could be that I need to acknowledge this season of life so that I can move closer to accepting it for what it is. Mostly though, I am a inherent over-sharer possessing no ability whatsoever to not talk through my shit. Also, holding it in any longer feels akin to slow and steady emotional strangulation.
I am, once again, navigating the trenches of depression and it is just as terrifying, isolating, unpredictable, and volatile as I remember it.
As you may remember, this is not unfamiliar territory. I have traveled down this road before. However, the landscape of depression rarely resembles the trip that preceded it and even though the territory feels somewhat familiar, it also feels as though I'm walking down a winding path while blindfolded, unaware of what twists and turns may lie ahead.
There is a lot of varying information and differently held beliefs surrounding depression and mental health/illness and, with the recent influx of celebrity suicides, a more honest and transparent dialogue about mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness has been initiated. While everyone's experience is different, here is what I want to say:
Depression is real.
Depression is a disease.
Depression is not a choice nor does it come with an on/off switch.
Depression does not discriminate.
Depression doesn't give a shit if my life looks perfect on paper. Depression doesn't care that I don't have anything to be sad about and, compared to so many in the world, have absolutely nothing notably worthy of complaint. Depression couldn't give a single fuck if I have a husband who loves me deeply, three healthy and beautiful children, a warm and safe home, and every reason in the world to be happy.
Depression is an invisible cloak of muddy grey, hovering over every single aspect of my daily life. Depression feels like a hollow emptiness, tainting and often robbing every ounce of joy that, rationally, I know my life carries in abundance. It's the process of enduring crippling mental isolation and claustrophobia, simultaneously. When I'm depressed, I exist in a persistent desire to crawl out of my own skin if it would somehow allow me to escape my own head for a single minute. Depression sucks the life out of me and, yet, ironically, it is life itself-- and the four souls who complete mine-- to which I desperately cling as I attempt to inch my way out of this darkness.
It's a common (and easily made) misconception that a depressed person is sad, perpetually miserable, or constantly crying. While I'll admit that crying has long been a default form of expression for me, to say that depression is a person simply being sad is a grave and dangerous over-simplification. For me, it's more accurate to say that I feel homesick, numb, and experience what can only be described as an unrelenting existential crisis over. I often feel paralyzed by an incessant emptiness which then makes me sad. I begin to grieve the happiness I know exists yet am unable to believe I deserve.
Ever since my experience with postpartum depression after Marlo was born (which, I'd like to add, I wasn't even aware I was experiencing until I was no longer experiencing it), I've learned and put into practice coping techniques and ways of staying on top of my mental health. I have found that managing my depression like an alcoholic might manage their alcoholism and the painstaking efforts one might go to in order to remain sober is what works best for me. Just as alcoholism does not define the alcoholic, depression does not define me. I am not merely a depressed person; I am suffering from depression. Previously, I thought depression was something you could fix. After traveling down this path many times, I now possess the wherewithal to understand and accept that depression is a permanent part of my life and will continue to influence every single aspect of my life.
The fact is, everyone has a battle they will have to fight; depression is one of mine.
As part of my defense against relapse, let's just say that I do the fucking work. But that work is anything but simple. It's not just changing a few bad habits or popping a pill every morning or avoiding a few triggers; I've had to form a new way of life, a new way of thinking, and I've had to embrace the reality of my circumstances.
I have gone to therapy off-and-on for years. I have successfully medicated under the care of a physician at different times over the years (including my entire pregnancy with Knox when I experienced perinatal depression). I have self-medicated in the form of over-exercise, excessive alcohol, and ignoring my depression as if it didn't exist (all unsuccessful, by the way). I now avoid all forms of social media (in case you were wondering why I'm no longer on Instagram). I don't allow the negative voice in my head to speak more loudly than the one that tells it to shut the fuck up. I try to not dwell on negative thoughts. I don't compare one season of my life to another. I aim for wholeness, not happiness. I set realistic expectations for myself and, for the most part, try to not place expectations on others at all. I am open and honest about my feelings to those who know me and my baseline-- people who I know care tremendously about my health and wellbeing. I try (and don't always succeed) to leave my ego out of the equation because assuming that I'm smarter than my depression is setting myself up for failure. I do deep and frequent purging of negativity and negative thoughts. I do my best to avoid obvious triggers (people who make me feel bad about myself or putting myself in situations that make me anxious). I work out for a mental release. I am no longer careless with my life and take precious life seriously. I don't watch the news. I force myself to sit with uncomfortableness instead of avoiding pain. I go to great lengths to be my own advocate and hero. I do what I find necessary to avoid depression but, the bottom line is that I'm not always successful. No matter what efforts I put forth, depression is a vicious, unforgiving bitch and, when the bitch rears it' ugly head, I stand up against the familiar weight of shame, fear, and darkness once again.
