This is going to be a harder blog to write.
So, I suffer from depression. This is not a new thing, if I’m being honest. It’s probably something I’ve always felt in some capacity–touched by this feeling of Knowing and Understanding from a young age. I was always called an “old soul,” never exactly felt right in my childhood body. I say I’ve “suffered” from it, but I don’t know if that’s really the right word, the accurate one. It’s always been there in some capacity, sometimes more quietly, like the hum of appliances in the background, and sometimes I feel it as though it were another person I was accommodating in my mind. Not always an easy friend to have, but one who I understood, and who understood me.
Depression runs in my family, more openly discussed regarding my mother’s side, but something that I can feel on my father’s side, too. It’s hard to compare the two families equally, being that I don’t really know my mom’s side as well (although fortunately, things like social media have helped bridge that gap in some ways), but I certainly understand the way it operates on my dad’s side more. I think it is something that defines us, that makes me understand them better, and certain family members even more. There is a strength in us, but a vulnerability too that makes us feel the world a little differently. Maybe everyone has this, maybe everyone feels this way about their family, but I guess because we share blood and bones and DNA, I feel it more acutely.
My depression is manageable most of the times until it’s not, usually offset by some major stress/significant change, or often it’s seasonal, especially in the winter.
Winter is a season I both love and dread for this. I’ve come to understand that I operate differently during the winter, that my thoughts are different. It’s a time of reflection, of darkness, of self-evaluation and contemplation. There is some hibernation that comes with this territory, some isolation. And to me, that’s okay, because sometimes I need that time away from people, inside myself to really think about the things I’m feeling, to really absorb all the people and life that is happening around me and at me.
But there’s usually a point during the winter, towards the middle or the end, where it becomes a little too consuming. Where the time spent out of the sunshine and limited indoors is a bit too much and the company inside my head is not the most pleasant. It becomes much more difficult to do things, like get out of bed in the morning, or to keep myself from crawling back in it the minute I get home, warm, safe, alone.
I’m thankful my boyfriend understands it enough and has helped me get through it, making dinner, giving me a routine, helping me probably without fully realizing he was. I’m sure if I lived alone most of these winter nights I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to fix myself supper, or even bother to turn on Netflix to catch an interesting show.
This period doesn’t ever last particularly long, but just long enough. Long enough for the other part of me that craves action and function and discipline, to snap back into place. I realize I need to do something to pull out of this, that this is not a way to live or be all the time.
I’ve debated taking meds for it, and twice have for very short periods of time. I felt better when I did, but I felt as though there were things I could be doing that didn’t require the medicine to make me get out of it.
(*This isn’t saying I’m against use of medication to treat something like this. I think people need to do what they need to do to get to a place where they feel good and who the fuck am I to tell someone else they’re living their own shit wrong?).
I knew if I forced myself to get up, to exercise, even if it was just for a little, that I would feel better. So I started getting up earlier, started stretching in the morning, started meditating, although I was skeptical (honestly, it really fucking helps me, although my mind is so addled with a constant stream of thoughts at this point I rely totally on guided meditation podcasts, a woman with a soothing voice who always seems to have topics extremely relevant to whatever demon I’m facing that day, who gives me the images and the thoughts to help replace the ones that are taking up too much real estate).
I force myself to do 15 minutes on the treadmill (I actually listen to my meditation podcast during this exercise time. I know that sort of goes against some of the ideas of meditation, but it’s actually quite effective for me.)
And at the end of this time, I always end up feeling better, more centered and grounded and sane. Around this time, I finally really explained to Colin how I’ve been feeling, about the depression, about what goes on in my head sometimes
(This is not a topic I’ve readily discussed with anyone until recently–I think because I just didn’t want to a) deal with the weird assumptions/pity/think-they-know-what-the-problem-is-or-how-it-should-be-“fixed” that happens when you share a vulnerability with someone, b) kind of feel that the stuff I feel is stuff that everyone feels on some level, just maybe sometimes it’s a little more intense, c) know people who are really fucking suffering from depression, in a way that I cannot begin to fathom, and so I feel like I’m cheapening their experience by calling mine the same thing.)
I was appreciative at how supportive he was, and continues to be, and talking about our own experiences helped how we’re able to navigate stressful times and the feelings/emotions that come up when they occur.
He bought me a sun light, which I was excited to try, but then the sun finally started shining again — I swear there was literally a 4-week period where every day was grey — which was so fucking welcome, and also did its part to help alleviate what I was feeling. So, with exercise and meditation and stretching and sort of sporadic yoga thrown in with the stretching and music therapy, I’ve been in a much, much better place.
But being in a better place doesn’t mean that I’m not still working through things, sorting them out, feeling the feelings and deciding what to do with them. I don’t think I’ll ever be; I think that’s just part of the living.
