Depression and anxiety are as much a part of my genes as blue eyes and big jowls and chin dimples. The cycle through mountains and valleys of temperament, the weight of panic that sometimes feels like a Giles Corey-style boulder to the chest, the bouts of tears and the seasons of numbness are all regular neighborhood faces in Haleyland, and have been since I was a pensive, sensitive child, terrified I might get cancer, and extremely bothered that my mother had to actually pay my babysitter to get her to watch me after school.
With years of practice, I’ve learned to navigate the waters of my depression and pilot the skies of my anxiety. I’ve used every trick in the self-help book, from journaling and therapy, to meditation and yoga. And though I have never managed to cure anything, for quite some time I had figured out how to sit with my sadness whenever it came to town for a visit, and talk my anxiety down like a jumper off a ledge.
It wasn’t a perfect system, but it mostly worked.
It’s been different since mom got sick and came back into my life, even more so since she died. I can’t quite escape feeling like I’ve been treading water, in the ocean, above a shark, in a monster storm, with no land in sight, from the moment I entered that ER and looked down at a woman whose face couldn’t be more similar to my own but whose soul had always remained, and will remain for the rest of my life, an unsolvable mystery.
People say I did right by her but I feel like I did the bare minimum of what was human and necessary. I tolerated her. I helped pay back my debt as a helpless child who once needed her assistance for food and baths and clothes and shelter. I said, “Let’s watch Golden Girls” so we wouldn’t have to talk. I brought her whatever she wanted to eat to keep her in a good mood, and ate every last crumb of the leftovers in order to fill my esophagus with anything but the words I was too scared and too tired to say. I took care of her so no one else could say I didn’t do enough. No one else but me, anyway.
The guilt has been unbearable the past few months, and by that I mean the kind of guilt that sneaks up behind you like a burglar in the dark, the kind of guilt that slashes your throat with a butcher knife and makes you gasp for air while searching for a dish towel to stop the bleeding, having to work extra hard not to slip on the growing pool of your own blood beneath your bare feet. I mean unbearable like giving up and stopping every several paddles- letting yourself sink instead of treading the water, in the ocean, above a shark, in a monster storm, with no land in sight- but finding some semblance of strength and resilience right before your lungs fill with sea, bursting through the surface in juuuuust enough time, only to have no other option but to get back to treading water all over again.
My doctors have been messing around with my meds a lot and so my system is, unsurprisingly, way off balanced. I am crying a lot for no reason, my limbs are tingly and numb, and the slightest inconvenience makes me feel like the world may end. I have enough experience with this sort of thing to know it is temporary, to know it is fixable, to know it too shall pass. But that doesn’t make it easier. I feel an increasingly additional guilt for not being able to forge any fucking semblance of moving the fuck on yet. I feel embarrassed and ashamed, at work and in my social life, when I can’t complete tasks that used to come easy or involuntary. When I can’t get through a simple shoot without needing a day of recovery afterward. When I want to stay home and do nothing, though I finally have the time to visit with people I have put off the last few years. How do you get people to understand that something as simple as street construction can make your chest feel as though it’s being wrung through a medieval torture device? That something as undemanding as walking across a street or returning a phone call feels like slaying a dragon at the top of a storybook tower? That being cordial and friendly during the work week means going to a movie or having coffee with a friend at night or on the weekend is about as appealing as getting a root canal? That sending a single email takes a gas tank’s worth of energy? That choosing not to binge eat means not allowing yourself approximately 3.5 minutes of joy during the otherwise only tolerable day? That going to the gym involves 100 separate hurdles to jump over and sweat through before you can even put on your sneakers? That getting out of bed and brushing your hair and teeth in the morning takes as much power as lighting the entire goddamn Empire State Building?
I’m not saying any of this for sympathy. Quite the contrary, I actually feel like an asshole about 99% of the time for NOT being in a better place yet. I’m definitely not saying any of this for advice either, thankyouverymuch. I just feel that talking about stuff like this helps others who have never dealt with depression or anxiety or grief have a glimpse into what it actually is like, as much as it helps folks who DO have it know that they aren’t alone. I watched the series 13 Reasons Why recently, at the suggestion of a friend, and I was terribly disappointed how they glossed over Hannah’s internal struggles. I very much feel like it was a show written about depression and bullying and sexual abuse by someone who has never had direct experience with any of those topics. Someday I know I’ll want to write something more important and influential than a blog about all of those subjects- subjects I know like a lifelong friend- but again…I’m at a place in my life where walking out my front door is something I have to give myself a pep talk about in order to accomplish. So now is not the time.
I also just want anyone who might care to know I am still not back to myself yet. I guess, my point is, please don’t be offended if I can’t help you with projects right now or if I’m flaky or unresponsive or if I seem moody or unapproachable, or lazy or apathetic. I am certainly all those things right now, but I know I won’t be forever. I keep wanting to be fixed sooner rather than later, but I guess there is no timeline for grief and no outline for depression. I do know, in spite of some dark recent thoughts to the contrary, that I’m not going to stop trying. I’m going to keep treading water until I eventually spot the sweet peek of restful land on the horizon. And then, when that finally happens, I’m going to fucking swim.