Who even cares about food?
I thought this. Me. Jazmine—lover of pasta and cheese and peanut butter. She, who can eat more popcorn in one sitting than a small movie theater. She, who eats hummus with a spoon, because… yum. The very same who loves breakfast more than any meal of the day, could suddenly get all the way to 1pm on coffee alone.
I would put my kiddo down for a nap and think, I better eat something. By then I was despondent and faint. I recognized that I was starving, but somehow I was okay with it, because the feeling seemed to match my mood. I mean, who even cares about food?
I was living in a new city, a glorious city—Chicago. But it wasn’t my city. I wanted to go home. It was summer and it felt oppressive. All Chicago parents know what to do to escape the heat: go somewhere. Anywhere. Just don’t stay home in your not air-conditioned apartment.
We went to Target and Trader Joe’s. We walked to Walgreens. But not much else. And then there was this span of four days when Judah and I did not leave the house. At all. In the middle of August.
I was angry at the weather and the city, and aching for all the things and people I left behind. My body felt like lead. It took all my effort just to care for my kid—feed him, tickle him, smile, be real. I was depressed.
• • •
We moved to Chicago in July of 2016. My husband would begin grad school in September and I would carry on with work and mamahood and such. I was ready for this adventure, completely on board. We left Los Angeles and journeyed into the unknown. This is the stuff a well-lived life is made of: new experiences, unexpected joys and challenges, but most of all—change. I knew all this. I did my best to prepare my heart for all the change. But it happened so fast.
The thing about depression is sometimes you don’t know it’s coming until you’re stomping around in it. When you finally see the big mess you’re standing in, you think, “Well, I’m already here, soaked in muck. I might as well just stomp around a bit more. Cleaning up would be such a chore. No thanks, I’ll just stay here and make a bigger mess.”
You try to get on with life, even if mucked up.
The thing about depression is sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe you’ve lost your job, your partner, or a dream. Everyone says, “Of course, she’s sad. Yes, that makes perfect sense,” and you have the world’s permission. In fact, this might be the best kind of depression because you give yourself permission too. You’re a little kinder, allowing yourself the room to feel all the things. You pat your own hand and say, “Go ahead dear, be as sad as you want. You just lost __________. You’ve earned this.”
And sometimes there is no logical series of events that led to the place you’re in. Your depression feels self-indulgent, like you need to get over yourself. You remind yourself of your blessings: the loving partner, the adorable kid, the roof over your head, the fact that you don’t live in Syria… That just makes you feel like a jerk.
The thing about depression is you can carry it around for a while hiding it from most. Your muscles have memory, so you can make your face do the thing it’s supposed to do when someone tells you good news. And you can do that other kind of face when someone tells you something sad, unjust, or frustrating. You don’t even have to feel anything; you can just conjure up your default face and no one catches on.
The thing about depression is no person or thing or event can pull you out. The people around you shower you with nice words and food, give you all the space you need (maybe you just need some space), offer you hugs, sparkly stickers, listening ears (maybe you just need to talk), and do their all-around best to lure you out from under the sofa. But you’ll only come out when you’re good and ready.
• • •
Like a cat, I was under the sofa starving, because I didn’t care enough to eat anything. I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to see anything but the familiar. Nothing was familiar.
After that little spell of four days inside, I felt really bad for my kid. So, against all internal desire, I took him to the park. And it was actually nice. It was cooler sitting under a shady tree at the park than it was in my living room. Who knew? He played in the sand for what seemed like forever on his own, without looking to me for any kind of emotional support. He left me alone while I watched him pack and pour cups of sand. It was a relief so great it felt like self-care. Taking my kid to the park was self-care.
In a very real session with my therapist (we continue to meet via Skype—bless her!) she reminded me how important it is for kids to get out and move and play. So, I made getting out of the house each morning my first priority (not for me, for him). Get up, eat breakfast, dress the kid, go out. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even wash my face, just throw on the same shorts from the day before. The only goal was getting out of the house.
At first we frequented the park. Then we started taking long walks along the lake. Then we wandered a bit farther, and discovered museums, ponds, grander parks, geese, the zoo, an indie bookstore—we found the heart and soul of Chicago.
The thing about depression is that you are depressed until one day when you’re not. No one can predict the day it happens. You might not even notice it right away. Maybe you’re pretend-laughing. And then suddenly, you’re not pretending. You’re not that sad. Like, you’re maybe even okay. It’s like that.
At least, this is how it has always been for me. I won’t presume to speak on behalf of every human who has struggled or is struggling with depression. When I’m in it, I’m not super-enthusiastic about finding a way out. And I’m in it for as long as I’m in it. Then one day I’m not.
I’ve experienced depression off and on throughout my adult life. With professional help, I’ve learned to pay attention and notice signs pointing to the muck. It’s called a downward spiral for a reason. Depression isn’t a straight shot. There are these bends on the way down. Around each curve I can see above and below me. I have a choice: I can keep sliding, gaining speed as I go, or I can dig my heels in. The sliding feels so good. It’s easy and smooth.
For me, what helps skid depression to a slow stop are small actions—so small, they barely take any effort at all for someone who is well. Though, for someone suffering from depression, they are monumental. Putting on jeans, instead of sweat pants, opening a window, or eating a granola bar. It’s so small, but it’s enough to feel ready, refreshed, or satiated. And it’s enough to fuel another small action. And (on a good day) even another.
Getting out each day was a series of small actions. Okay, I’ll just put clothes on. Now, I’ll put on socks. Now, shoes. Ponytail. Judah’s shoes. Fill canteen. Sunglasses. Okay, that’s good enough. Keys. Let’s go.
That’s it. I did it one day. And then I did it the next. And the next. Until one day, it wasn’t hard. It was a routine. I was okay.
The healing process isn’t linear. There are steep hills and soggy valleys. You’re okay. And then you’re not. And then you’re kinda sorta okay again. I think this is what life is—getting lost and finding yourself over and over. Finding a way back into life. Through the muck.
I’m really glad to be back.
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