I’ve lived with depression most of my life. It’s my constant companion. But I’d characterize it more accurately as a houseguest that doesn’t know when to leave, and who you never invited in the first place. You know the type. So many famous people outed their depression historically, paving the way for some of us plebes to carry less shame in doing the same. Winston Churchill called his “recurring” depression (his term) a black dog. I’ve also heard it described as a pack of black dogs nipping at your heels waiting to take you down. For me it is a vicious, bitchy puppy that sits on my shoulder warning me, laying fear in front of me, reminding me that I get what I deserve—in a bad way. (I could muse and rail here about the dog metaphors but as a dog addict, I need to leave the discriminatory practice of using our canine friends this way to another writer.)
Depression goes everywhere with me, experiencing my joys and hovering over me whilst I struggle. It has been quite well managed, and it behaves itself unless it is catalyzed by something traumatic. I talk about my depression/anxiety combo like it’s a living thing, not naming it, as I know some folks do, because it is very much alive. It ebbs and flows as water. It is as responsive as a lake set to rippling with just one toe dip or tiny fish stealing a breath.
The most recent catalyst is the departure of someone I loved dearly, who needed to confront his demons alone. Other previous episode trigger was my son’s diagnosis with a brain tumor causing gigantism, which gets a chapter in my forthcoming book, Our Own Forever.
Depression becomes a shadow in your life, a weight you brace yourself against every single day. It worms its way into conversation when I casually meet other sufferers. Regrettably, it is one of the things I am truly an expert on. But that does not mean that when I’m in “the pit” I am any more capable than every other person with clinical depression and acute anxiety disorder.
When I go down, I go down hard, arms flailing, screaming profane epithets at my depression. I have never known how to ask for help with this.
Folks with depression don’t often talk about it because much like addiction or living with chronic disease, no one who isn’t suffering himself or herself really gets it. We feel sorry to say that, and only do so in whispers, but we just don’t get into its deep, dark places with friends or loved ones who can’t possibly understand. Nothing feels more disappointing than a well-meaning friend trying to tell you they “get it” because they were depressed (read as sad) once too. But I learned this time, that I must let people try. I need to let everyone who offers try to go to a place of understanding. That includes my co-worker, my sister, my darling Lara Heacock, and a stranger I met at a support meeting.
Kindness is trying to cure me. But I had to let it. I had to do my part—the receiving part. I have spoken, Skyped, e-mailed and texted with everyone who offered to help through these three dark months. I hated every second of it. Yes, I did. I felt embarrassed, exposed, weak and vulnerable. I worried that they would never think as highly of me again. I was vexed by the notion that they would judge me for being thrust into a darker place by this event than I was by the death of my father. I can honestly say that not one of those communications made me feel better, not at the time.
But here’s the thing—kindness is a cure. Kindness asks for nothing, demands no outcome and proliferates generously of its own volition.
Kindness begets kindness.
It was so kind when the man who often writes in the same coffee shop I do slid a cookie across the table to me, as the tears dripped on my notebook pages.
My co-worker popped a bag of homemade goodies into my car when I wasn’t looking.
Countless kind people made space for me in their already crammed lives, on their overflowing plates. Best of all, they didn’t coddle but rather they gave me the language to defeat the bitchy, puppy voice. I didn’t notice as their language percolated into my throat and became my own.
Kindness told me, “you are just human, Patti”, “of course you’re devastated”, “you have survived worse” and “you know that this will end one day”.
Today I am working again, crafting blog posts and proposals and refining chapters of my memoir, which will soon find a home with an agent and publisher. Today I am looking forward, if only by inches. I owe it all to kindness…and to be kind enough to say ‘yes’ when it is offered.
My lesson: when a kind someone offers to help, they really mean it—so say yes!
(oh, and thank you!)