Although it is hard for me to admit, I have suffered from and am being treated for clinical depression. I was diagnosed at around 28 years old, but when I look back over my life – and read through my high school journals, creative writings and year books – I realize I’ve been suffering from this condition for most of my life. This condition is so real that I named it. I call her “Bertha” and she is so real that I can often feel her in the pit of my stomach. It’s not something I can just pull myself out of nor is it something I can forget about and let it go away. It is a medical condition like any other. It just happens to be mental and therefore society looks at it as a weakness that needs to be hidden.
When actor/comedian Robin Williams took his own life, many people I know were quite judgmental. I didn’t really comment too much because I had been feeling my depression symptoms coming back for several months and was trying my best to just ignore them. Commenting on Williams’ death would serve only to make me face my own struggle. My youngest daughter exposed a popular misconception about clinical depression and depression disorders when she said to me, “I don’t care who you are, if you want help, it’s out there. You just have to ask for it.”
I tried to explain to her why people often can’t ask for help. I told her that clinical depression is like many other medical conditions and used Diabetes to try to help her understand. I explained when diabetic patients have an episode, their disease takes over and they have no control over what happens. Sure, they may have had control before they ate or drank something, or by not eating or drinking something. They might also have done everything “right,” and their disease took over anyway. The point is when they hit that diabetic wall, their condition takes over, rendering them unable to ask for help. When this happens, diabetic patients have to depend upon those around them to see the signs and call for help. That is exactly how depression often works. It is often harder for loved ones to recognize the signs of depression, especially in those of us who use humor to cope with life, but it’s also hard for us to admit just how bad things are getting too.
Slowly, with the help of my daughters, my mother, my doctor, and especially my husband, I can see myself coming out of the worst depression storm I have ever experienced. I saw on Facebook something that Haruki Murakami said and it may just be a quote that has changed my life. He said “When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.” Perhaps this storm, or Bertha, is here to teach me that I need to re prioritize my life.
I’ve put my husband on the symbolic “back-burner” for a very long time. It’s an easy thing to do and seldom intentional but often a damaging choice we all make a depression has little to do with that choice most of the time. During this stormy season of my life I have found that it is my husband who is never too busy, too tired, or too ignorant of the gravity of the situation to drop everything and be there for me. When I need to cry, although it makes him very uncomfortable because he wants to “do” something to “fix it,” he simply holds me. When I yell irrationally about how he is breathing, he calmly finds something to do in another room. When I need to just talk, he just listens. Others in my life simply exit my life for awhile. In some ways that’s good. I’d likely lose all of my relationships if they didn’t. Their absence, however, works to show me that I have been the one to keep those relationships in tack, often at the expense of my husband. It’s a lesson I guess Bertha had to teach me.
Instead of staying away, my husband has done anything he could think of to help ease my symptoms. He knew I wasn’t sleeping; we bought a new mattress. The sixteen-year-old ceiling fan in our bedroom was ugly and it rattled, keeping me awake. He bought a new one. He knows that the thing that has always helped relax him is to have completed projects and an organized space. He decided to give those things to me. He got the fan up then he took the treadmill I can no longer use out to the barn and then created a nice reading/thinking spot for me in the bedroom. If I felt up to making the symbolic “Honey Do” list, I could most assuredly get everything done as he’d not stop until I felt better or he ran out of projects.
This storm in my life is teaching me a lot about myself and the people I have kept in my life. Sixteen years ago when my husband met me, he worked tirelessly to put my children’s lives back together. Today he works to put my emotional well-being back together. I do not think I have ever allowed myself to love him the way he loves me until recently, but I know that I do not ever want to live one day without this man. When I come out of this storm, I hope to be the loving partner for him that he has always been for me – even when I didn’t deserve it. That is the rainbow I see at the end of this storm.