March 17, 2016 by Julia
A few days ago I broke out of a two-week streak of depression – or whatever you want to call it. (A Funk? Normal Human Discouragement? Extended Bad Mood?) There were about a thousand possibilities for why I was struggling; also, I had no good reason. It was one of those. Where you wake up feeling like crap one day and can’t seem to shake it off. I believe the snooty term is “existential despair.”
As in, forcing my children to go to school as they beg and complain and scream that they won’t go, telling them it’s good for them, it will be okay, but all the while feeling as though I’m lying through my teeth, because will it really be okay? For anyone?
As in thinking: What do children have to look forward to? Life doesn’t get any easier once you can read or do math. Okay, yeah. Life would be worse if you grow up illiterate. That would suck. But in general, there are always going to be things we have to do that we don’t want to do. That will never go away.
(And there’s more!) There are so many ways to suffer, which I can’t protect them from. They got our introverted, moody genes, our anxiety and our sensitivities. I can hardly bear the thought of them going through the whole process of growing up with all of the same issues that I had. Or…new issues that I never had, and can’t understand. Isn’t there something I can do to make it easier? Why do our children have to go through pain?
I’m drained, and torn between myself, my family, my community. Volunteering or parenting doesn’t always match up with the poster we carry in our heads of “doing good, and feeling good about it!” Sometimes it’s just stressful and exhausting and you aren’t even sure if it’s making a positive impact on anyone. You wonder if your contribution, which is minor in the grand scheme but has taken so much out of you, was actually worth the personal cost. You wonder if the cost is one you can keep paying. If there’s something wrong with you for not being suffused with joy as you sacrifice and work for others. Yes, I feel good about doing good, but I also feel tired, and heartbroken by the harsh realities of the world. It wears you down.
I was crying a lot. Fighting with the kids, losing it when they would fight with each other.
On Tuesday it all crescendo-ed into a blackened moment of holy heck, this might really count as Depression with a capital D. To be clear, I’ve been diagnosed with it both as a teen and as an adult, and I’m on medication mostly to take the edge off the accompanying anxiety, but I’m always wondering about how real it all is…how I compare to the average person, with all the ups and downs of the average life. You know, where my case falls on the scale of debatable, “that’s actually just being human” mental illnesses vs. serious mental illness. Either way, I was crying way more than usual, and it had been two weeks of not feeling good.
I even thought of something I wrote in my last post, which I was very proud of at the time: “If you haven’t arrived at a truth that contains hope, it’s not the final truth on that subject.” Now it sounded like a sweet but not-fully-informed sentiment. It no longer held up for me, just a few weeks later. I thought of brilliant people like David Foster Wallace or Stephen Hawking scoffing at such beliefs. Possibly unlike them (I’m certainly not an expert on either, but was fixating on them as geniuses without hope or faith, true or not), I believe in God and feel that life is always worth living, both beliefs that I am grateful for. But still. I imagined the derision of skeptics smarter than me. It was not helpful.
So I got home, and in an attempt to stick to the good habits that have saved me more often than not over the past few years, I heated up some edamame for lunch. While that microwaved, I ate four big cookies. Obviously edamame would taste pretty bad after that, so I had to finish off with a bowl of Quaker Oats granola cereal, which really isn’t healthy no matter what the preconceptions are. I was reading “How to Stay Sane,” by Philippa Perry (from The School of Life book series) which made some good points, but I was also considering giving up all my good habits. They were disintegrating before me anyway; I’d just eaten sugar for lunch while the edamame sat untouched in the microwave.
I thought about curling up on the couch during the one hour and forty-five minutes a day that the kids are both at school, eating ten more bowls of cereal, or channel surfing daytime TV, all while feeling horrible about myself. All of those activities would make things worse. It would be like giving up and free-falling into the pit. Nothing against vegging out or taking comfort in food, but there is a big difference between the despairing free fall and giving myself a pleasant break from routine. It all depends on your mindset at the time, I suppose.
I considered my options.
I chose the routine, even though I didn’t believe it would do any good. It was just the lesser of two evils.
I took the guinea pig to Jack’s room (it’s been guinea-proofed) for her “daily run,” and then I did my yoga. I lit a candle even though that felt like a bullshit move. But it’s what I usually do when I’m by myself and trying to make the time sacred-ish.
I used the dustbuster. The top fell off as I was using it, and all the junk inside fell out. I considered leaving the mess on the ground in a huff. Instead I calmly put the top back on, gathered up the junk, and threw it in the trash with my hands, then dustbuster-ed up the remaining crumbs. I even put the dustbuster back on its charger instead of flinging it into the closet. I started writing. Writing and yoga are supposed to always help.
My husband messaged to ask how the day is going, like he does almost every day. I then made the most important good decision of the day.
I decided not to spare my husband from the darkness inside me. I knew he’d heard it before. I knew that for me to describe it to him via messaging in the middle of a work day would be inconvenient, repetitive, and a bummer. But we took these vows, see, and sometimes I just have to share myself with him. And the more I can share of my shit, the more I can hear of his, patiently, generously. That’s just how it goes. If I censor myself for his sake, then I might expect him to do the same, and then suddenly we’re in a business partnership rather than a marriage.
I was scared, because I’d been down for a while now, and I didn’t know how much more he could handle. I didn’t want to do it to him. I did it anyway, fast, like ripping off a bandage, typing out the feelings without downplaying them or brushing them off. I wrote as seriously as I felt, as simply bad as I felt. I felt humbled by the fact that I hadn’t been able to pull myself up by my own bootstraps yet, even with all of my inspirational quotations and readings on psychology and focus on individual responsibility. I put it all out there.
To his credit, he caught me in my flailing through the darkness. He didn’t freak out. He asked me the right questions, and helped me to get perspective again. He said comforting things. I didn’t feel instantly better, but gradually, from those moments on and throughout the day, I felt lighter, loved, loving, better, better, better. I felt saved by my own husband, which is a wonderful feeling. All I had to do was scoop it out in front of him, and not be rejected. I am sure it took a lot of energy on his part. I am happy to repay him the favor, when he needs it. This is what trust feels like, long-term.
So I’m out of the dark feelings, for now. I’ve been continuing to make good choices, which add up even when they seem little. The best choice of this week, though, was to share my true self with a trusted life witness. I hope that my telling you this gives you a bit more courage to do the same, in your own dark moments, weeks, or months.