Our annual family photo shoot. Wearing blue and feeling blue – I feel a theme for 2013! Being depressed gives you an excuse to wear your emotions on your sleeve…literally. But really who can stay sad when I’ve got that hilarious little photo-bomber right above me?
My brain will always be broken. I know that. I gave up years ago trying to make myself be something I’m not. Depression runs deep in me – through my genes, through my history, through my heart. My family tree is a weeping willow. It is what it is. Sometimes its touch is so light I barely feel the shadow of it. But other times, like now, it pulls me under like a leaf on a river. Learning to accept the push and pull of my sadness is something I’m still working on. So believe me when I say I’m not trying to be glib or to minimize the very real pain and numbness that depression brings. But sometimes even I have to look up and realize how much good comes from bad.
What I love about being depressed:
1. You learn how many other people are in the same boat. Ella Wilcox once wrote, ” Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone.” Perhaps that’s true if you’re hosting the Oscars or working as a perpetually jolly mall Santa but for myself I’ve found that’s not necessarily so. There are enough of us going through the same struggles that our arms reach far enough to hold all the hands that need holding. For me, knowing that others suffer doesn’t make my hurt less but it does make it more bearable. You got through some Hard Life Stuff and came out better for it on the other end? Then I can too.
2. You discover how much stuff really, truly is mandatory. And it isn’t as much as you think. Picking my kids up from school? Going to the bathroom? Eating food? All mandatory, yep. But showering? Cooking dinner? Answering the phone? Picking up 7200 Legos? All totally and gloriously optional! There’s something kind of magical about looking at 300 new e-mails in my inbox, saying nope, don’t wanna, and rolling back into bed. Obviously I can’t live that way forever but it’s rather reassuring to see that the world will not fall apart even if I am. (And I can now say with experience that after about a week sans bathing, things start to get pretty itchy in hard-t0-scratch places.)
3. You finally are excused from answering “fine” whenever people ask how you are. My default answer these days – and one I’ve given to everyone from close friends to gas station attendants – is “I’ve been better.” All I need is an Eeyore t-shirt and a little rendition of “I’m just a little black rain cloud…” to complete the picture. Or maybe a Robert Smith picture. I know – I need a t-shirt of Eeyore wearing a fanboy shirt of Robert and listening to The Smiths! (Christmas prezzie, nudge nudge!) Honestly it weirds some people out. But most people get it, they really do. And sometimes admitting I’m not okay gives other people permission to admit they’re not okay either. I had an absolutely amazing conversation with an acquaintance (I think before that point we’d said like 10 words to each other and none of them had gone beyond the weather) about why she was “not fine” that day. We were both better for it.
This is my “destroyer of squids.” He makes me laugh every day. He also makes me ache – because of all my kids, he’s the one who’s inherited the most of my temperament. I’m trying now, early, to teach him how to deal with the darkness.
4. Laughing feels so amazing it almost comes right back around to hurting! But in a good way! Today Jelly Bean came running into my room sobbing. “Mom, my stuffed animals won’t stop calling me stupid!!” When I burst out laughing (I’m sorry, couldn’t help it) she cried even harder, “It’s not funny! They really hurt my feelings!!” (Four is a magical age.) But that spontaneous burst of laughter made me realize how long it has been since I genuinely belly laughed. It felt so good that it made me feel sad I didn’t do it more often. The poignancy of that moment cut right through me but it was good to remember what it feels like to bleed. Bleeding and laughing make us human.
This is her “football helmet”, in case you were curious.
5. It forces you to remember that no matter how independent and self-sufficient you are, we are all still deeply dependent on the kindness of others. Whether it was a stranger touching my face or a friend taking me for a walk or my husband making dinner or my Turbo crew from Minnesota including me in their “neon day” and making a video of everyone saying hi to me, I was so moved to see how many people helped me and often in ways I didn’t even realize I needed help until they gave it! For so long I’ve moved through my life thinking the only way things will get done right is if I do them. That I’m the only one carrying my burdens. Turns out that is beautifully untrue.
This guy is amazing.
6. Joy and pain are two sides of the same coin. It sounds so cliche but I’d forgotten what a wondrous thing it is to feel good until I felt bad for so long. Happiness, unfortunately, is something that’s easy to take for granted.
It amazes me we even got him to smile for the family pictures since the day before he was having an abscessed tooth extracted! Kids are so resilient.
7. It makes you a better listener. Normally I’m quite the talker. I love to tell stories. I love to laugh. I love to be in the midst of it all. Normally. But being depressed has made me really withdrawn. All of a sudden I can’t think of anything to say. Or talking just feels like too much effort. Or I’m afraid that the only thing that will come out of my mouth will be a big, dumb sad. And while it really stinks to not feel like myself, I’ve discovered a bright side to going silent. You know what happens when I stop talking? Other people start talking. And I get to listen to them. When they talk about not wanting to get out of bed or not being able to quiet the worry or even about the ignomy of public tears, I get it. I really do. Sometimes I forget what a gift other people’s stories are to me. Sometimes I forget what a gift a little empathy can be. This has reminded me.
8. It really is the little things that matter. As in my four little things. Laying still, slowing down, listening: I’ve got to see them in a whole new light. I’ve been too tired to obsessively check my phone and so instead I’ve sat and watched my two youngest play school for an hour. That was one of the best things I’ve ever done. When I’m so busy trying to be Wonder Woman, they often get lost in the shuffle. But when my energy is severely limited, somehow it’s easier to remember to save most of it for them. (Although I am desperately hoping that they will not grow up to remember me as “depressed mom” always.)
9. Doing something is better than nothing. I’m a massive perfectionist. So much so that I’ll often get paralyzed into inaction by my desire to get everything just right. For instance, I kept putting off getting some lighting for our house (why don’t houses come with overhead lights anymore?!) because I couldn’t decide on the absolute perfect kind that would match the decor that I hadn’t even envisoned yet as it turns out I kinda hate decorating and oh why is everything SO DARK? Then one day my husband just set up some lamps. “Those are ugly!” I moaned. But as he walked away, I realized that now I have light. And the same goes for the everyday stuff. Half-cleaned rooms are better than not-cleaned-at-all rooms! Turned-in work is better than missed deadlines! Pigeons aren’t as beautiful as eagles but they’re hilarious and when’s the last time an eagle ate bread out of your hand? Depression has really made me let go of a lot of that perfectionism.
When my husband goes out of town Luna makes sure to keep his spot warm. And she even lets me be the little spoon!
10. It’s a fight and I’m a fighter. One of my defining characteristics is how much I love a good battle, even if it’s with myself. No matter how far down the rabbit hole I go, there’s a part of me that still wants to prove everyone wrong and claw my way back out. I will not be made a victim. Especially not by my own hand. I’ll take my meds, I’ll do my cognitive behavioral therapy drills, I’ll get sun on my face and vitamins in my veins, I’ll read books and cut out sugar – I’ll do whatever it takes to not let this define me. I will always have depression in me. I will always keep fighting it.
In the end I’m still an optimist. As a depressive I’m not sure if this oxymoron means I’m delusional or possibly a mis-diagnosed bi-polar but regardless, no matter how sad I get, I can’t seem to lose the hope that things will get better. Just like my light is always tinged with my knowledge of the darkness, so my darkness is rendered incomplete by my memory of the light – The light streaming around us as I twirl my daughter through the fall air and listen to the echo of her laugh. Which may be the thing I love most about my depression.
Maybe I should be a mall store Santa after all.