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 it weakened me. As much as they told me this wasn’t true, as much as I wanted to believe it wasn’t true and I made sure to raise my children to believe it wasn’t true and to instead have a strength in their times of vulnerability – I could not help but see sadness as a deficit that did nothing to further my intentions and goals in the world.
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.
Not for any particular reason that was specific to the happenings of the day. It was just a bad 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 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 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. But I didn’t, I didn’t because I allowed myself to feel it. I’ve felt it before. It’s dark and heavy and painful to carry with me. I wanted to crawl inside it – inside myself – and hide within it as much as I wanted to shake it off and move forward – away from it – never looking back.
Like heroine it’s addictive and terrible. I hated it but I knew it, so I found a strange comfort in the way it made me hurt.
It may be that this was sadness, I thought. And because I so often chose anger as my constant – my go-to – instead of any other emotion, I was simply not used to it. Perhaps this was just what sadness felt like. Whatever the case, the day was harder because I couldn’t get rid of it.
When nothing seemed funny or ok. When everything dripped with it, whether you realized it or not.
And yes, although the stresses were many and the good times were few back then, that isn’t completely why I dissolved into a sad/mad/oppositional/sulking mess on this day.
On this day it was also simply because I have BPD, GAD and of course, MDD. And I was just done. When I fell I fell hard.
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 Bean. 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 the Bean. I went shopping with Pups. I laughed. I smiled.
It’s just when I was alone, that I could feel the weight inside 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. A place I no longer found comfort in that instead I hoped to avoid for it only brought me regret and shame.
The sadness, which had always been there but hid so nicely within the folds of 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. The sadness is hard to bare but necessary, like wearing a wool jacket on a scorching summer day, it detoxifies you.
At least – that’s what my therapist said.