There are, I believe, two very real, very distinct truths about depression: (1) Like an alcoholic, it’s not a phase. You won’t ever be cured completely from it. You will still experience bouts of depression. However, they will lessen as time goes on. And, they will do so because you will begin to recognize those moments for what they are: moments that will pass over and nothing more. And, perhaps more importantly, you will know — now — that you are not alone in having experienced depression; (2) You will be happy more often than you will not. And you will be happier more often because you now understand that no person, regardless of how they may appear, is happy all.the.time. The understanding of that will help you immensely in observing that your life is actually more balanced than you initially gave yourself credit for. Happy, after all, is an intangible word and relative to any given situation. It can be as big as sitting on the beach and witnessing a whale breach the water seemingly out of nowhere. It can be a simple as standing under a shower of hot water and knowing that you’re one of the lucky ones, because so many in our nation and the world live without such small, daily luxuries.
Happy isn’t all smiles and laughter and gaiety and back-slapping and hanging out with friends at the beach or bar and a designer outfit and glowing children and a shiny new car or big-ass house. Sometimes happy is dragging yourself out of bed and getting ready to go to work when you feel like crap, getting in your car and actually arriving at the jobsite. Because, let’s face it, the getting from here to there is loaded with what ifs: “What if I run out of gas?” “What if I get a flat tire?” “What if I….(fill in the possibility, probability, or coincident)?”
My thoughts as a child were all about raising horses (maybe become a veterinarian), writing, drawing, and having lots of kids. Growing up an only child I often felt lonely, especially on holidays, when my friends would be hunkered down with their siblings. Natural playmates. I did succeed in having lots of children (for an “only”). Four. Four who exponentially turned into eight when they married and twenty when the twelve grandchildren came along. Now we are twenty-two strong. The horses and veterinary practice never came to fruition. That was a dream that dissipated with the death of my father, along with any financial support. The writing and art — well, a lifetime later — it’s slowly shedding off fear and trepidation, finding its voice, its expression, and its footing. And this blog is a huge part of that unearthing process.
And, yes, Ernie is a part of that twenty-two. It could have gone an entirely different way where our relationship was concerned. Do not underestimate the fear I felt at that time that he’d opt out. After all, our relationship up to that time was, to coin a popular term nowadays, as friends with benefits. Although I loved him and though, down deep, I just “knew” he loved me, too, I really didn’t know. He was five years younger, never married, no children. He was number 10 of 12 children, with parents who were still married to each other, a family that truly loved being together and a shiny, new pick-up truck. And then there was me. A single mother of four, twice divorced, renting two rooms in a house, with too many bills and too little money, a cat, a hamster, and a crappy car. There have been times in these last twenty-eight years where I have seriously wondered who really should have been admitted to Charter Oak: me or him.
Depression is a wicked widow. The media would have you believe that depression only happens to others. I believe more people experience depression than we know. Probably because they aren’t even aware they are experiencing depression. Most likely they just sum it up as “having a bad day,” “feeling a little off,” or dealing with a case of “the blues.”
Everyone is fighting hard to keep that wicked widow at bay. There are a plethora of positive affirmations posted daily on social media. Books are everywhere declaring that you, too, can be happy — if only you’d embrace a more positive attitude, or admit yourself to this clinic, take these medications. If you’re not happy, it’s because you’re too negative, not active enough, not eating right, you’re making the wrong choices, you don’t believe. Everyone else is happy, why aren’t you? Hold on. Let’s be real here. Depression isn’t necessarily about being unhappy. I certainly wasn’t unhappy.
I was, however, overwhelmed by circumstances. Continued circumstances.
In her post “Depression, and talking about it,” Karen Mitchell states, “What I find interesting, looking back, is that my depression was first blamed on the antibiotics I was taking…and then assigned as some kind of character flaw. There was never any consideration that perhaps it was linked to circumstances.”
Circumstances — there are several definitions for the word. Two, however, are of importance when it comes to depression.
- a condition, detail, part, or attribute, with respect to time, place, manner,agent, etc., that accompanies, determines, or modifies a fact or event; a modifying or influencing factor: “Do not judge his behavior without considering every circumstance.”
2. circumstances, the condition or state of a person with respect to income and material welfare: “a family in reduced circumstances.”
A moment in time back in 1999, eventually became the basis for my Master’s thesis eleven years later. My husband and I traveled back to Detroit, to my old neighborhood, following the death of my stepmother. Although she had named her nephew as her executor and he inherited all of her (my father’s) estate, he did invite me to come back and take anything from the house I might want to keep. As we were talking, her nephew pulled out some old pictures, one of which was a group photo taken at Camp Dearborn. He and his family had taken me there with them the summer after my father died. As I looked at the photograph, I recognized him, his mother, and a few others. Then, as if puzzled by my lack of expression, he reached over and pointed to someone in the photo and said, “That’s you!”
