I am tired before I even open my eyes. My body is an anchor to the bed and disengaging from my slumber seems a near impossible task. I feel worn out from a game yet to be played.
I stumble through the morning routine. I pack lunches, sign papers and send three happy girls off to school. It is an effort, but the force of my children pushes me through the early hours of the day.
Later, I sit alone at my granite countertop. I look down and see the dust and paper and crumbs scattered on my hardwood floors like the remains of a party I did not attend. I putter around my home, moving things from here to there, yet getting nothing done.
I need to run to the grocery store but the trip seems daunting. I could write, but the words seem too far off to put on paper. I should exercise.
Instead, I pick up my phone and text my friend. “I don’t think I can make lunch today. I have a wicked headache. Can we reschedule?”
“Of course,” she writes back. “Feel better. I need to run some errands anyway.”
Her response stings. I imagine her out in the world, doing all the things a mother is supposed to do. She works part time, socializes with friends and honors her obligations.
I try to do these things as well, but the execution falls short. Instead of accomplishing these simple tasks, I force rank them in my head, deciding which events I can muddle through and those I can avoid.
I am ashamed at my behavior, my desire to seclude myself in my home away from people who care about me. I am distraught that I am no longer the person I thought myself to be. Once an outgoing extrovert known for her ability to get things done, I now feel unreliable, irresponsible, flighty and curt.
“It’s not my fault,” I tell myself. A soreness starts to creep into my left eye, a constant reminder of a freak illness I contracted a year ago. Nerve damage from parasites that invaded my cornea causes headaches and discomfort, and at times impacts my vision. I lost six months of my life due to intense light sensitivity and pain due to swollen corneal nerves, and I am bitter about it.
But I know I should be grateful. Unlike many others, I did not need a cornea transplant nor did I lose the use of my eye. I should — I must — be grateful for what I do have. Friends, family, and a beautiful home. It did not kill me. It was not cancer. I am still here.
I want to be one of those people who becomes greater after their life-changing experience, but I cannot move my feet forward. I am stuck in the cement of my mind.
My energy drains like a toy dying from old batteries. I make more excuses to avoid finishing the simplest tasks. I fold a load of laundry to prove to my husband I accomplished something — anything — today.
The day passes by and before I know it I find myself in a room with my kids, yet I cannot engage in today’s school stories. I smile and nod and sometimes even laugh. I cluck reminders to “hurry up” or “get your soccer shoes on.” I tell a joke that even gets them to chuckle. Then I walk away from the moment like it never happened.
This cycle of behavior continues for several months. I do not share my feelings with anyone. I do not want to appear ungrateful for the life I lead, I do not want to be judged for my apathy. I do not want people to know I am haunted by a pain no longer there, a sadness I do not know how to explain.
Until one day.
An old friend calls out of the blue, and I uncharacteristically answer. We talk and she says, “You don’t sound right.”
The words bring me to my knees.
“I think you need to talk to someone. I know people who have PTSD symptoms after experiencing harrowing illnesses. You’ve been through a lot. I’m going to send you the number of a friend who does some phone counseling for women with postpartum depression. I’m going to let her know you might call.”
I choke back tears and say, “Thanks, but I’m okay. I am just tired.”
I can’t take her seriously. Why would I need to talk to someone? I know people who deal with depression, and they do not look like me. I see people struggling with tremendous issues such as addictions or abuse or acts of war, and my problems, my paltry, small, insignificant problems, do not measure up to them.
There is no way someone like me, someone who has everything, could be depressed about her life. There is no way I can’t get past this. There is no way I shouldn’t be grateful.
But the fight I have with gratitude each day is exhausting. It is a never-ending tug-of-war that slowly deflates my soul like a nail in a tire. The positive attitude that defined my life no longer exists. I am an actress playing a role I no longer understand.
That night while sitting on my leather couch watching television, I say the words out loud to my husband. “I think I am depressed.”
He looks hard at me and I feel naked, embarrassed, and humiliated.
I am surprised when he does not appear shocked by my secret. “OK. What can I do to help,” he responds kindly.
“I don’t know,” I whisper.
I wake the next morning with new resolve. I take a walk. I go through my errands. I write. I engage.
But it is tiring. I fight my way through the fog for weeks until I feel better, just a little bit, but better.
I begin to feel clear headed and less anxious. I fight through the pain and do not let it stop me. I force myself to be around people, and recognize how socialization helps my mood. Accomplishing small tasks feel great. I am proud.
I finally pick up the phone. My hand shakes and my heart beats faster and I pray another voice does not come on the line.
But it does, and I talk to this psychologist, a therapist specializing in depression among women of childbearing age.
She asks me questions and I hear her pen moving quickly on a sheet of paper hundreds of miles away. I take deep breaths and feel my face flush when I know I provide information that will legitimize my covert life.
At the end of our forty-five minutes, she remarks: “You are one strong lady.”
I am stunned at this remark as my eyes sting from salted tears.
“I think you experienced a depressive episode, and subconsciously you recognized this and intellectually took the steps to get you on the right path again. What happened to you was extremely traumatic and probably altered you chemically and emotionally. While at this time I do not think you need to be in counseling or medicated, I do believe you should have a doctor on hand in the instance you go through this again. You are very lucky because this could have spiraled out of control. Make sure your family watches for signs.”
I hang up and instead of feeling relieved, I feel shame of a different kind. I did not think depression could happen to me, someone who has everything. People close to me fight this invisible illness, and I should have been more open to receiving help instead of hiding my problem and avoiding the stigma. I know better.
I resolve to start talking openly about my personal struggle with depression, and my bout with chronic pain.
My weaknesses are now exposed, and hiding it no longer seems worthy of the experience. Others suffering may be more, but that does not mean mine did not matter. I cradle the pain, imprinting the feeling on my soul like a tattoo, so as never to forget this flash of understanding.
And while I worry that the pain and darkness of depression may come back again one day, I know I will not “gratitude” my problems away.
If there is a next time, I will pick up the phone.