Nobody likes a Debbie Downer. Nobody gets excited at the prospect of reading a dreary article about depression. But we need to write about it. We need to read about. Because depression is a quiet predator, so quiet that some of us were not even aware we were caught in its prongs until we read stories of others who described their experiences, similar to our own. If people start discussing depression, more frequently, it will one day become a topic as common as discussing flu symptoms, and more of us will realize why we wake up every day wishing we hadn’t.
My depression started manifesting when I was 17 years old. My parents would leave for work simply assuming I would leave for school a few minutes later. But I didn’t. Once I heard the front door latch, I would claw off my mask, and crawl back under the bed covers. There I would fitfully sleep and wake, my wakeful periods filled with an unrecognizable feeling which left me too fragile to move lest my brain should break. It’s odd how clearly I recall the feeling – lying there, my eyes fastened to the same invisible spot on the wall, waiting for something to shift in my soul, but not knowing what. It would be years before I would know. Actually, I only recently found out. That feeling of nothing,that void that has and is pushing me over the edge, is depression. It’s interesting how I was able to spend over 20 years living with one leg straddling the bridge railing, but not understanding what was prompting me to hold this precarious pose.
And then when I was 44 years old, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (a diagnosis which was quickly changed to Bipolar II Disorder). Yet a diagnosis is nothing without facts to prove why you have to swallow 14 pills a day. Depression was a word which explained the stiffness in my upper body from balancing on that bridge railing for two decades, but it didn’t reconcile the nothingness in my soul with the life I was leading. Being told, “You are depressed,” didn’t mean anything except that I was broken, but I couldn’t understand the ways in which way it had affected my life.
For almost three years I have lived with the knowledge of my diagnosis and the fancy terminology that accompanies the explanation of what the chemicals in my brain are not doing. But it wasn’t until I read an article in which the author described how numb she felt while sitting on the floor playing with her young child that I finally understood how deeply I was suffering. The author expressed how during those moments, as she played ‘pretend’ with her toddler, watching him or her truly enjoy the experience, she realized that she, herself, wasn’t enjoying it at all. She was going through the motions, but felt a sad indifference where a mother’s joy should have been. It was while reading this person’s words that I finally understood my own depression, and how it had robbed me of those moments in life that should have brought me joy. Experiencing the lingering burn of the illness for almost my entire life prevented me from knowing the reality of a healthy mind.
Other than eliminating the desire to stop existing, I finally understood why I needed to fight back. I too had spent hours sitting on the floor playing with my children: reading books, stacking blocks, making puzzles…and let’s be real, that stuff is pretty boring when you’re a 30-year-old woman even if you don’t have depression. I recall times with my daughter, while we bounced on our trampoline, seeing who could bounce the highest and who could flip forward (FYI: I can’t flip forward or backwards). Seeing the gleam of joy in her eyes did not spark one in my own. And how sad is that? Depression had robbed me of so much happiness that I didn’t feel it necessary to try to get any back. Depression had taken my life and shrouded it in a fog of melancholy so thick that I didn’t know how to see through it, and even more devastating, I didn’t care to. The effort required was so overwhelming and exhausting that it was easier to continue living without any bounce.
If I hadn’t read the article by that young mother, I would not have understood the extent to which my life has suffered. Of course I know the depth of my agony. I cling to life every day, willing myself to exhale, to look away from sharp objects, to go through the motions. But realizing that life is filled with participants who aim to jump the highest, who delight in a blue sky, who laugh when the puzzle pieces are clicked into place (ok, so this realization is probably still pretty boring, ‘cause really, baby puzzles?)… Reveling in the sound of a giggle and melting at the softness of little fingers and toes is kind of the point of my life. So I’ll continue writing about my depression in hopes that someone else can better understand their own.
About Sandra Charron
I'm the mother of four children working as a registered nurse on a postpartum unit. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder two years ago, and in my constant search for information as to how to handle life with this illness, I write whenever and wherever I can in an effort to advocate to end the stigma associated with mental illness. I speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.