Depression can be a tricky thing. It was hard to convince me that I was depressed. Like people expecting people on the autism spectrum to look and be like Rainman, people tend to expect depressed people to walk around with an Eeyore persona accompanied by a very obvious dark cloud over their heads. These depressed people should never shower, or leave the house, or leave their beds. And they should cry – all the time.
If you look “normal”, or “not sad” by any capacity then you are clearly not depressed.
Of course, this is rarely the case. Most people with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) live their daily lives as anyone would > but also with their depression. It accompanies them, like a shadow, following them. Attached to them. In unison with their every movement. At the ready to grow and take over. Sometimes taking over more than at other times.
It lurks. The black dog.
And sometimes, as with my mother, it wins. It almost won with me.
My therapist often told me to sit with the sadness. She told me this because I have a habit of disregarding the sadness and instead turning it into anxiety and anger.
It’s a protective measure that I have worked on and perfected, both subconsciously and conciously. And it worked for a while, but the problem is that it catches up to you. The sadness I mean.
Because the thing is that you don’t really disregard the saddness, you swallow it. And it sits inside you like a child’s urban myth, a cherry pit growing into a tree. The roots intertwine with every muscle and vein and it becomes so that you don’t even realize you’re sad anymore. You just are. You forget what it feels like to be sad because you cannot differentiate it from anything else.
If you’re like me you forget what it’s like to cry, you mask the sadness with anger. Mastering the art of pushing people away by validating your reasons for why they have ruined your project, your day, your life.
My therapist’s theory was that my emotional mind worked like this:
Sadness (though more often subconscious than not) = anxiety = anger = losing control.
The reason my sadness was so hard for me to see, to acknowledge, was because I was unable to process sadness. It didn’t offer control, and ultimately that’s what I was striving for.
Furthermore sadness weakened me.
As much as they told me this wasn’t true, that I wasn’t more vulnerable because I was sad, as much as I wanted to believe it wasn’t true it was a hard pill to swallow. Thankfully I made sure to raise my children to believe it wasn’t true in their cases. To instead to allow their sadness to be their strength in their times of vulnerability. At least I knew enough to do this for my children. But I could not help but see sadness as a deficit in myself. A deficit that did nothing to further my intentions and goals in my life.
With that said, my therapist wanted me to practice being sad. To practice allowing myself to be sad.
When I had a hard day a few months back while I was still in the safe confines of therapy I pushed myself to do as my therapist had requested.
It was no easy task as this was a particularily hard day.
I had had a pretty good sleep, I had had a pretty relaxed wake up. The sun was shinning, the weather was nice. But it was still a really bad day.
Sometimes it’s just that way.
And when you have mental illness, as I do, hard days can sometimes drown you. You have to work hard to keep your head above water. You sit between the depths of the black waters and the fresh air above in a sort of equator. An ‘in between’ that only you know. That only you live. A thick sort of air that isn’t in any way refreshing, but will at the very least keep you alive.
Keep you breathing.
And that day I floated on my back in my self made sea and breathed through my sloppy emotional mess of a day.
In and out.
It was hard not to just drop into the deep. To sink and let myself fall deeper into my own suffering. To pop on the tv and let my children’s eyes turn to tiny staring bulbs while I ruminated in my own discomfort. This is why I had avoided sadness for so long. How could I be sure I would be able to climb back out of it? How could I be sure I could experience it without becoming it?
But I didn’t fight back against the sadness that day. I didn’t because I allowed myself to feel it. As terrifying as that was.
I’ve felt it before. Long ago when I was still a child and was more honest with my feelings. Long ago when sadness was ok to feel. When it didn’t unravel me and pull me into the dark and heavy and painful creases of it. When sadness was just a feeling, like any other. Not one that needed an armour of anger and bravado to keep safe. To keep down.
But this time I let myself go into it. Not completely at first, because I found myself wanting to crawl inside it as soon as I felt it. I wanted to fold myself into a ball and hide within it. So instead I treaded lightly on the edge at first. When I realized I could walk through it, sit with it, and walk away from it till I needed to sit with it again I became braver. I let myself experience it more strongly than before. And it wasn’t that bad.
It may be that this was sadness, just regular homegrown sadness, I thought. Perhaps this was what sadness felt like.
I so often chose anger as my go-to emotion and reaction instead of any other emotion. I was simply not used to this. A feeling that nothing seemed funny or ok. A place I was scared to stay trapped in, where everything dripped with the heavy burden of sorrow whether you or others recognized it or not.
On this day it I told myself that even though nothing extraordinary happened, nothing substantially awful or hard happed, I was allowed to be sad simply because I felt it.
I held myself together as best I could. I took my meds. I drank my water. I avoided coffee. I ate at the right times and took my kids to the park. I watched a movie with N. But even after that I just feel spent. Emotionally spent.
I do think that taking care of myself did make a difference, it must have, right? I mean, I didn’t end up a sobbing puddle on the floor. I threw the ball for the dog, I coloured pictures with my boys and played catch with N. I went shopping with Shai. I taped myself together and even with sadness as a backdrop I parented and did the stuff I was supposed to do.
I laughed. I smiled. And sincerely. Because my kids are awesome and because even in sadness there can be joy and happiness.
It’s just – when I was alone. Being alone was the toughest because I couldn’t distract from that weight inside of me. My veins were heavy with the tar of my contempt and shame. The frog in my throat sat at the ready – waiting to leap into weeps and bellows if I had let it.
And that’s ok.
I must remind myself of that.
I needed to feel the sadness. I needed to acknowledge it. Not wallow in it. Not let it take me over so that suddenly I was the sadness. Just acknowledge it. As long as I could see it not as anything else. As long as I let myself be sad when I was sad then maybe, probably, I’d be free from it the next day. At the very least it offered me a way out of anger. Anger being a place I no longer wanted to allow myself to find comfort and strength in.
The sadness, which had always been there but hid so nicely under the anger and anxiety, was my gift to myself that day. My way of opening the door that had been locked for much too long.
Sadness, not depression, is ok. In fact, it’s important. If you allow sadness you might even be able to ward off depression. And depression is ok too, as difficult as that may be to accept. If you can find the care you need and allow yourself the freedom and acceptance of loving yourself through it.
The sadness is hard to bare but necessary, though it sometimes feels like you are wearing a wool jacket on a scorching summer day. Still, it detoxifies you.
At least – that’s what my therapist said.