I have been sad all week long and I don’t know why. It’s not an all consuming sadness, it’s just a dull ache in my shoulders and a hot scratchiness behind my eyes. The sadness itself isn’t nearly as onerous as my unflaggingly incessant need to determine if it’s just sadness or if it’s an early sign of depression.
I have a history of depression. I know what it feels like to tumble ass over tea-kettle down the rabbit hole of endless, hopeless, unnamed misery. I know what it’s like to watch my life pile up around me, turning laundry and homework and answering the phone into Herculean feats of strength. I know what it’s like to harangue myself with nasty epithets like “lazy” and “ungrateful” and “slovenly.” I know what it’s like to not only question the existence of the light at the end of the tunnel, but to wallow in the muddy certainty that even if it were out there somewhere, that it’s just the 3:10 to Yuma come to put me out of my misery.
Deep, dark, depression is no joke. If you’re one of the lucky ones, like I am, you’ll forget to call your mother on her birthday and she will know that something is really, truly wrong and she’ll call you up, leave a voice mail on your machine saying, “I’m calling you again in two minutes and you will answer the phone.” And then when she does, and you do, she will say, “What. The. Fuck. Is going on?” And when the question finally unlocks the answer (as the right question often does) the truth will come tumbling out, ass over tea-kettle, and you’ll have finally named it, and naming it will bring about the kind of help that actually helps, whatever that might be. For me, in that deep, dark, junior year of college, that help came in the form of medication, therapy, and my parents and me taking turns reading The Taming of the Shrew out loud so that I could complete my final Intro to Shakespeare assignment. The truth, as advertised, will always set you free.
I don’t ever want to go a-tumbling ever again. I’ve slipped since, I’ve even fallen, but I have fought tooth and nail against the tumble and I can humblebrag that I am Tumble Free since 1997. When I was pregnant with Boyo, I was so scared of postpartum depression that in addition to deputizing both my husband and my mother in the Battle of Baby Blues vs. Full Blown Depression, I became hyper-vigilant about analyzing my emotional state. Ever since he was born, I’ve been constantly sifting through any shades of blue moodiness in search of black, opalescent despair. I spend vast stores of energy making sure the light at the end of the tunnel stays lit. The shadows on the tunnel wall might be scary and macabre, but the thing about shadows is that they do not exist without light. I can deal with shadows. It’s replete, impenetrable darkness that scares the shit out of me. When I feel even just the tiniest bit blueish, I rip it apart, searching for its source, spending whatever (rare and precious) energy it takes trying to reframe what’s bothering me, put a positive spin on it, look for the silver lining, smother it in confidence and affirmations, baking it in sunshine so it doesn’t even think about leading me toward the rabbit hole. Most of the time it works beautifully. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t Pollyanna that sadness into submission.
Hyper vigilance, as it turns out, is exhausting. At the end of the week, when I still didn’t feel any better and I still didn’t know exactly what it was that was bringing me down, I just surrendered to it. Not in a “I can’t fight anymore so I must be depressed” kind of a way, but a “Well, I’m already sad, might as well watch Legends of the Fall” kind of way. When there’s no energy left to fight the blue, all you can do is let the blue in while you regroup. (Plus, Brad Pitt makes for excellent regrouping company, wouldn’t you say?)
Because I bear the internal scars of depression, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel blue. It’s okay to sit with it and in it. It’s okay to steep in it, even. Life in general (and new motherhood in particular) is hard, and it’s kind of ridiculous to pretend that it isn’t. I’m battling sleep deprivation, the monotony of days, hours, minutes, that are all remarkably and recklessly the same, a pitifully puny bank account, and the loneliness brought on by acute friendlessness (just to name a few), so it’s not only okay to let sadness wash over me, it’s probably healthier than spending every ounce of energy I have staving it off. I freak out at the first sign of clouds because I’m afraid if I don’t do everything in my power to chase them away, I will drown in the deluge. But rain and flood are two different things. Rain won’t kill me. If I’m caught out in a rainstorm having forgotten my umbrella, (or, more likely, my umbrella blew away while I was trying to untuck my dress from my panties) you know what will happen? I’ll get wet. That’s all. Not the end of the world. The danger isn’t in getting wet. The danger is in confusing wet with dead. The danger is in the unceasing worry that wet will turn cold which will bring on a case of turn-of-the-century-influenza which will morph into tuberculosis which will lead to dying, alone and impoverished, in the gutter like a dog, leaving only Puccini to weep for me. My (rare and precious) energy is better spent accepting what is real than fretting over what is absolutely not real.
I feel blue. And it’s okay. There, I’ve named it.
Still Tumble Free since 1997.