It began with exhaustion. I have been on a whirlwind schedule for two years now, treating my clients during the week, writing or speaking on the weekends. I reveled in this fast pace, feeling excited and energized. Recently, though, something shifted inside me. Dark whispers slipped into my head:
“What is the point anyway?”
“Work hard until you die. That’s all there is for you.”
“You don’t matter.”
I shook off these thoughts and kept going. Except the gloomy whispers tagged along, keeping pace with me, commenting negatively. I began to cry, here and there. Also, I stopped looking forward to activities. Normally I love to visit with friends. When a date approached, I would think, “Great! I’m seeing Susan next week!” Now, I noticed an upcoming date with a friend and thought, “OK, I will do that. OK.” The date brought no joy; it seemed like another job to slog through.
Depression exists on a spectrum. On one end, some depressed people are so debilitated they can’t get out of bed. I have worked with people like this, for whom brushing their teeth is a herculean accomplishment. I have lived with people like this too. My dear brother once spent six months of his life alone in his room with the lights off. These symptoms represent clear depression, obvious to almost anyone.
Depression can be a more subtle visitor. Plenty of people get up every day, work hard, pay their bills, and are completely reliable. But, if you talk to them, there’s a sadness in their voice, a weariness to their soul. Maybe they feel lonely; maybe they feel unloved. You would never know it, because they can still smile and manage each day. But inside, they are sad. Recently, this was me.
Last weekend, I had lunch with my friend Karen. “How are you?” she asked me.
“I’m really not good,” I answered, slowly.
“What? I’m shocked! Why?”
“I’m sad. I miss my family.” (My daughters are adults now and they live far away). “I’m so tired. I’m not sure what is the point of anything these days.”
“You’re kidding me. If anyone had asked, I would have said you were doing great. Everything is going so well for you!”
“Yes, I guess. But I am not good.”
We looked at each other, two green eyed women who have been friends for four decades. This was not the first time Karen talked me through a depression; this was not her first rodeo. “You need to be able to enjoy life. This is a great time for you. You can do anything now, with your girls out of the house.”
“But I’m always working.”
“So maybe you should change that.”
Back and forth we went, pacing the boundaries of my sadness, looking for interventions. By the end of the lunch, I committed to writing less frequently, to give my brain a rest. I felt a little bit better.
Two days later, I called my other Karen. (I have two close friends named Karen/Caryn, and I call them “my Karens”). “How are you?” Caryn asked me.
“I’m not good.”
“Really? I’m sorry. It is October, right? That’s always hard for you.”
Yes indeed. To be clear, I love October. I love the sunlight filtered through the yellowing leaves. I love the crystal blue sky, and the rich loamy smell. I love the sharp crunch of the leaves under my feet. I love everything about October except that my brother killed himself in October. Since then, I have never experienced October the same way. Now that same light, the same leaf colors, the same woodsy smell makes me sad in my bones.
Caryn has known this about me for decades. Her gentle reminder grounded me. Of course I feel sad. I always feel sad in October. How could I have missed it?
I am feeling better now. Just as I’m not exactly sure why I got depressed, I’m not exactly sure why I feel better. Here are some possibilities:
1) Maybe I’m feeling better because I spoke honestly with four loving friends. Here is what they said to me, each in her own way:
“You can always call me.”
“I’m here for you.”
“You matter to me.”
“Call me anytime.”
2) Maybe I’m feeling better because I connected to my two daughters, who live so far away. Talking with them grounded me. The anniversary of my brother’s death, and the increased geographical distance of both daughters was a rough combination.
3) Maybe I’m feeling better because I decided to write slightly less often, so my soul can have more rest. I love writing, but I write about intense material, which can weigh heavily on me. Now I can breathe a bit between blog posts.
4) Maybe I’m feeling better because it is November and no longer October. It might be as simple as that.
I took a deep breath before I wrote this blog this morning. A part of me did not want to write it, because I am exposing my sadness. What will people think? Will people judge me? Maybe a future client will hesitate to contact me, if they think I am not well? Maybe current clients will stop coming? Maybe I will seem too dramatic or somehow self-serving?
Then I decided… no, this is my mission. I write about life’s hardships, and how we make it through them. I write about problems and traumas, and the human capacity for overcoming. Censoring the hard stuff only makes people feel alone, and that is not what this blog is about. This blog is supposed to help people feel connected and hopeful, even if they are living through difficult times. How better to help people feel connected than to be fiercely honest about how hard life can be?
Including my life.
If you are feeling sad, here are some things that might help you:
1) Be honest with your friends and family; tell them how you feel. People can’t help you feel better if they don’t know you are feeling bad. Tell your husband. Tell your sister. Tell your Karens.
2) Get outside. Try to walk in lovely places, if you can. At the very least, get some sun on your face (with sunscreen!) and a breath of fresh air.
3) Try to exercise. At the very least, get active. Get out of bed, move your body and shake it off as best you can.
4) Try to meditate.
5) Let yourself be around people. Do not isolate yourself.
6) Try to work, if you can. Working will probably improve your mood.
7) If you continue to feel depressed for more than two weeks, and/or if you feel seriously ill right now, contact your doctor for a referral to a therapist, and/or medication.
8) If you are thinking about killing yourself, or having other violent thoughts, here is the suicide hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Please call it now.
The sun is out today. Once I finish this blog, I’m getting ready to give a talk. My dog Frankie slumbers next to me. My husband is coming along to support me when I speak. Life goes on. Maybe that’s one thing I know now that I didn’t used to. You can have a very hard time one week and be possibly quite fine the next.
The world keeps spinning. May you be well.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.