I’m depressed. Not as in I’ve-gained-five-pounds-depressed or my-favorite-TV-show-got-cancelled-depressed but depressed as in there’s-not-enough-dopamine-or-serotonin-or-whatver-goddamned-chemical-my-brain-is-lacking-depressed.
I come from a long line of depressed people, grim French Catholics on my father’s side and sad destitute Romanians on my mother’s. My father, it seems, had his issues with depression. He died when I was barely an adult so I can only put the pieces together and come up with a theory. My mother was no mystery. She was depressed her whole life, more and more as she aged. By the time my father fell ill, she was having breakdowns. When he died she was catatonic. Ironically, as the Alzheimers has progressed, the depression has waned. She has forgotten to worry. There’s a clinical connection between depression and Alzheimers, however. I think of it as the depression wearing grooves in the brain, sad obsessive thoughts forging pathways and burning them out. Not such a cheery future to imagine for myself. More reason, in fact, to be depressed.
I’ve struggled with low-grade depression my entire life. I’ve been on an antidepressant for the last few years. I went on it when my mother was diagnosed and I could barely leave the house I was so overwhelmed. The medication helped. A lot. Within a week I was waking up every morning optimistic. I no longer had to massage my mood with caffeine, chocolate and exercise. I was just even. I remember thinking, “Oh, so this is what it’s like to have a normal brain.”
For the last year or maybe even two, the medication hasn’t been very effective. I haven’t been deeply depressed but I haven’t been reliably even-keeled either. Instead of increasing my dosage, I decided to come off the medication. For the last three months, I’ve been on a slow and careful wean. This medication particularly can have nasty withdrawal symptoms. Like, ha ha, depression.
The summer was fine but the last couple weeks have gotten rough. Environmental factors have tested me – the stress of the kids starting school, the change of season (my father fell terminally ill in autumn), Ben leaving for ten days, even the anniversary of 9/11. My chemicals have shifted. I move in a fog. My brain isn’t sharp, decisions are difficult. I’m forgetful. I’m filled with dread. It is like a perpetually overcast day in my head.
This depression probably isn’t my own depression. It’s probably the drug leaving my system. Over the next couple months, I will probably bounce back. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t suck. When I’m depressed I have no perspective. It seems that I will always feel this way.
I’ve told an awful lot of people about my current dilemma. Hell, I’m writing about it here. I spent years pleading with my suicidal mother to get treatment, trying to reason with her that if she had heart disease or cancer she’d seek a doctor’s help, that just because this disease of depression is mental, emotional, doesn’t mean it’s not real. I refused to be ashamed. Sometimes when I joke with new friends that I can’t drink hard alcohol because it disagrees with my antidepressant, I feel their discomfort. But damn it, my depression is a part of me. This struggle is life-long. I’m going to talk about it. Because to do otherwise is to deny a part of myself, to hide, to cower. If I do that, I’m afraid, it’ll eat me alive.
I’ve been drinking green juice, eating raw cacao, sweating it out on runs and in yoga classes. At some point in the class, this particular teacher always says, now is when you can leave something on the mat, something you’ve been carrying with you. I want to lie there and sob. Because I’m not certain I can leave this sadness behind. It’s part of my biology, it’s entwined in my DNA.
I’m parenting alone right now. Here again, I’m treading carefully. I know what it’s like to have a mother who’s depressed. I don’t want that for my kids. But, in fact, at the moment they have a mother who’s depressed. In my hours away from them, I do everything I can to fill my tank. In the hours I’m with them, I try to schedule group activities, mother’s helpers. Yesterday I got desperate and took them to “The Smurfs”. Anything’s better than trapping us all alone in the house with my despondency.
I’m putting one foot in front of the other, walking myself and these kids out of this valley and back to the hilltop. At least I hope that’s where we’re going.