Monday, July 23, 2012

Singin' About the Blues

Tonight, I'm going to switch gears a little bit.  I'm going to talk about me.  Specifically, about me, and my struggles with Depression, both in my past, and now, as a mother.

This post has been a long time in coming, stewing in my brain from the advent of my blog's creation, but I've put it off, again and again.  I've had many reasons, the primary one being fear.  Fear of judgement, of rejection, of inserting a big fat elephant in the midst of some of my newer relationships.  Of planting doubts about my emotional stability, my ability to parent.  Of sharing details of my life with extended family that they have not even heard yet from my own mouth.

Just today, after committing to finally doing it as I spent the last, quiet minutes of Michael's nap hashing out how I would proceed, I had changed my mind by dinnertime.  But then, in the stillness of the house that followed Tom's departure with the kids on a walk around the neighborhood, I let my courage build back up again between the dining room and kitchen, carrying dirty dishes to the sink, and feeling the calm that often accompanies such mindless work.  I accepted that the compulsion to do this will not go away, nor will my misgivings about doing it.  Once done, however, it is my hope that I will find some peace from it, because if I can reach one lonely soul in need of a sense of solidarity, it will have been worthwhile despite any potential repercussions.

I've managed to hold on to that resolution, much as it's tried to squirm through my fingers like a wriggling fish, and here I sit, struggling to find a way to begin, as my fingers type ahead of my thoughts.

I guess I'll start with a picture, as I so often do (this time, just a mental one).

I have in mind a self-portrait, taken in my senior year of college.  If you could see it, you might note the lack of hair.  It was not stricken in a streak of rebellion, nor was it some bold statement about my sexuality, as many classmates falsely interpreted it to be.  It was an act of desperation, of self-hatred, and a last-ditch cry for help.

I still remember the moment clearly.  It was in the early hours of October 24th, 2000, and having battled with myself, and lost, in an attempt to force fingers to keyboard and type something, anything, to get started on the section of a research paper that was due within hours, I channeled my tortured emotions into my hair, first cutting away in a haphazard fashion with scissors, then removing it completely with an electric razor.  I had no real thought about what would happen after, but I'll admit that after initially, fearfully, venturing out to class with it covered under a cap and hoodie, I felt a certain freedom in finally revealing it and receiving the help and support that I so desperately needed, and had instant access to as a result.

This was not the very beginning, nor the very end, of my struggle with depression.  I'd say that the first seeds of it were apparent even at age nine, when schoolwork suddenly felt too tiresome to be bothered with, and writing, which I had never before struggled with, became a terrible chore.  The first time it crippled me was in high school, when I spent large parts of my Junior and Senior years at home, unable to face the school day, and the last was most of the way through the Master's program that I've left abandoned to this day, not wishing to push myself to the extremes that I put myself through just to get that undergraduate degree in my hands.  I have scars, both emotional and physical, that I often feel were perhaps not worth the price.

I had to make that same decision in the last job that I held, when the environment there proved to be detrimental to my emotional state-of-being.  Not a day goes by that I don't have regrets about the way that I had to leave, and the fact that I spent my entire pregnancy with Abby (the very beginning of which coincided with this departure) at home, and jobless. But I left there before I became entirely broken, and I kept myself healthy and whole for the sake of my daughter.  For that, I can have no regrets.

My life since then has been entirely different, though not without struggle.  Perhaps it's because I've found my true calling in motherhood.  Perhaps it's because I've found my perfect match in Tom.  Perhaps it's because my children's needs require no over-thinking, just my intuition and attention.

But there are little things that are still hard.  My mood, while pretty constant, sometimes gets away from me, and I'll have days which begin and end clouded in sadness and despair.   My energy level is never where I think it should be.  I'm incredibly disorganized.  I sometimes have to push myself to take part in social situations, and  afterwards, make a concerted effort to stop myself from over-analyzing every little thing I said or did in the midst of them.

And certain simple tasks still seem impossible.  Like the Thank-You cards that remain unwritten from my baby showers, and from the kindnesses I received after Michael's birth.  It is failures like these that most haunt me, leave me dampening my pillow at night.  For the imagined judgment that I am receiving, for the misunderstanding that I have brought upon myself.  On the chance that someone thinks that I simply did not take the time, that I simply did not care.  Would they even believe me if I tried to explain the overwhelming-ness of it all?  That just the idea of pulling down the box of cards, taking one out, and sitting down to think of what to say sets off alarm bells in my head that send me fleeing for a dark bedroom, curled in the fetal position, praying for escape?  That because of this, it is simply easier to put it off, to not think about it?  That is, until I realize that the opportunity has escaped me and I must live with the repercussions of my inaction.

I go through this same crazy scenario all the time (thankfully over far less time-sensitive things, for the most part), over laundry that needs doing, rooms that need cleaning, boxes waiting to be unpacked.  And somehow, some way,  these things do eventually get done, and I feel so much the better for it.  It's the build-up in my head over the idea of the thing that I just can't seem to get past.

And the self-judgement.  I've had varied reactions from people over the years, over the revelation of my condition.  There's usually some initial sympathy, but then one of two things happen.  I will be deemed too high-maintenance and left behind.  Or, I will be resented because it's all too easy to write off my problems as indulgent self-pity, and laziness.  I used to get angry at the latter reaction, but I've realized over time that it's unfair of me to do so, when I so often try to apply those same labels to myself.

There's a great little post on Hyperbole and a Half that details this mind-trap with incredible accuracy.  I only wish I'd ever had the strength to break free on my own, like she did.  But if there's one thing I've learned in the years that I've spent trying to cope, it's that support is essential, so seek it out.  And know that you are not alone.

As for how I keep my head so firmly above-water now, I have my theories.  I owe a lot of it to Tom, and his talent for knowing what to say and do when I feel most like giving up.  I've certainly learned the value of avoiding the institutional, competitive, stressful environments of academia and certain office jobs.  I'll have to think carefully about what kind of career would suit me best when I'm ready to enter the workplace again.

But mostly, I'd like to think that I can trace it to my new world-view, which my children, by the grace of God, have made it possible for me to embrace.  I was finally able to leave a lot of stubborn cynicism behind me when I first experienced the miracle of pregnancy, the opportunity to create, house, and bring forth a new life, the gift of amazing purpose.  And as challenging as parenthood has been, infinitely more so, in retrospect, than boring papers and irksome tests, I find great freedom in the reality that my children do not grade or judge me.  I am in continual awe of the depths of their trust.  I have many doubts about many things, but I do not doubt my place in their world.  Or theirs in mine.  And I know, as I have known few other things in this life, that I will not fail them.


  1. This post is very courageous and honest of you to share with rest of us readers. Depression is something that so many of us have experienced and by talking about it; it makes depression something less of a taboo.

    I do remember reading that post by Hyperbole and a Half. It was something I was able to relate at one time in my life.

    I do believe that my husband, Stu, has saved me, and now my unborn son. They make me want to better myself as a person and to continue push myself a lot more than I would have.


    1. It is definitely one of my goals to do my part in encouraging conversation about Depression. It is so alienating, which is why I feel it's so important that people be made to feel that they can talk about it. I feel the same way that you do about my own husband and children. I would still be so direction-less without them.

  2. Sharon,

    Thanks for sharing this post; I wish I'd seen it when it first went up. It's courageous to write about your experience. I've been treated for depression too and it's something that I know will always be a factor in my life. Like Tom, Roberto is hugely supportive and helps me count my blessings;)


  3. Kudos to you for sharing. I'm really proud of you!