Tuesday, February 14, 2017

So Weak and Strong

The first pill was surprisingly hard to take.

It wasn't the first time I had been on an anti-depressant, and I was not opposed to starting again. I could understand the doctor's belief that this was more than just situational. “If you had high blood pressure or heart problems you might need to take medicine. This is no different. Your brain needs some help getting regulated again.” It was explained this way both now and in the past, and it made sense.

Still, starting medication seemed like an admission: This is bad, and I can't fix it myself. I suppose I already knew it was bad. I already went through the “ignore it and maybe it will go away” phase, and it only got worse. Eventually that word, that force I had dodged for so long was again staring me unavoidably in the face. Depression.

I tried to take care of it myself. Reduce stress, get sleep, exercise, eat well, think positive, get out of the house. But sleep has been a joke, and sickness has piled on sickness. My efforts at life change were thwarted by circumstances I could not control. Mama needs a break, but baby is crying with a fever. Mama may be throwing up, but baby needs nursing. The “self-care” I did manage was a brief pause in a downhill plunge.

I used to think depression looked like sadness and crying all the time. And sometimes it does. But actually I rarely cry. I don't feel sad as much as heavy. Hazy. Anxious. Deathly tired. It is like carrying around a giant weight everywhere you go. It is like too many programs open on your computer and nothing is operating as it should. It is like walking through thick smog – you know there is a road ahead but you can't see it. The weight of the future grips so tightly you can't get a full breath.

“You know that point in a book,” I told a friend, “When you see the person heading in a bad direction and you just want to say, 'Stop! Don't go there!' That's how I feel about my life right now. I know I am walking down a bad path and I just can't get off.”

I felt sick at the thought of heading back into the same situation with the same futile hope of fixing myself. The weight of responsibility was too heavy: I have to figure this out. I have to do something to fix this. And I am just so tired. I already have so many people to take care of – I don't want to have to take care of myself too. What if I can't make myself better and we have to go home?

So the medicine represented relief. This is something that will help me even when I can't do all the right things, even if we stay sick all the time, even if we can't get this baby to sleep. I cannot reasonably expect myself to change my brain chemistry. I can let the medicine do that, and that's okay.

And yet the medicine represented my weakness. Oh, I don't mentally believe that, but of course it feels that way. Whatever you tell yourself and others tell you, depression feels like weakness, like a character flaw. We have all heard that if you just think positively enough you can heal yourself. If you just have enough faith. If you just ate the right food or used the right oils or had the right genes you wouldn't have this problem. Even in this modern day we hear whispers of shame, shame. This is your fault.

I took the first pill. And the second and third and a couple of weeks down the line I already feel a difference, a change in my brain. Breath comes a little easier. Moments look a little sharper. I feel hope that I could climb out of this hole and enjoy life again.

I can face those whispers of weakness and say, No, that is a lie. No one chooses their genes, no one controls the makeup of their brain. I am weak, not because I am depressed but because I am human. None of us were meant to be so strong we have no need for others, no need for grace.

I am weak, but I am also strong. I am strong because I cared for my family. I am strong because I cared for myself. I am strong because I got the help I needed. I could not see the path ahead but still I kept walking.

I still cannot picture the months ahead or wrap my mind around the future. My brain becomes overwhelmed and turns away. I accept this gift of fog that allows me to focus instead on today. I look out the window at the bare trees and the cold brown earth. But I remember the springtimes of the past, I remember that one day I will be startled to find leaves in bud. The bare ground will sprout fresh green grass. Breathe in, breathe out, and watch the colors come back.

I write about my depression, even though it is very personal, because maybe you understand what I am talking about and you need to know you are not alone. I write about it because maybe you have never experienced depression, but I am almost certain that someone you know is dealing with it, whether you realize or not.  Maybe this will help you to understand them a little better.