Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflecting on 2015 and Depression

      2014 was a really exciting year for us - we had a brand new baby, I was in school, I left my career after 7 years, we moved to Walla Walla, we bought our first house. It was a year of change for the better but still change that left me reeling. This time last year I was depressed in a way that scared me. More than just a sad or empty feeling, anxiety was layered under and within and on top of the depression in ways that left me physically immobile for hours at a time, trapped inside my own head which was a highly unpleasant place to be. Depression told me lies like I’m inherently bad, incompetent and worthless, nothing matters, there’s no hope. Depression made my body heavy with hurt and fatigue, and my thoughts foggy. Anxiety gave me a constant feeling of dread and a nagging sense of guilt, but when I tried to sort out what I could possibly be afraid of or what I should feel guilty about I couldn’t navigate the fog to find a clear thought. My kids would ask me to play and I couldn’t stop weeping. They’d naturally become upset then I’d snap at them for it. Then I’d hate myself some more and wonder why I was so broken, why I couldn't appreciate the wonderful life going by in front of me. It’s not just society and the people who love us asking “why can’t you just snap out of it.” That accusatory useless question rang strongest inside my own head, in my own voice, playing into the vicious cycle of loathing myself for weakly succumbing to this intangible thing, the intangible thing which thrives and grows off of that self loathing.

     My depression, anxiety, our culture of busy-ness, and just life, even when I was functioning better, stopped me from being present in the moment. I was in a hurry to finish a task, or in a rush to get out the door, and it made me say “maybe later” when I was asked to play, or “in a minute” when my kids wanted to show me something. It made me snap and lash out and resent and get lost in frustration when I could have been patient and connecting and teaching and loving. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of good stuff with my kids even at my worst, and now (at my much better) there are still a lot of hard moments, but seeing my anxiety about useless things fill so much space that could have been occupied by good brought me a lot of shame and I knew I could do better. Standing on the precipice of 2015 the one and only thing I wanted was to be present for my kids. That resolution led me to yoga, and it also led me to working with my primary care physician to find a medication that would help me out of the dark fog.

     Everything everyone says about medicating depression stopped me from getting help sooner. They throw a pill at everything nowadays. Don’t numb your existence with a pill. A pill isn’t the answer, you need to change your behavior or the way you’re thinking. You have no reason to feel this way. Be strong. I had taken anti-depressants before and remember not being miserable anymore, but only because my range of emotion was narrowed to a sliver of apathy, which was better but not good. Another time I was on an anti-depressant that made me sleep 14 hours a night and wake up tired. I didn’t have much faith in anti-depressants, and I struggled with a sort of moral dilemma against medicating "feelings."  Now with my 20/20 hindsight I can see my doubt and hesitation never served me. 

After a couple of weeks on Lexapro the fog cleared. If I felt nagged by anxiety now I could think logically about what was causing it, and complete the task, or have the conversation, or fix the problem, or often realize it was unfounded to begin with. Instead of waking up immediately overwhelmed by a dark nameless cloud I woke up and lived. I still felt sad sometimes, I still felt nervous sometimes, but I also felt happiness and confidence and security in a way I’d forgotten existed. It was truly life changing. I made friends, developed a routine, cleaned my house, read books, cooked, exercised, played with my kids, took deep breaths when I got frustrated. It wasn’t a perfect year, we had ups and downs and got sick a lot and I got dry socket and notably was blind for almost an entire week after being stabbed in the eyeball by a toddler fingernail. But it was the best year yet because I wasn’t a prisoner of my mind. 

I’m so full of gratitude for the way my world became saturated with vibrant life and color and vivid experience in 2015. And so encouraged that I resolved to do something last year and actually did it! It’s not easy to talk about depression, that darkness feels intensely personal and I want to keep it shut away behind closed doors. But when I reflect about how I made my way to the other side of those doors I know I would have wanted to read that there is a way out. It may be a different way for you than it was for me but I promise you the hopelessness is a lie. Whatever you’re leaving behind you at midnight, may hope be ahead of you.