I hadn’t noticed myself in the photo. Normally, when you look at photographs — if you were there when the photo was taken, your eyes are immediately drawn to yourself first. It’s a natural response. I didn’t seek me out. It was as if I didn’t exist in that time. Now I stared at the girl in the center of the group. And I thought, where did she go? It was then it dawned on me that the death of my father (and everything that followed) was much more traumatic than I had imagined. There’s a term for that kind of trauma. It has certain symptoms, specific behaviors, and measured quantifiers — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As Katherine Mitchell writes, “I finally made the connection between my battered state of mind and the problems of my past.”
In recent years, more has come forth regarding the effect of PTSD on people who have experienced the death of a loved one, who have survived abuse (physical, sexual, and / or emotional), who have been divorced, and who have suffered from downward mobility. Medical researchers have found that circumstances, other than being in war and battling on the frontlines in a foreign country, can be the catalyst for post traumatic stress disorder.
I know depression is real. I have history.
I know people struggle with alcoholism. I’ve seen it (felt it?) firsthand.
I know people become handicapped through drug use.
I know that when it comes to both alcohol and drugs there’s a grey area between, “Did you do it to yourself?” and “Are there circumstances we are not aware of, that we haven’t yet been made privy to?”
As I write this it is thundering and raining, and lightening is flashing across the darken skies outside. And I think, “That’s what depression looks and feels like on the inside.”
I know that those who know what I went through like to think of me as strong. I’m not.
I know that those who know I am Catholic — Christian — want to believe that my faith pulled me through that initial bout of depression. Not really.
I’m here today because, through it all, I refused to lose sight of my obligations, my responsibilities, to THIS life and the people my living and dying would affect. Like Mitchell, who “crashed” in her “mid-thirties,” wrote:
It was like running into a brick wall of pain, of hurt so bad and so deep that only the presence of my children, asleep on the other side of the wall from my bed, kept me from killing myself. Even though the hurt was so profound as to make me believe I was of no use to them, that they’d be genuinely better off without me, that I was inevitably going to fuck their lives up because I was such a mess…I knew that it would pass…I would [somehow] get through it, even if it felt like [it] was insurmountable.
You may think you have no one, but, you do. There is someone out there — perhaps someone you haven’t even met yet — who needs you in their lives. That may sound corny, but it’s true. Some of the best people I’ve met were in the years following my stay at Club Med.
I am a HUGE advocate for counseling. Throughout the last twenty-eight years there have been several times I’ve gone to counseling. Consider it one of the best tools to have in your “I shall overcome” box. When Ernie and I first talked of marriage, we agreed that we would go to counseling as a family immediately after we married. We did. Every week for a year, we went to counseling. It wasn’t easy. We didn’t have the time to squeeze in every week, but we didn’t have the time not to either. And, of course, my (now our) daughters weren’t thrilled to go with us. It’s a commitment. When the economy sank in the 1990’s and people were being laid-off, I went to counseling to stave off my own fears of losing my job. And when our youngest daughter was going through an especially challenging time between the ages of 15 to 17, I dragged us both to counseling. Counseling really is key. And one should not only go to counseling, but be prepared to go for as long as it takes. Remember, it took me FOUR weeks of sitting in a daily one-on-one session with a psychiatrist and going to group therapy every.day. before I had my breakthrough.
I’d like to say that depression, the experiencing of it, is a one-time deal — but it’s not. The truth is that you just get better at recognizing what it is that’s happening and you start to develop a new set of survival skills to get through and arrive where you need to be emotionally. It’s no different from leaving work and driving in the sunshine when a sudden storm occurs. You find a way to deal with the traffic and make it safely home.
I’m not the same girl, girl-woman, or woman I was way-back-then. How could I be? I bear the battle scars of a life, my life. The older I become the more they fade, but they never disappear completely. My smile has changed. Often my pondering determines my expression.
Once when we were at church and waiting for Mass to begin, one of my grandchildren leaned in next to me and asked, “Are you upset, Grandma?” I answered, “No, why?”
“Because you keep looking up (where the cross is located above the altar) and you look upset.”
“No, I’m not upset. I was just thinking about things.”
I do that often, I suppose.
Sometimes Ernie will look at me and — in a good way — say that he liked me better “before the accident.” Referring to before I went to Club Med. To him, and to our daughters, I seemed to smile more, I was more carefree. But he knows that that way I had of letting things slide off my back then came at a high price. A price that affected all of us in ways that we still can’t always put into words even today, twenty-eight years later.
— Blessings, dear reader