Every few weeks I have a visitor to my bedroom.
It’s a him. I don’t know how a black amorphous body can have a gender but I know this one does.
And when I wake up in the morning and see him at the foot of my bed I know I won’t be able to function for the next 24 hours. Possibly even the next 48. Or 72. It varies.
He’s my cloud of depression. And when he shows up on those random mornings, I sigh and will myself back to sleep because I know what’s coming. Nothing. A day of blank numbness. I’ll cry quietly and softly. I’ll stare out the window for hours for no reason. I’ll think of nothing and everything. I’ll have an expressionless face. I’ll find nothing funny. And there is almost nothing I can do to stop or assuage it.
I live with depression. I take a large handful of variously shaped pills every day to keep it at bay. I pay $300 a week to an amazing psychiatrist who has saved me more than once. I workout often to keep my serotonin levels elevated. I do everything I’m supposed to do. And most of the time I can keep the cloud man at bay. Maybe he lives in the back of my closet with some old shoes I forgot to get rid of. Or maybe he hides under my bed and is totally confused by the jerry-rigged bondage apparatus my husband tried to build for us. But no matter what I do, he pays his visits. I hate him.
I used to practice a horrible ritual of mental self flagellation whenever he popped by. As if I was failing my own treatment because he not only existed but had the audacity to show up. I’m doing everything I can to kill you! Why aren’t you dead yet, you miserable little man?! Why is my brain so damn messed up that pills and therapy and exercise aren’t enough to keep you away from me?! What the f*ck is wrong with me that I can’t hack this!?! Fun stuff.
Eventually I found some inner grace and realized I could let myself off my own hook. My black cloud had enough malignant air in it. I didn’t need to pump more in. It was bursting to capacity as it was.
My little cloud guy hasn’t always been a guest of mine. He sent his emissary in the form of paralyzing anxiety when my first child was born. I’d collapse in tears about sleep patterns and breastfeeding schedules and the simple task of picking a town to walk around in. One particularly rough day found me on the side of the road, weeping, because I couldn’t figure out where to go to take a walk with the stroller. A nice woman pulled over and helped me drive to the nearest town with a sidewalk. I think her name was Rose.
But that first forward scout didn’t take up permanent residence. Apparently he was just visiting, hunting for potential expansion. I guess he liked what he saw because when my second child was born, he called in the big guns. I fell victim to debilitating postpartum depression…the kind where I would hide in closets and cry as my baby screamed…the kind where I would throw up in secret because my body couldn’t contain the excruciating mental pain…the kind where I wanted to simultaneously kill myself and fly away to some exotic land and never come back…the kind where I felt like it wasn’t THAT bad because I never wanted to harm my kids, just myself…the kind where I wasn’t allowed to be alone on the recommendation of doctors.
That’s when I first got help. And medicine. And that’s when I first learned I had depression, the non-postpartum kind. Turns out I had the all-the-time kind. Apparently, my c-section scar wasn’t the only permanent reminder of childbirth; depression was another souvenir. I’d rather have gotten a snow globe.
Having now lived with it for four years, one of my struggles is how to describe my depression to the non-afflicted. Because I’m open about having it, lots of lovely people want to understand it. But it’s nearly impossible to fully describe. Recently I learned the lack of adequate verbiage isn’t unusual; lots of depressed people report having a hard time explaining how depression feels…how it really really FEELS. It seems English doesn’t have the right words. Maybe a combo of adjectives? Maybe, but it’s always going to be missing something.
Which makes depression one mean ass son-of-a-bitch. How amazingly cruel to experience something so inherently isolating and then not be able to find the right way to let people into your pain. Depressive episodes feel lonely enough. Taking away the language to get people to empathize is unreasonably sadistic.
Depression sucks for so many reasons. Honestly, there are just too many to list. But the thing that sucks the most, for me, is it means I’m the mom who’s “sad a lot.” That KILLS me. I do everything I can to hide it from them because I don’t want my children remembering me that way. But kids are wiser than their size should warrant and while their young minds might not fully understand what they see, we all know the scene in that movie when the grown children realize, only in adulthood, that something was really wrong with mommy. I never, ever wanted to play that part or make my children part of that cast.
But some days I have no choice. I nod to the little cloud man as I trudge to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I stare at myself in the mirror all foamy mouthed and give myself the pep talk: you can fall apart when they get to school, you can get through this one, it’s only temporary, call your tribe for help if it’s really bad, you have four hours to cry before pick up, wear something comfortable so you can contort your body however it needs to go today. I don’t believe any of it but I tell myself all those things anyway. And then I walk out of the bathroom and pretend. As best I can. I really, really hate pretending.
Which is why part of my therapy is to share when I’m depressed with my friends and family. I’m not sure if that’s to help me alleviate the symptoms or to ensure I don’t do something rash. Either way, it’s helped enormously to be honest about when my little man shows up. A few simple texts to the powers that be and I know I’ve got backup. It’s nice.
Slowly I’m discovering I need to tell everyone that I live with depression. Somehow saying it—to friends, to strangers, to the ethers—comforts me because if I tell people I have depression, then I can’t drown in it. I tell people that there’s a bomb inside me precisely so it won’t self-detonate. If I say it, it can’t silently kill me because I have called in witnesses to make sure the detonator never goes off. I am building my own bomb squad.
The other benefit is that when I share my really scary things, remarkably, I get more love and empathy than I could ever possibly hold inside myself. Which is lucky because it turns out the only thing that helps the cloud man retreat quickly is love and empathy. Big long hugs. Texts saying, “Oh baby girl, what can I do?” A meal put in front of me because I definitely didn’t feed myself when I fed my kids. Love and empathy. It’s medicine and I can’t get it at CVS. I can only get it from raising my hand and saying, “Please, listen to me, I’m struggling and I need help today.”
So I’ve written this. Selfishly, maybe, because it makes me feel better to have everyone know. But you guys, I cannot do this alone. I will not survive my bedroom visitor if I do this myself. And I know, I KNOW, that there is another mama right now reading this saying holy shit ME TOO. Mama, I see you. I will help you because I see you. And now everyone can see me. A fun, flirty, smart, creative, entrepreneurial, loving mother who’s brain needs help. This is me, Brooke. It’s really nice to meet you.