A long time ago when I was younger — in my 20s — I had my first apartment, a full-time job and a very sweet cat. I went to work, went to school, came home, crawled in bed with my cat and watched the news. I did this most every day for two years.
Luckily I worked at a place that did a lot of work on mental health and had a supervisor who was a therapist. We shared an office for a while, and as we got to know each other, she’d ask me about my life outside of work. I didn’t do much at the time other than what I’ve just described. There was no significant other. I had two male friends who often fought each other for my undivided attention. Neither was a romantic relationship; they were the kind of guy friends who are perfect stand-ins for an actual dating life, existing in a sort of pseudo-siblinghood.
As my boss and I talked more and shared stories about ourselves (it was the first time in a long time that I had thought much about myself) she started to recognize signs of depression in me. I took a depression scale and if it were possible for a clinical measure to implore me to run to a psychiatrist, then I basically got this answer about the levels of depression present in my life. I didn’t run to a doctor but talked more with my friend about it. She shared skills she had learned from her own doctor about being proactive in caring for her mental health.
I recognized that the tiny steps I started taking were causing a change and eventually I figured out the right tools for me to fight my way out and back into the world.
That was 15 years ago and not until just a few weeks ago have I dealt with another bout of this illness. Just as I had in the past, I did what I had to do — worked, parented, et cetera, until I found the strength to fight back. I’m not sure what triggered it. Maybe it is in part having an artistic temperament or perhaps being subjected to endless rain and captivity with an energetic two-year-old. Depression is a sneaky thing. There was no life change that triggered this event.
Overall, I’ve got a pretty great life and work-wise. I’d like more money (who wouldn’t?), but I get to work from home and be my own boss. I’ve got no idea what brought this monster back into my life, but I’m happy that this time it was brief.
When non-experts speak about depression as if it were simply a mood swing. It’s disheartening because while the disease is common, it’s so poorly understood. Sadness is a part of it, but irritability, frustration and hopelessness are so much more profound than something a good cry might remedy. I liken it to having a person that you don’t like move into your house and set up residence in your bedroom. You want them gone but are essentially trapped in a glass box and forced to observe. When they start leaving filthy laundry around your house, you feel a bit violent but you’re trapped and can do nothing until you shatter the glass box.
Depression strikes 1 in 10 Americans, or roughly 38 million people. Likely you or someone you know has been affected by it. It is an illness and for most people affected, just “getting over it” is not possible. For me, I have to ride it out until I’m in a position to act and then I do the opposite of what my body tells me to do. I wear bright colors; I go outside, work in my garden and call my friends. I eat better food instead of gorging myself on sugars and junk food. I exercise.
I’ve learned that when depression comes, I have to suit up in the same manner a soldier would and fight for myself. I don’t like medications so my alternative is action. If this ever proves to be ineffective, I will absolutely speak with a doctor about medication. I can’t lose any battle in this old war.
So this week, dear readers, there is no major argument or grand revelation. I just needed to share and I hope by doing so, if you recognize these symptoms or feelings in yourself that you suit up and fight back. I need you here another week.