“So… Depression, huh? You’ve been feeling a little depressed?”
“Well… I wouldn’t have come out and said it like that. I’ve been feeling a little ‘off’ since my youngest daughter was born.”
My first daughter was born in the middle of a storm. My mother had terminal cancer. My husband was right at the beginning of his work-up and deployment cycle, so we were facing our first set of big separations and eventually our first deployment, Mom was sick–though we didn’t know how very sick she really was. I didn’t know where to be. Things were just plain hard.
And yet I was so happy being a Mom. The rightness of it was cosmic. It was like I had stepped into who I was always meant to become. I was this beautiful little being’s Mom. I was a mother. In the midst of the Hell that happened around me those first few months of her life, that truth was constant. That was joy pure and simple. It was a respite from the grief. It was something to hold onto in the tempest. It was a piece of me that, though I was only just coming to know it, I recognized.
“So… Explain this to me in a way that I can understand. Clinical Depression? That doesn’t sound like me. Explain this in a way that will help me to understand why you think that sounds like me.”
“Well, simply put, depression is lacking joy in areas of your life that used to bring joy to you. You used to find joy in knitting, you don’t now. You used to like to take walks in the rain, you don’t now.”
With my second babe, I was so incredibly in love. I was. I adored this little being.. But the rightness… That feeling of rightness had vanished. I didn’t know who I was with my girls. I didn’t like who I was with my girls. There was joy in discovering who they were, in being with them, but there was little joy in being a mother.
And it wasn’t just being a mother…. I couldn’t laugh. The things that always made me perk up and hum with joy brought no such hum. The world felt like it was wrapped in cotton. I could reach out in touch it, but not quite catch the actual feel of it. I was seeing everything through a cloud of grey—all the colors were muted.
Your Mom died two years ago? This could be bereavement… This could be grief.”
“Yeah, Yeah… Grief I know. I know I’m grieving. I always will be. I get that. But it’s been two years…
“Yeah and you’re trying to push it down. I’m watching you. Look at how you’re holding your body. You are doing everything you can to smother it and push it down. Besides… I wasn’t aware that grieving had a finish line.”
Standing outside myself for that moment I could see it. I could see my arms flailing and my shoulders hunching and all of my body trying so hard to control the emotion. I was shoving it down. Physically. Damn it. I thought I was in control and here was my body visibly betraying me to my doctor.
“You’ve been through some hard times in the last few years. You have. Your mom died. Your husband has been away a lot. That’s hard.”
“It’s not supposed to be hard! It’s not! It’s not supposed to be hard. I’m supposed to be able to do it. I’m a Navy wife! We do deployments! We do separations! I’m supposed to have it together. I’m not supposed to feel this awful about what he does all the time. I should be stronger than this…
Who says? Who says we have to be strong all the time? Who says it isn’t supposed to hurt or if it does hurt we should deny it? Who says that depression shouldn’t happen or that if it does we’re weak? Who says indeed?
“You’re too good at this for your own good. Do you know that? You do function. You function just fine. You’re getting up every morning, taking care of your kids, getting food on the table. I see that. You told me when I asked your history that you got a 4.0 even though you tried to sleep through a semester of college. You’re good at functioning through depression. Left alone, you’d get through this too. You’d get better. I just don’t know how long it would take.”
I thought that being depressed meant that you lay in bed and languished all the time. I didn’t realize that you could be getting up and doing life--functioning and making everyone around you believe that everything was right in the world—and still be battling a depression deep enough that you needed help to get out of it.
Depression made me feel like I was only living life half way. I didn’t fully see my children. I didn’t fully see my husband. I couldn’t fully experience what was happening around me because all the colors were muted and my emotions were dulled. I was cheating my family.
Worse yet, I was cheating myself. I deserved to feel better than this. I deserved to live a life with the colors turned on full brightness. I deserved to love the things that I loved.
I was worth fighting for.
“You’ve been through a lot in the last few years. That’s undeniable. And now it looks like you’re facing depression. Look back at all the things you’ve come through already—all the things that you’ve survived. Val, in the not too distant future you are going to look back at this—at this season of depression and think….’I got through that too.’”
I don’t know how I won the lottery and scored a doctor who was so wise, but those are words that I still return to when the tough things creep up.
And he was right. I got through it. I continue to get through it. I came to the realization that even though you are broken, you can find hope in that brokenness.
Broken things can be mended.
This is something depression taught me. My doctor was right. I got through that hard time, and I’ve gotten through others since then. I’ve returned to those words many times. I’ve sized up the challenge facing me and reminded myself that in the not too distant future it would be in the review mirror and I would know that I got through that too.