When it’s more than just a bad day: the Truth about Depression

I’m cycling lately. Not like exercise on a two-wheeled, manpowered vehicle, but emotional cycling. There’s something people don’t tell you about being strong in the face of struggles- it’s full of periods of great weakness, moments when you just want to fall into your bed, pull the covers tight, close your eyes and find some way to get rid of the exhaustion. And apparently my generation is prone to a new phenomenon dubbed the Quarter-life Crisis that hits somewhere around the late 20s and early 30s. Gee, thanks world.  -_-

(See the following: The quarterlife crisis: young, insecure and depressed, The Quarter-life crisis, and How to Survive a Quarter-Life Crisis.)

It’s another taboo subject among Desis: depression and the big black hole that it truly is. Oh, everyone and his brother will say that they’re depressed or have high blood pressure or migraines, and it’s some kind of a fashionable thing in the Desi culture nowadays to faint out of some extreme emotional intensity. It’s like, oh my God, this is too much, I’m going to fall down unconscious all soap opera-style until I get my way.

But real depression, the drag you down, I can’t see any sign of hope, my whole body and brain and heart physically ache kind of depression? That’s not discussed with anyone. The maybe I should just give into this severe exhaustion because giving up is easier than trying harder suicidal thoughts? Never ever should a Desi mention that, not to friends, not to family, not to a therapist or a psychiatrist or anyone qualified to help you. That’s not socially acceptable or culturally comprehensible.

So if I say to you, yes, I’ve been depressed in the past and I’ve been close to the edge of it recently, I would once again be voicing something that Desis typically keep silent.

But it’s necessary. Speaking up, honestly saying I’m not okay, that’s the only true weapon against this almost supernatural monster of an illness. Because it IS an illness. It has symptoms and causes and a specific set of recommended approaches to recover from it. And like some illnesses, there’s no cure. The disease is always in you, able at any moment to take over and incapacitate you.

The trick is to expose the enemy, bring the hidden into the daylight and fight it head-on. Say to yourself and to the world around you that you can’t always be all smiles and confidence. That some days, some moments, some events are enough to have you withdrawing within yourself, tired, lonely, scared, and confused. That nights can become sleepless and the repetition of your daily existence becomes less a refuge from drama and more often the cause of it in your inner self.

For all my friends and family reading this who are about to start calling and texting and visiting to make sure I’m “okay”, please relax. Understand that my best form of defense against these feelings is to admit them and write it through. I know people like to tell me how strong I am…and I know when I look back on my life and what I’ve been through and how I got through it so far that I’m surprised, too by my own will to survive. I also know that I’ve done more than just survive. I’ve learned to be excited, to challenge myself, to enjoy and laugh and breathe deeply.

But like I said, depression is always in you. Our minds like to overthink and overreact and suddenly it feels as if nothing is how it should be. Like being divorced, working full time and being a single mom, and then trying to see where this path is going to end up. A certain amount of planning and intelligence is necessary to be successful, but for me, too much analysis of what might happen or what my life currently lacks leads to an emotional crash.

My therapy is sort of simple: first, what I’m doing right now and telling you. Second, retraining my brain to stop going over and over what I sacrificed or using the word NEVER for what may be in my future, and instead, repeating that I don’t need to have it all figured out. Third, going back to basics and remembering to make the small changes in my day so I can fulfill my responsibility to myself amid the things I do for everyone else as a grownup in this world. Fourth, and this is key if I want to truly stop cycling, I have to do something new to help me get and feel unstuck. I have some ideas on this and I’ll keep you updated on the results. But for right now let’s just leave it at this:

I’ve been depressed in the past and I’ve felt myself nearing that precipice lately. But I’m not going to just close my eyes and hope I can get around it. I’m going to walk a bit more carefully, pick out my path in the looming darkness, and find my way safely to the other side. And meanwhile, I’m going to continue to be the kind of girl who doesn’t care if it’s taboo to talk about it and who refuses to shy away from the topic. This is me, people. Wordy, honest, emotional, and real. That’s the side of myself I won’t ever change.

Happy birthday to me.

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31 years older.

31 years BOLDER.

31 years smarter and 31 years sexier.

31 years and I’m still just getting started…and that’s more than okay.

After this past decade that was as much about defeat as it was self-discovery, I’m proud to say I’ve begun again. Proud, but not delusional. This shiz takes its toll.

So yeah, people, I have a line a third of an inch below each eye that I spend a good chunk of my morning routine attempting to hide with cover-up and powder, only to have it fill with smudged eyeliner by about midway through my day, accentuating the puffy little pockets of fluid that gather there to say, yes I am tired, world.

And I am tired. I AM sad, and I am frustrated, and I am impatient… sometimes. Mostly though I’m smiling, because not only have I found strength in me to survive, but I’m so much stronger than I ever thought I was. Strong enough to have fun, to dream, to find ways to make those dreams come true, slowly and one by one.

I could have taken the whole my husband’s cheating on me thing and just cried or screamed or lay in bed all day every day until I either died or he changed (and we all know which would’ve happened first.) Instead, I held and nursed and stared at and laughed with and slept with and came back to life with my new baby.

I could’ve used my emergency surgery five days after I delivered that baby as an excuse. Blood clots pressing on nerves causing both excruciating referred pain and a diminishing ability to walk or change positions or even get off a sofa…that isn’t an excuse, believe me. But the almost impossibly even greater pain post-surgery, the physical AND the mental where I felt like my body had betrayed me and I’d failed as a mom less than a week into it… I definitely could have given up then. I could’ve literally and figuratively numbed my pain with the Percocet they gave me, floated through a dreamworld where my past and present never existed, forgotten even the new life God had entrusted to me.

I could have. But I didn’t.

I went through emotional hell, humiliated by my husband’s infidelity, humiliated by my body’s obvious need to shut parts of itself down to recover.

The catheter for a week straight…

The stool softener I needed to take every single day just to be able to release my bowels without bursting into tears…

The pictures and messages and news footage of the man I loved and lived with and some other woman, while I was trying not to believe I might actually die.

This wasn’t an easy time, obviously. But it wasn’t a time I’ll ever be ashamed of. I went through all that and I came out of it. I ran a 5K after all that pain for God’s sake! I divorced a man who never really deserved me. I couldn’t stay the course I’d been on previously so I found (and sometimes forged) a new one. I kept going.

There are moments when I hate that about myself, that I’m a person who somehow just keeps going. But I got this way through realizing that while the drama and the destruction made death seem like a viable option at times, it WASN’T. Not for me. I refused to go out like that. It wasn’t dying to get away from this life but a different kind of life that I wanted. And then there was that beautiful NEW life to think of…

So I kept going. And now I’m 31 and I have a job and it’s only enough to pay for my daughter’s preschool and Gymboree and the gas to get me to and from work and gets me standby travel the rare times I’m actually off, but that’s okay. It’s more than okay. I’m making money and paying for her education MYSELF. That’s not even something I’d have imagined at 21. It makes me tearfully, ferociously, heart-tuggingly proud because I kept going and I’m building my and my daughter’s dreams. Like going to Puerto Rico and showing my baby the place that made her so full of light and music and love in the first place! I finally did that!!

MOM heart necklace from my heartbeat

MOM heart necklace from my heartbeat

So yes, 31 is here and my life is hard and sagging drooping undereye bags are something I now have to contend with daily. But I’m okay. I’m moving forward. After the physical and emotional immobility of those first few months due both to my separation AND my surgery, I’d say moving is the biggest accomplishment there is.

Happy birthday to me. And many many more.