I spent most of last Saturday on my hands and knees in the yard, trying to undo six months of neglect in one day. I made some progress, not nearly enough, but I really didn’t expect to. A lot of weeds can grow in a summer. I found one small morning glory that shouldn’t even have been open that late in the day, buried deep in the weeds. It gave me hope that something had survived my neglect. While I was crawling around, it occurred to me that this was something I needed to write about. Not my yard, but the reason it got in such a mess. Not because it’s my story, but because this is a conversation everyone needs to have. So this is my story of a summer of depression. You won’t find very much romance in it. Sorry.
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that gardening is one of my passions. I put my garden in this spring, and then everything…stopped. My work schedule changed. I went from night shift to day shift and back to nights, all in six weeks, and my body clock refused to re-set itself. I couldn’t sleep. I tried every over-the-counter sleep remedy known to man, and drank gallons of coffee to stay awake when I had to work. I walked around in a sleep-deprived daze. After three episodes of heart palpitations, chest pains, and shortness of breath, I went to the ER and endured a stress test, only to be told there was nothing wrong with my heart.
During this, I was withdrawing into myself. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even my husband, and most phone calls went to voice mail. I sat at my computer and played endless games of solitaire, because the characters in my head had stopped talking. Through the window beside my computer, I watched my flower beds turn into weed-infested thickets. The worst part was, I knew what was happening and felt powerless to stop it.
The breaking point came one day when I was standing in my kitchen, looking at all the dirty dishes and too exhausted to do anything about them. I looked at the knife block, and thought, ‘Why not? It would be so easy.’ Spoiler alert: I didn’t do it. I didn’t even pick up a knife, not even to put it in the dishwasher. I called my doctor and made an appointment, then called my niece and told her what was going on. The hardest part was talking to my husband, who lost a son to suicide. He listened very quietly, then asked what I needed. I cried and told him I didn’t know.
The point I want to make by telling this is that depression is a cunning disease. It isolates you from everyone, an insidious whisper that tells you that no one cares, that no one wants to hear you whine about how bad your life is, when they all know it’s not bad at all. Every time a celebrity takes their own life, the posts go round social media, “If you’re depressed or thinking about suicide, call someone.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it is unrealistic. Depression binds your voice, makes it nearly impossible to reach out to anyone. The posts should say, “If I see a change in your behavior, I’m going to call you.” This is hard to do; in polite society, we are taught to mind our own business. Believe me, being pushy and nosy is easier to deal with than the path of emotional destruction left by a suicide.
This post has been one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever written. Contrary to what the Facebook meme says, even in the south, we don’t put crazy on the front porch and give it sweet tea. We still try to hide mental illness, as if it is something to be ashamed of and not the disease that it is. If we are going to eliminate the stigma attached to depression, we have to talk about it, not ignore it. We have to drag it, kicking and screaming, out of the darkness of our minds where it hides, and expose it to the light of the world.
Now everyone knows about my particular brand of crazy. I don’t use that word in a derogatory sense; laughing at myself is one of my coping mechanisms. I’m glad to be able to say that, with an increase in my depression meds, meds to help me sleep, and an impending switch back to day shift, I’m doing much better. I’m writing again, not as much as before, but it’s coming. I’ve picked up my camera again, worked on my yard, and cleaned my house. Okay, I’ve sort of cleaned my house, but it’s better than it was. But there’s always the knowledge that the dark voice is still there, waiting for an opportunity to come to the front again.
Like my one little morning glory, I hope this story can be someone’s beacon of hope. If you know someone who is suffering from depression, reach out to them. More than likely, they will tell you that they’re fine, but make the effort to let them know that you’re there for them. If you have this disease, please, please reach out to someone. It can be treated. The nasty voice is a liar, and you are not worthless. Your gifts are too great to be hidden in this horrible darkness. Let them out into the light.