I am used to issuing tips and advice for persons who suffer from depression. I haven’t really described my own lately, because I thought it would be too painful. But since I’ve had a few good days IN A ROW, let me try to describe it.
My biggest fear, at age 42, is that I may not be yet to the halfway mark of my life. This has terrified me off and on for my whole life, during depression’s visits, but almost constantly for the last year and a half. The last four weeks, especially, I have existed in a frightening cloud of darkness.
I’ve been looking at the world through a black screen. It’s if I’m in jail and can see everyone going about their activities. I wonder how they can muster up the strength to be alive, to go on as if they don’t suffer. I know they wish to perish, too, but they are stronger than I am, to pretend to be busy with stuff. To smile and laugh. I wonder how people can study, teach, read, give presentations, and be devastated at the same time. I know I can’t take my life, despite my urgency to exit, so I stand behind the screen suffocating.
I constrain my tears as best I can. Keeping my composure is like holding my breath—with practice it gets easier—but there are those moments I gasp for air. So I fake a restroom break, or put on sunglasses, or walk away to some secluded place where I won’t be found out. And I let my tears run down my face naturally. I am a secret crier. I have tried to be ever since my daughter told me my crying makes her want a new mom.
It takes all my energy to stay composed during the day, so I break down at night. My husband sees the worst of it but is kind and patient as ever. I am scared to go to sleep. I may wake up in a panic attack, my heart beating dangerously fast, and sit up in bed or wander around the house, praying and crying and meditating and shaking, wondering if I should take the sedative that will knock me out but make me more anxious the next morning, or if I should hold out and deal with the exhaustion of no sleep the next day. I practice resistance breathing, counting to five with each inhale and exhale, like I did in labor. I beg God for help. I pray Thomas Merton’s prayer, the Memorare, and the Prayer of St. Francis.
I’m afraid to wake up, because the anxiety is always strongest when I rise. I make myself swim laps. Even if I my tears fill up the goggles, I will finish my laps, because the hour after my swim is the best I’ll feel throughout the day. Then I try to put some words together, and mostly I fail, so I will use a piece I wrote previously that I have saved for a day like this, and I plug it in. I try to be productive. I try so hard. I bash myself for being unproductive. I think that I have no value as a human being if I can’t generate income or produce something of worth during a day. But my friend tells me that just being alive is of value to God, and that the only thing I have to do for that day is to stay alive. And so I take it fifteen minutes at a time, and tackle only what’s directly in front of me.
I talk to friends who have been there. They are God’s angels. They don’t judge. They simply check in. They try to make me laugh. They hear all the indictments I’ve charged myself with for the day—all the opportunities I give myself to feel shameful and bad and unworthy and horrible. They tell me to wait until I feel better to caste judgment. One by one, I list my anxieties and fixations of the moment. They tell me that’s ridiculous or they say to wait until I’m stable to tackle it.
I contemplate hospitalization. But I’m not sure what that would accomplish. I’m not suicidal. I’m not dangerous. I’m just severely depressed. I consider ECT because I have been through countless medication combinations. I wonder if there’s any hope of the latest cocktail to save me. I imagine me on a gurney to get shocked, but I don’t know if I have the guts to go through with it, or maybe I think if I can keep putting one foot in front of another, I won’t have to.
I return to William Styron’s paragraph of redemption, and I read it with conviction, as if he were telling it to me over a cup of coffee, and I have to believe it will get better. “If depression had no termination, then suicide would, indeed, be the only remedy. But one need not sound the false or inspirational note to stress the truth that depression is not the soul’s annihilation; men and women who have recovered from the disease–and they are countless–bear witness to what is probably its only saving grace: it is conquerable.”
I do believe it. I believe it because I got well before. I will get well again.