The alarm fills the sweet silence of the room, blaring in my ears and enveloping me in aggression. For a moment, I hate that I am still breathing, but then I realize that’s just my illness trying to spin yarn again. I rise, I enter the bathroom, I twist the knob to start the water of the shower. Deep breaths as I enter the tub and immerse myself into the stream falling from the ceiling. I allow the darkness to wash away with the sweat and grime. I imagine my mind as a blank slate, a fresh start for today.
Why? Because I’m trying to accept that I have depression, but depression doesn’t have to have a hold on me.
There’s a lovely handful of pills to swallow with my cereal, though I contemplate if there’s really a point. The pills don’t make me happy, but they make life tolerable, and that’s a start. The morning becomes a blur: lunches to pack, husband to kiss, children to take to school. I embrace the silence that comes as I sit in the car, finally alone. A year ago, this is when I would have gone off the rails, when I’d reach for something unhealthy to numb the pain of that all-consuming silence. I stop for a latte, then land back at home. I want to go back to sleep, but I push myself to start some laundry.
How? Because I’m finally learning how to see beyond the emptiness inside, willing myself to go on and make something of myself, no matter how small the task. Every breath I take is victory over depression.
Arriving at class 15 minutes early, I grab my usual seat and try to just pour into getting ahead on reading the textbook. I avoid eye contact; interacting with others is exhausting and incredibly difficult. As the class moves along, I let my guard down a bit, answering questions and arguing with someone who obviously didn’t read the chapter. The guy next to me offers a high five, and I manage to crack a smile.
Why? Because depression doesn’t always mean a frowning, sullen face. It doesn’t always equal hating life. Even in the darkest of skies, there can be hints of light. There can be moments of laughter in a hospital, and celebration even in the depths of unrelenting depression.
My legs nervously shake as I force myself to make eye contact with my therapist. Even after months of sitting in her office multiple times each week, there’s always that fear that I have to try to swallow so I can be the most honest version of myself. She reads a conversation from my phone, helping me make sense of my emotions and my thoughts. As the tears begin to fall, I find a sudden sense of calm in the compassion of her voice.
How? Because I’m finally learning to trust the process and accept my fate of needing massive doses of talk therapy to uncover decades of deeply buried pain. It’s time to allow someone to help carry the load, to forgive myself, to chip away at all the pieces of the past that still remain. It’s time to take a step towards a life worth living.
I sit in the car line at my daughter’s school, blasting System of a Down, realizing I never ate lunch. Sometimes food just doesn’t sound good or even matter, just like taking a shower or putting on anything more than a pair of gym shorts and a black t-shirt. I forget that I’m visible or even alive as I drum on the steering wheel, screaming along with every single line of “Chop Suey,” drifting back to all the other times I wanted to feel.
Why? Because we’re all allowed to take a moment for ourselves and release a little steam.
Sitting with depression doesn’t mean letting go, being happy, or feeling healthy: it just means having the ability to keep yourself alive even when your insides are screaming otherwise.
Embracing the darkness doesn’t always mean snuffing out the light; both can co-exist, just like the yin and the yang, the woman and the man, the love and the hate, the hot and the cold. Depression isn’t always gloom and doom or an end all be all. Sometimes it’s just some faulty wiring that requires a trick to work just right or that car that needs a little TLC to stay running.
Yet, day by day, breath by breath, word by word, step by step, I’m learning how to simply sit with my depression. I’m learning how to embrace the reality of who I am entirely, both the sun and the moon, the ocean and the waves, the calm and the chaos, the woman and the child. I may never know what life is like without a mental illness, but that’s okay… at least I know what it feels like to be alive.