Sometimes the meditation and the stretching help and the treadmill help to calm me, sometimes it makes some of the stickier, more ugly things bubble up, requiring me to deal with them (I liken it to clearing out the residue or build up of mental junk that’s been sitting for a while–you’re finally getting rid of it, but it might take a little extra time to brush it off, get it “unstuck”).
The past couple weeks have been especially crazy, in good ways and some especially trying ones, and I have been trying to ride the waves without getting pulled under with moderate success. The self-care routines help, but also sort of draw some of the anxieties more to the surface and make me have to deal with the individual thoughts and emotions that are causing them.
I have a playlist that I’ve been slowly adding to since I started doing this. First, it was just a few songs, enough to cover the minutes I allotted to stretching and some yoga. But then I realized I enjoyed that time most of my morning activities, and sometimes the focus or intentions during this time called for different-feeling music and so the list kept growing and now it’s nice because it’s sort of this eclectic and interesting range of artists and feelings represented on there.
Also, interestingly, though I admit it was annoying at first, Spotify has added this sort of Pandora-component to its streaming service where it’ll throw in a random bonus song based on the other stuff you like/have on your list. (Like I said, at first this really annoyed me because I had a pretty tightly curated list and wanted to hear exactly the songs that I selected, but then I caught myself really liking some of the wildcards and so I try to be more open-minded when the music shifts like that).
This week has come with a lot of emotions and my anxiety has been off the charts, but yesterday really helped me to see that the situation is getting better and I, in turn, felt better and finally got a decent night’s sleep and was able to wake up feeling refreshed, excited, and grateful for the experiences I’ve been having and the promise of the future ones to come.
And so while yesterday’s morning session was a little more of a challenge, especially since earlier in the week I struggled to get out of bed so much that I could only get to the stretching part of the routine and the day after that I totally skipped the entire routine because I was trying to finish up another project that needed to get done, today I was motivated and almost excited to put my gym clothes on. I prepped what I needed and made my way into my office/exercise area and turned on the music.
Before starting with my regular playlist, I added a new song, “Wild Life,” by the Talking Heads, which just seems so springlike and fitting, and then I let the playlist shuffle, seeing where it’d take me next. It landed on “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.
This song has a lot of family meaning to me. It reminds me very much of that feeling I described earlier that I feel connects me to my relatives. It reminds me of that tenderness, that wiseness, that vulnerability. It also makes me reflect on the relatives I’ve lost, from illness, from suicide, from things I still can’t fully understand. As it played, I thought a lot about my grandfather, about my cousin Butchie, and then, inevitably, about my mother.
I still get blown away at those moments where I really get hit with the feeling of loss that comes from her illness. I keep thinking after so many goddamn years of it that I’ve gotten to the bottom of it finally. But then something opens that scar up and I fall into it again and go to a level of hurt and feeling and pain and nostalgia that I almost completely forgot existed.
Grief is a bit of an obsession of mine. It’s an interesting concept to me, the way that it sort of shape shifts in how it presents itself–the way it can simultaneously be anger, and depression, and acceptance and how different and equal and necessary they all feel. And it’s something that we all feel–no matter our status, our country of origin, our background. It is one of the great equalizers–we have all suffered in some way, we have all felt that sort of pain about something, or someone.
And so I sat there, cross-legged on the floor of my office in my gym clothes, sobbing to Pink Floyd.
I recognize that this is part of the process, this is part of the healing, so I just went with it–I left myself cry, let myself think all the thoughts and process them, accept them, and allow myself to cry harder by thinking them. I recognized the fact that this might be what today’s session would be–that sometimes this is the exercise I needed.
Soon enough, the song was over and Spotify shuffled on to the next. This time it chose a wildcard, one I hadn’t heard before. And at first, I was annoyed, because I was just at this place and in a moment with a familiar friend, a song that has sort of helped me work through a lot of this stuff before, then suddenly I was sitting there, alone in a room with a stranger.
As this new song played on, I kept catching little bits of the lyrics, but wasn’t totally sure exactly what they were saying, but it sounded oddly relevant. I looked at my phone and saw the song was by a band I used to really love back in my 20s, one that I sort of just drifted away from for whatever reason. But recognizing the band and hearing those bits of interesting lyrics made me curious, so I decided to Google the rest of them. And as I sat there, reading them, and knowing all the things I just told you, I felt compelled to write this blog.
My family breeds Wild winter seeds Like me
We all seem to get tossed into the brush
I don’t want to make my case alone For this lost race no Digging up the ribcage from the snow Throw me in the tarpits all the same In a cold black frame Cradled in the Pterodactyl bones
Overground and frozen in my shell I can hold my breath well Over time I will heirloom into Something gnarled for you