I’ve been dealing with an onset of depression recently. It’s weird. Sometimes I feel like I talk about my depression the way people talk about colds. “I caught some depression while I was outside the other day”. Maybe it’s more like the way people talk about allergies. “Man, my depression is really bothering me.” Sometimes I feel like I talk about my depression the way that people talk about hemorrhoids. “My depression is flaring up again!” In any case, I’ve come to terms with the fact that while I may not always have the severity of depression I once had or that I may have long stretches without it, managing it will be a lifelong process.
When I say “recently”, in retrospect, it’s been most of the month of May. I think part of the problem was that the high from getting engaged didn’t last very long. It didn’t take long for people to make something that was supposed to be about me and my family about them. And yes, the congratulations were disproportionately greater than the other stuff, but like with most things, the negativity is the stuff that sticks. I’ve also had some wrestling with my denomination going on, a conference that didn’t go as I had hoped, and more than a few reminders that I am estranged from people that I love. There are people in my life who have gone through some very hard things this month. Donald Trump is still president. His antics add a baseline level of anxiety to my life. Plus, being in a church again, I feel somewhat responsible for formulating faithful responses to his antics. It’s not an easy task. It often feels hopeless.
Oh, and did I mention the rain? May was ridiculously rainy! Rain, I remind myself regularly, is very good for the garden. It is not, however, good for the gardener who gets his life from being outside with his hands in the dirt and the sun on his face. My garden right now is mostly healthy and beautiful, but I feel like a little kid stuck inside wishing I could go out and play.
My therapist has, in the past, reminded me that the seasonal stuff is real and that I need to pay attention to it. Sometimes, though, it just feels like I’m an adult and I should not need for it to be sunny for me to be happy. But alas…
The above things are what I am using to try to justify my current bout of depression. I’d actually like to believe that it is these external factors that are weighing me down. The truth is that none of these variables are particularly new or acute at the moment. Sure, maybe they hit me this month in different combinations, but it’s nothing I haven’t been dealing with since I started taking my depression seriously. No, the scary part for me is that my brain just decided that it was time to be blue. No real rhyme or reason to it, just a reset to the default setting.
Part of that default is wrestling with the demons in my head. They are the ones who have been there forever; the ones who tell me that I have fucked my life up too badly, the ones who tell me that I am unworthy of love, the ones who remind me of how hurtful I’ve been to others, the ones who tell me that I will fuck things up again (my demons love to say “fuck”… probably why I haven’t gotten rid of them). I read the New Testament stories of demon possession far differently these days. I believe in the demonic forces that steal joy and break you away from community. I believe any Messiah worth his salt would spend his days driving those forces away from the people he loved.
I sometimes wonder if it would be better if I weren’t as high functioning of a depressive as I am. I can go to meetings and turn on the charm. I can hang out with people and smile and laugh. I can do my work, and this month I think I’ve done my job at a pretty high level. I am sad incognito. I’ve written about this before, but for me, depression manifests as low energy, scattered mind, and emotional numbing. It’s the latter that I use to maintain my “professionalism”… the little that I have. I can be doing exciting things but I don’t let myself feel the high. The flip side of that, the self protection side, is that I’m keeping myself from feeling the lows. I don’t want to go wherever the lows might take me right now. Sometimes I wish it was completely debilitating. Sometimes I want to curl up and let days go by without interactions. That’s what I feel.
“But Derrick, I thought your new medication was working really well?”
My, you are attentive when I speak! It’s true. I’m having much better results with Effexor than I did with Celexa, minus the fact that I am constantly sweating. It was suggested awhile ago that I might need to up the dosage. I fought that off because I was feeling good and because I hate the adjustment period when I increase the dosage. I also sometimes get scared that I will be in a never-ending cycle of increased medication until one day nothing works. I will probably need to up my meds, but that adds to the sadness. The rest of you have to deal with Trump as the orange thing that’s running the world. For me, it’s Effexor. Lord Effexor, excuse me. There’s still a part of me that feels the stigma of needing meds.
My good friend has been writing and talking about his depression a lot as I’ve been going through this recent dark season. It has helped to reach out to him, both to let him know that he’s not alone and to take my mind off of my own malaise. Sometimes the trick to getting out of depression is getting outside of yourself. I suppose that’s why I feel best with the kids around. They don’t allow me to go too far into myself. They don’t let me take myself too seriously. And their joy is contagious. The puppy and the cat help sometimes too. Neither of them really give a shit about my emotions. The puppy loves me unconditionally. The cat loves me VERY conditionally.
It won’t be this way forever. My therapist commended me for recognizing that. She’s actually been very complimentary of how I’m handling myself this time. I’m being self aware and as mindful as I know how to be. I’m doing a good job of not following my dark thoughts down rabbit holes for long periods of time. I’ve started exercising again. I’m probably drinking a bit too much, but not alone. I’m not isolating. I’m actually probably erring on the side of being around people when I should take some more time to myself. Right now, the company feels healthier. And I’m trying to practice gratitude. I have quite a bit for which to be thankful. When I can, I spend time in my garden. I shove my hands in the dirt, prune back leaves, flick slugs off of my plants. I admire my pollinator garden full of perennials that I planted last year daily, rain or shine. The colors make me smile and I imagine summer days when the bees will be hovering around the blossoms.
And that’s how I know this won’t last. Despite everything, I have a vision for the future. I think about the future of my little church, a group of faithful, courageous, and imaginative people who I am honored to serve. I think about my kids, and how before my eyes they are becoming these funny, creative, kind, and just plain interesting people. I can’t wait to see what’s next for them. I think about wearing a wedding ring again. I think about impatiently eating the cherry tomatoes off of the vines, and making pesto from basil that I’ve grown, and figuring out what exactly you do with broccoli rabe. In my darkest days, in the depths of my depression, I would be unable to imagine a future. Now, I have to peer through a deep fog to see it, but I do see it. One day, maybe soon, the demons will be driven out and I will fortify myself against them, because I know that they will return. And we will dance this dance until the dance ends for good. I hope when that day comes I can look back and say that I didn’t let them win…