Ever since Knox was born, I've chalked up how I've been feeling to that all-too-common postpartum rut. You know the one where you just feel blah? The one that makes you impulsively chop nine inches of your hair off or buy an outfit that you will immediately regret after you get home and try it on in softer lighting. The only problem is that, here I am, ten months later, still feeling those same feelings, only they've taken on a darker, more serious tone. So, yesterday morning as I sat between Joe and Knox on our playroom floor, I burst into tears and the words poured out of me. I couldn't stop the tears because saying those words out loud-- "Joe, I'm depressed and I'm hurting"-- made me realize just how long and how exhaustive my efforts at fighting the truth had been going on. Today, after speaking my truth and giving it a voice, I do feel lighter. There is freedom in honesty though the lightness isn't enough to replace the dread I feel because, unfortunately, I know the bitch I'm up against intimately.
I want so badly to pinpoint how I got back to this place after working so damn hard to get out of the goddamn hole to begin with. I'm not sure how I let it intensify to the degree it has without recognizing (and swallowing my pride and admitting) that I'm in the thick of something bigger than what I am capable of handling on my own. The only thing I'm certain of is that Bertha, as I lovingly refer to her, is back and I no longer possess the luxury of avoidance. I have three perfect little souls who need me and a husband who deserves to have his P.I.C back.
Also. I deserve to have myself back.
Depression brings up many feelings but the dominating one I experience is guilt. I feel overwhelming shame for not being the version of myself who is capable of being my best for my family and, obviously, for falling so very short of that person. As forgiving and supportive and loving as my entire family is, feeling as though I'm letting them down is what I find most devastating. The last thing I ever want to be is a burden nor do I ever want to be seen as a victim because a victim I am not. Being seen as a victim or broken is why, I think, so many people who are amidst struggle don't or won't disclose their suffering to their loved ones. Hell, my own mother-- who I am extremely close to and spoke on the phone with almost daily while we lived in NYC-- was completely unaware of just how dark of a time those eighteen months following Marlo's birth were because I didn't want her to worry or-- even worse-- feel sorry for me. The truth is, neither she nor Joe knew until years later, when the pain of the entire experience wasn't quite so raw and I had a better perspective of what I had just gone through. No one ever knew that at the height of my postpartum depression, I once looked out of our fourteenth story window and, for a single split second, told myself that everyone would be better off without me, that my daughter deserved a mother who was worthy of her, that my husband deserved a wife who smiled when he would walk through the door after work, and that if I didn't exist, everyone would be happier.
Today, of course, I know just how irrational, twisted, and untrue those thoughts were and I'm grateful that my thoughts never took darker turns and I did something I couldn't take back. But that's the thing: the voice of depression is an almighty, convincing one and when it is in control of your perspective, it's not always possible to ignore. But, even now, I still hear Bertha's whispers when I allow the voice to creep it. My kids are so very important to me and the last thing I ever want my babies to remember about me or their childhood are the times when I struggle to get out of bed or the times they catch me standing at the kitchen sink, staring blankly out the window with tears streaming down my face for no reason I can explain to them or when I'm not at a family gatherings because I simply don't have the energy to plaster a smile on my face and fake it that particular day. The last thing I will allow their childhood to be unfairly tainted by is my disease. It may rob me but I will not allow it to rob them.
Even though my rational brain knows better, I can still convince myself that Joe deserves better. As Bertha's voice gets louder and the dark darker, I can become convinced that he got the short end of the stick all those years ago when he decided to commit to spending a lifetime with me and my baggage. I become, as my best friend Allie calls it, an emotional cutter and slide down the rabbit hole of self-sabotage, asking impossible and unfair questions of myself like, "If he knew that he'd have to deal with me, like this, would he have still chosen to spend his life with me?" I find it difficult to explain to someone who has never dealt with depression or anxiety what depression and anxiety feels like and that it's not as simple as "choosing to be happy." When he asks me how he can help and the simple, honest answer is that he can't-- he can't do the work for me nor can he fix this-- it feels like an impasse neither of us know how to begin to reckon. If depression has had a silver lining, it's that it has forced Joe to be a more open-minded partner who desperately and lovingly wants to listen and empathize with what he may not understand and be my constant advocate.
As one of my favorite writers, Augusten Burroughs, once said, "Your mind is like an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone." Which is exactly what I'm doing. I haven't always been this person-- this less than ideal version of myself-- and, with the power and grace of hindsight in my corner, I know that I won't be this person forever. But this is where I'm at right now and right now it's time to face this beastly bitch head-on. Life is fucking hard, guys. Life is also heavy. But life is so achingly beautiful.
Like I always say, the only way out is through.
So through it, I shall go and out of it, I shall come....