Hopefully I’d outgrow it. Or at least I’d stop talking about it.
I remember being a little girl in bed one night and hoping someone would break into our house and kill me. I don’t know how old I was, but I was younger than ten years old. I remember the thoughts as clearly as if they had happened just a few nights ago. I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of how I coped with unhappiness: I wished for death.
Throughout my life it has been a repeat occurrence. As a teenager, I tried to overdose on pills. I was fed Ipecac and, two days later, was sent back to school as if nothing had happened. Later, and still in my teens, I tried a knife. Again, I was bundled back up and sent off to school. Hopefully I’d outgrow it. Or at least I’d stop talking about it.
In a sense, that is what happened. Over time, I would sink into depressions, some more manageable than others, some more like a free fall into a fog where I would just sit, frustrated, and waiting for it to pass. I didn’t talk about it. Facebook is covered with posts about how the coffee is always on – but I have to tell you that it simply isn’t true. My last round of depression was a doozy and I talked about it with everyone who would listen. I didn’t get one cup of coffee out of the deal.
I feel as though I am starting a story by rambling in the middle, so let me back up. On Saturday (that’s in two days from now depending on when you read this article) I am participating in the Walk/Run from Defeat Depression. What I have learned in my own history of depression, and again in coaxing a team out of my friends, is that what we know about depression remains a mystery. What we say about depression is lightly and cryptically misunderstood. And what we accept as truth from people who are depressed is uncomfortably ignored. This walk on Saturday won’t change that. It won’t find a cure for depression. But maybe it will ignite more dialogue so we can accept what depression is and what it isn’t. And so that’s what I’m doing.
A few years ago, my marriage took a nose dive at the same time as three of my family members passed away from cancer. Any one of those issues in isolation would rock a normal person’s world, and for me, they compounded and piled up until my brain, already prone to depression, shut down. The only problem – my face, really good at masking depression, kept on smiling. In fact, I am so good at hiding depression, most people don’t know when I am free falling into that dark place.
Yeah. So it’s not really surprising most people didn’t take me seriously when I said I was depressed. I didn’t look depressed. However depression is supposed to look, that wasn’t me. So most people just ignored what I said, changed the subject, or tried to get me to focus on something else. They didn’t know how depressed I was (it was bad) and they didn’t know what to say or do.
I really don’t have much in the way of wisdom about what to do other than to believe someone who says they are depressed. By diminishing what I said, we lost some trust between us. I don’t need you to fix it. I do need you to believe me.
Depression has a beginning, middle and end for me. I now know what the beginning stages of depression look like for me. And I say, “for me,” because the only thing I have learned is that we all cope with depression differently. I am by no means the spokeswoman of all who face of depression.
The first thing that decamps is my short term memory. In its place is… nothing. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I live in a city with a bunch of municipalities all scrunched together to make up “Greater Victoria.” While I don’t know every address in the city, I do know how to whip about from one municipality to another to hit Costco, my workplace, my home, and all the other things that make up life on South Vancouver Island. But then one day, I simply don’t know how to get from one place to another. I don’t remember why I’m on Lyall Street in Esquimalt. I don’t remember which road I need to turn down to get to Royal Oak where I live. I can have a conversation with you in my kitchen and by the time I’ve moved to the living room, that conversation never happened. Now before anyone helpfully suggests that sounds like early onset dementia, I assure you it’s not. It’s short and specific and it’s like the fog horn warning ships of rocks ahead. When that happens, I’m not doing so well.
My last round of depression was a doozy and I talked about it with everyone who would listen. I didn’t get one cup of coffee out of the deal.
Ironically, however, this part of my depression is rather pleasant. As long as I remember to use my car’s GPS, I can just happily drift about the city without a care in the world because while my ability to navigate took a hike, so did all my troubles and my cares. I’m often a little annoyed because I know my brain is functioning badly, but I’ve learned not to fight this stage. I’ll either waft back to reality or I’ll get depressed. Either way, a whole bunch of my brain chemicals are busy making that decision, so there’s not much I can do except wait it out. (If you see it happening to me, go point me towards a B Complex Vitamin and some Omega-3’s. They can literally be the missing piece that gets me back on track but – I’m not trying to be funny here – when I’m at this stage, I can’t remember what they are.)
Which brings me back to my depression a few years back. That one was pretty bad. Once that fog hit, down I went like a rock in the ocean. Some people will tell you that depression doesn’t look like a person crying. I can tell you that’s not always true. I cry. Sometimes over nothing. I know it’s nothing. YOU know it’s nothing. And yet there I am, dignity gone, memory back, and the emotional stability of a jilted ex, bawling my fool head off because of something so trivial, neither of us can figure out what we’re supposed to do to remedy it. There’s a kicker in there. Remember the vaguely pleasant stage? Once that bliss ends, I’m left with full memory, and I mean full memory. That thing that happened in grade two? It’s back. Only now it’s completely unresolved along with every single other memory that I can perseverate on.
So that depression. The Great Depression. It wasn’t my worst run in with depression, but it was the first time I was vocal about it, so it stands out for me. I remember my boss coming over to my desk where I was weeping while I worked. He stood sort of awkwardly off to the side and patted me on the shoulder. In a strange way, his was the most authentic attempt anyone made to reach me. He didn’t try and tell me everything was fine or that I should get over this female thing that was bothering me. He just kind of said with that pat, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do so here’s an acknowledgement.” A coworker, on the other hands, asked me how I was doing. I said I was depressed. He said he was sorry to hear that and he hoped I felt better. And then he did that every day for weeks until I blocked him on our work messenger.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful for my coworker’s question, it told me then, as it tells me now, people think “depression” and “sadness” are the same thing. They aren’t. I’m sad when a favourite character in a book dies. I’m sad when I hear bad news. But I don’t sink into a depression. It’s different. And it’s different because with depression, I feel like I’m drowning and it never stops. I don’t sit around all day crying. Sometimes I take everyone’s advice and laugh it off. Except while you see laughter, inside I am dead.
So now that I have shared the darkest, scariest thing I have to share, here’s some good news. After my last depression, I learned some better coping skills. Yes, I will still get depressed because I think my brain is just hardwired that way, but I now know my warning signs and my triggers. What took me months last time shakes off in a few days now. It’s one of the reasons you will very rarely see me drink – alcohol is a trip wire in my brain. If anything is already brewing in there, throwing alcohol into my brain explodes whatever might have been manageable.
I don’t know what the face of depression looks like, but mine is definitely one of them.
I have some preventative tools as well. I’m physically much more active than I ever have been. My food is pretty closely watched to make sure the right numbers of omegas and stuff are keeping my health in balance. And unlike in years past when depression was something that simply happened to me, I am very aware that, for me anyway, fighting depression doesn’t change a single thing, so I mark it on the calendar, go make a salad with some salmon and a dressing made from overpriced Bulletproof oil, and wait for it to pass. It’s weirdly dissociative, but it works.
So why am I sharing all of this?
Well for one thing I want you to join my team for the Defeat Depression walk and I figured if you know why I am doing the walk, maybe you will feel more inclined to join me. But I’m also sharing because I feel as though it’s time to stop hiding it. I don’t know what the face of depression looks like, but mine is definitely one of them.
By the way, did I mention the walk is on Saturday? Whether you want to register and walk or if you want to just come and cheer, it’s this Saturday at 10am at Bamfield Park. If you want to register, visit www.defeatdepression.com and look for Victoria, then look for the Victoria Labour Council team. The VLC has very generously sponsored a team. If you wish to donate, you can donate here.