Don’t cry, I tell myself. You can’t cry now, they’ll think you’re crazy. They’ll want to know why. Pull it together! I turn towards the lake and shade my eyes to hide the rebellious tears that won’t be talked out of existence. That old enemy Anxiety, ever alert and ready, slinks into the inner monologue. Look at them, see how easy it is for them. Why can’t you just be ‘normal?’ Why can’t you just figure it out? You’re almost 34 for godsake, you’re a grown ass woman! If you haven’t figured it out by now you are never going to. This is your life. Is this really how you want to keep living? My heart rate picks up, my stomach starts to turn. Someone makes the same suggestion I tentatively made moments ago that no one responded to, but now everyone thinks this is a great new idea. It’s like they don’t even see you, and why should they? Anxiety whispers. You are invisible. Nobody would miss you if you were gone, why do you think you have the right to be here? It would be better if you weren’t here. It’s vicious, and it chooses it’s mark well. I swallow around the lump in my throat and take a deep breath. This isn’t the first, or even the hundredth, time Anxiety and I have gone round and round. I know what’s coming next but I’m still unprepared for it. The wave of Depression that I’ve been struggling to keep at bay rises and crashes over me and I feel detached, cold and numb again.
Hello friend. It’s me again. It’s been awhile. We’ve talked about my ADHD in the past, and I’ve shared the quirks I live with, but I’ve never mentioned some of the harder aspects that can be part of the ADHD package. These things are called comorbidities (that’s such a pretty sounding word idnnit?) and they show up for different people different ways. For me they are Anxiety and Depression. I’ve been quiet on both because quite frankly they are hard for me to talk about. They are things that have affected me my whole life in ways that are painful and even embarrassing at times. But in order to shed light on them, I am stepping out of my comfort zone farther than I ever have before and sharing about my own journey with each of them. I will write about Anxiety in the near future, but I wanted to start with the one that has been weighing on my heart the most lately. So, here we go…
D is for Depression.
I know. That’s a bummer of a subject to be my first post in a long time….but it’s one that I can’t keep myself from writing about any longer. Lord knows I’ve tried avoiding it, to the point of not writing at all for months, and even as I type I feel sick to my stomach. The fear of hurting people I love, backlash from strangers or of people looking at me differently have all kept me from saying anything publicly. Once you put this out there, you can never take it back. But sometimes it’s not about preserving the image we want to keep, but inviting others in so that they don’t feel as alone. Depression is isolating, that is how it works. It separates you from everyone and everything you love, and it makes you feel as though you are the only one in the world who is hurting. It’s a fantastic liar.
We lost two notable public figures this year: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Each time the news broke I was quietly shaken with the reminder that this is a battle that could be lost. On a more personal level, my family lost my cousin Tommy this past summer, and while I would love to punch him for choosing to leave us, I also understood. I obviously wish he hadn’t left us, but I understood that feeling of hopelessness that caused him to feel like there was only one choice. But even in my understanding it was painful, because I felt that same dark fear lurking in the back of my mind.
I have been to counseling over the years, and had many great people who I could have confided to about my struggle, but I never did. For me it always seemed like after the depression faded for awhile I was able to laugh it off and convince myself it wouldn’t happen again, that it wasn’t a big deal. Only recently, after struggling the entire summer to claw my way out of the gray, did I finally admit to my husband how bad it was. I had admitted before that in the distant past I had dealt with depression and even thought about choosing to give up, but I had been too afraid to admit, for his sake and mine, that it wasn’t in the “past” but rather a very present, hard and sometimes terrifying reality of my day to day life. To say he was shocked would be an understatement.
When people lose a loved one, and I hear them say “I had no idea they were struggling! Why didn’t they just tell me?” I wish I could answer for them. Because I know what it feels like to keep it to yourself, how it feels when you don’t want to burden anyone else with the amount of pain you are carrying. And because, at least for me, a lot of the time, it feels like you have no “valid” reason to feel that way. I am married to a wonderful man who loves me, I have four beautiful children, a nice house, a loving family, and friends who I have found my place with. How do you explain to someone whats ‘wrong’ when you have absolutely nothing to point to? My depression doesn’t come and go based on my current life situation. That in itself can be incredibly frustrating.
