Though it’s after eight, the street is still buzzing with barking dogs and laughing children. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than half a year since I sat at my writing perch and typed my way to sanity. For nearly one hundred and ninety Tuesday nights, I protected my blogging binges at all costs. That changed as I entered a particularly dark season of my life, one I’m still finding my way through.
This morning while crossing the Hampton Roads Harbor, I noticed that the sun was shining, glistening off the surface of the water. It didn’t make me smile or warm inside, but I noticed that I noticed. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been aware of the sun. For too long I’ve been going through the motions, driving to and from work, hitting the gym without enthusiasm, feeling time passing slowly like an hourglass that’s been jammed by grains of sand. Winter’s always cold and dark, and I hoped my moods would lift with the arrival of spring. The sun came, and with it warmth, but my world still felt cold and dark.
I’d been fighting through the darkness in silence, unable to identify its root or power. I no longer felt interested in personal passions and hobbies. It was February when I sat through a professional development session entitled “More than Sad”. It was about understanding mental illness. It was there, sitting amongst colleagues after school in the media center that I realized I was more than just sad. I was depressed. The trainer on the video screen had listed all my symptoms and put a name to them.
Even the sanctity of this white wicker love seat and the established practice of writing as therapy couldn’t inspire me. For a woman once driven by impulses to find herself void of them was like opening coffers of gold to find the treasure had been stolen. For a while I did the things I knew to do, but eventually, absent desire, I just stopped doing entirely. That’s when it started to become a challenge to get dressed for work and wash my hair. Even at my nephew’s soccer games, I felt disconnected and on the outside of the life happening around me. Time slowed so much that proctoring a student test for three hours felt like actual torture.
And as I write those words, I know I’ve made progress. Like noticing the shining sun, there are tiny glimmers of hope that I’m discovering myself again, if not a slightly changed version. It started with seeking help. I saw a counselor and then a doctor. I was put on medication. I ended the silence at work and confided with an administrator who was very understanding. I sunk lower somehow and found that, after telling my friends what I was experiencing, they still wanted to be in my company even if I was feeling low. I didn’t want to do anything, but often they encouraged me to go to the beach or meet for a drink, and those normal outings sometimes held glimmers of hope that things would be better.
One day a couple weeks ago at the gym I was feeling so low that I actually googled “How to get out of depression”. I scanned some typical articles then landed on some blog posts. One suggested that the motivation or drive to do something didn’t initiate action, so a person struggling with depression needs to act first instead of waiting for the desire to come. It was the first piece of advice that altered how I approached life. Since that day, I’ve scheduled tasks to fill up the empty hours between work and bedtime. I rarely want to do them, but I have to admit there has been some level of satisfaction in the doing itself.
Another blog mentioned that the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns hadn’t cured her depression, but it had marked a turning point in her way of thinking. Mostly, it totes itself as the non-medicinal cure, but ultimately, it’s a guide to understanding cognitive behavioral therapy. Its premise is that there are certain dysfunctional attitudes and types of thinking that are at the root of depression. In essence, I don’t want to be alone with myself because my brain is a negative space. I might personalize an unreturned email from a colleague to infer an imagined problem when the email simply was filtered to a spam folder. After reading this book, I’ve been intentionally trying to change my internal monologue to avoid dysfunctions like that.
With every Tuesday since October, I’ve thought about sitting down to right but always dismissed it for some reason or another. Until tonight, I didn’t feel I had anything worthwhile to write about. I don’t have a dream job or a man who loves me. There’s no princes or weddings or lights at the end of the tunnel. It was just this weekend while talking with a friend about his life problem’s that I realized my battle with depression is my reality and therefore my subject manner. Since sharing my struggle with my administrator, I have gained confidence being open about what I’m experiencing. And I’ve found, more often than not, that the people on the other end of the conversation have fought their own battles and understand. I’ve mostly imagined the stigma attached to the diagnosis, too.
Perhaps the greatest change I made, inspired by Burns’ book, was to make a list. It started out as “10 Actionable Personal Challenges”. I began thinking about things that I could do to change my life circumstances, to make this season without impulse one framed by self-improvement in all areas. At first, I wasn’t sure I could come up with ten, but the typed list grew and the table expanded until I had thirty things that I could do with all my uninspired time. Having accepted that the will wouldn’t be there, I chose action. I went from curling up on the coach after work to having more than enough to do in a day… not mindlessly watching Netflix, but reading books and completing meaningful tasks.
I’m on day four, and like noticing the sun shining, opting to curl up on my front porch on a Tuesday night again shows progress. That’s the thing about depression. When you’re in it, you lose all passion for life. So when you’re coming out it, you get to appreciate the little things again, savoring them one at a time. The street has quieted around me as I’ve typed, the sun past setting. Chirping birds replaced the laughing children. And I notice them, too.