It has been over a year since I’ve written here, and I’d like to explain where I’ve been.
It’s not a quaint tourist trap or a place I’d ever want you to visit, though I know many of you will or have, for one reason or another.
Severe depression led me to rock bottom this year, and I’ve been stuck there a long time. It’s hard to say how long, exactly, because time takes on an elastic quality. It stretches and bends so that each minute is a marathon that leaves you breathless. Hours are viscous and vicious, hanging onto your clothes with a leaden grip, pulling down on your limbs until all you want to do is sleep.
I wish I could write a funny piece about how an episode of severe depression is the perfect time to break in a pair of raw denim jeans, because you’re going to wear the same pair of pants for months on end anyway.
I wish I could write satire about depression’s social benefits. Rather than needing to cull one’s friend list consciously, depression does the work for you, wrecking all but your very closest relationships (and even many of those) by rendering you unable to return a phone call, email, or text.
Some day I will be far enough from rock bottom to laugh at it, but not yet. For now I am grateful. Grateful that my marriage survived, though fully conscious that Mark deserves all the credit for it, not me. Grateful that my children are healthy and happy, and that we have not hidden my depression from them. We shielded them from the worst, but they are aware that I have been sick, and with what. My daughter can tell when I’m having a hard time, and she mothers me. She sits and brushes my hair. My son, always empathetic, has become even more so. These kids will be two of the most compassionate people on the planet.
Depression is not a new experience for me, yet this episode was absolutely traumatic. It was, by far, the worst depression I have ever experienced, including my postpartum depression.
So I need to talk about it, to write about it. It’s my attempt to make something good come from the inexplicable horror that afflicts every aspect of my life. And yes, I’m using the present tense “afflicts,” because though I’m feeling better, I cannot take for granted that I will continue to do so. Depression has proved a persistent enemy, ready to ooze from the shadows and envelop me in its iron tentacles without warning.
Talking about depression means acknowledging my pain, bringing validity to an illness that we don’t usually acknowledge with casseroles. Depression is as devastating as cancer, and can be more so. I say this with authority. In our marriage we have experienced both my depression and Mark’s cancer, and without question it is my depression that has produced more painful and far-reaching consequences for our family. Mark went through cancer treatment and wanted to live. I was depressed and wanted to die.
I need to talk about it because depression and cancer are treated so very differently. There’s a script for cancer. Calls, cards, compassion. Depression is usually hidden, and in the unusual event it is not, the scenario is all the more confusing for its novelty. Usually there is no community for depression, no carpool discussion of the mental illness that has as profound an effect on a family as any heart attack. Mental illness isn’t something we discuss as a matter of course.
Let’s change that.