Recently I watched the pilot episode of the show A Million Little Things, and the character Roman, who I relate with the most, said something that I have felt but could never put into words. He was finally admitting to his friends that he was struggling with depression:
“I know that sounds crazy. Because I have an incredible life, and I am married to the most amazing woman, but sometimes, I feel so hopeless. It’s like I can’t breathe, only I’m breathing. And I just think, you know, maybe if I just stopped it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
Why don’t people call the hotline you ask? Why can’t they simply reach out to a loved one? Because as I said, depression is a wonderful liar, and excellent at making you feel isolated. It tells you that you are crazy, that no one will understand, or worse, you will be a burden to them. But the scariest thing it tells you, is that everything would be better if you just weren’t here. My husband would be better off with a wife who wasn’t such an emotional drain. My kids would be better of without a mom who hides in her room because she doesn’t have the emotional energy to engage with them sometimes. My family would be better of without me and my “drama.” My friends would be better off without me being a needy burden who needs constant affirmation. But ultimately that it would be better for me to just stop having to fight this damn hard to make it through a normal day.
In a more recent episode of that same show, an affair by their buddy came to light, and an angry friend asked Roman, “how can you just keep going like nothing is wrong?” And Roman’s response was something to the effect of: “Because it’s what I do every day.”
That moment I recounted at the start of this post was one that really happened recently. On a girls trip, in a beautiful location, surrounded by friends that arguably know me better than most people. It took me most of the day to recover from that moment of complete mental chaos by the lake, but when we went mini golfing I was laughing like everyone else and having fun. Later that evening, when when we had a minute alone, I finally broke down to the friend who knew my struggle, and five minutes later I was in the hot tub chatting like my heart hadn’t just broken right there in the kitchen of our vacation rental.
Depression isn’t always situational. It doesn’t come at regular intervals or set times. You can’t prepare for it. It doesn’t give a damn if you’re black, white, rich, poor, educated or uneducated. I am a happy person most of the time, most people will tell you I’m funny, I love my family and friends. Yet in the midst of the darkest moment, forcing myself to logically reason through my worth and telling myself that nobody would feel better if I were to leave of my own volition has been the only thing that made me feel sane. But there is the absolute fear that one day logic won’t win.
As a Christian there is also guilt that comes with struggling with depression. Like I must not love Jesus enough, or trust enough, or believe enough because otherwise I wouldn’t be having this “problem.” But after the summer from hell emotionally, I think I’ve finally come to realize that God is not sitting outside of the gray hopelessness impatiently waiting for me to snap out of it, but rather sitting right next to me, loving me, holding me, much as a parent tends a hurt child. I don’t have a well thought out, research backed philosophy, but I do know that He weeps with those who weep, and He mourns with those who mourn. The bible doesn’t say anything about the weepers and the mourners having a “valid” reason. He doesn’t abandon us in our sorrow regardless of how we got there. Depression is not a lack of faith, but rather the inability to see the hope for the moment/day/week/month. That’s another thing, you’re never sure how long it’s going to take over.
I want to be very clear that this post is not a cry for help, or me looking for validation. We are beyond that. It is me giving the part of me that hurts the most, to the people who maybe need to know they aren’t the only ones who hurt. Or maybe for the person who has lost a loved one to this battle, and is asking themselves how they didn’t see it or didn’t know, or just wants to understand how the heck they got here. Depression is not a choice, nobody wants to feel this way. I know what it is to feel effortlessly happy at times, but I also know how it feels to stand next to my husband and fight to feel joy or just something as we watch our children happily run and play on the beach.
If you are the person who is struggling right now, or knows that all too familiar feeling of the spiral, I just really want to encourage you to fight your self preservation instincts, be brave and tell that person who you know loves you the most and who you can trust. Trust them to love you in this, because having someone who knows the ugly depths, and who you don’t have to hide it from or pretend everything is ok with is incredibly relieving. I know its hard, but fight that long honed instinct to pretend even with your safe people. Even if it doesn’t change you, it gives you someone to lean on who is more than willing to hold on to you and you are giving them the gift of you. Because YOU my friend are indeed a gift, every flawed, cracked and broken piece of you. As my friend has repeated to me when I needed to hear it, “you have value here.” The world needs YOU, and your thoughts, and talents and your heart. Don’t fight this battle alone dear one. YOU are worth fighting for, I promise.
Someone who is fighting too.