Thursday, May 16, 2013

The big D

It has become kind of trendy lately for bloggers to reveal their mental health stuff.  I think that is pretty effing awesome, because no, we don’t all have our shit together.  And because mental illness is still stigmatized, and that stigma reduces the utilization of resources and treatments that can help.  And because the last damn thing you need when your brain is messing you up is to feel alone. 

Many of my favorite bloggers suffer from depression, and they have written about it so eloquently that I kind of want to stop writing right now, because who the hell am I to say anything more?  Recently, Allie of Hyperbole and a Half had a post on depression so true and honest, I could barely get through it.  The Bloggess has been extremely open about her mental health stuff. Here is one of her early posts about it.   Her two word mantra, “Depression lies,” has been enormously helpful to me.  Julie, from I Like Beer and Babies recently did a post that really resonated with me.  Because here’s the thing.  Someone could be depressed and you would never know.  When I gave my best friend a peek behind the curtain, she was completely surprised.  Because I still get up and do all of my stuff and put on the same minimal amount of makeup I usually do.  I laugh, and post funny crap on facebook, and talk about my kids melting my heart.  And all of that stuff is true.  I’m not faking it.  Depression, at least for me, isn’t all day every day.  As much as Hyperbole and a Half’s account yanked at me with that feeling of like calling to like, the complete lack of feeling she describes is not what depression looks like for me. 

I feel everything.  All the time.  I feel too much. 

I’ve talked here a little bit about my history of depression, and one tool that has helped me keep it at bay.  But that was an account of something in the past.  Something I used to experience, and how I kicked its ass.

Crap.  So yeah, no. 

I mean yes, a little bit.  I have been pretty depressed for months, but may not have actually met criteria for clinical depression in that time.  See, before I became a professional boo-boo kisser and lunch packer and kid snuggler, I was a statistician.  And before that, I was a depression researcher.  I have a PhD in Psychology and spent seven years of my life studying depression.  I could recite the criteria in my sleep.  And have I met those criteria lately?  Hard to say.  Maybe, or maybe not quite.  I spent a decade in therapy and even longer with meditation and other tools to try to keep myself out of this pit.  And maybe it all worked a little bit. Maybe I didn't fall all the way down.

Except my brain still does the thing. 

The thing.  The thing where I go from bed to couch and nap a lot.  The thing where my brain tells me I am a failure, and worthless.  The thing where everything just seems really difficult.  The thing where all I see are the negatives.  And when I shake my head, try to snap out of it, and focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for, instead of feeling grateful, I feel guilty for being depressed when my life is so good.  Sleeping is a sweet release from feeling like complete crap, so I sleep a lot.  I read novels to escape, and I play Candy Crush, 15 lives at a time (5 on the phone, 5 on the ipad, 5 on the laptop). 

Self-care goes out the window.  I usually have a regimen of supplements that help keep me feeling good and keep my body healthy.  Calcium and magnesium for bone health, B-vitamins for hormone regulation, Fish Oil for my heart, D for mood.  You can tell me I’m just making expensive pee, and maybe that’s true, but when I stop taking those, I know I’m slipping.  Not caring about future Pam’s bone and heart health.  Not caring about anything.  I shower less often.  I don’t floss.  I eat crap.  I don’t exercise.  I lie on the couch and do nothing and then beat myself up for doing nothing. 

Here are some of the things that could help me.  Exercising.  Going outside.  Writing.  Seeing friends.  Going to see my therapist.  Yup, all of those things would help.  I really should do them.  Ugh, but then I would have to shower, and put on a bra, and get off this couch.  I’ll take a nap instead.  And months pass. 

I was a depression researcher.  I have dealt with and (mostly) successfully managed my depression for decades.  I knew I had slipped, but there is a gravitational field to depression from which it is incredibly hard to break free.  I didn’t go see my therapist, because I knew she would encourage me to do stuff, like exercise and go outside and crap, and the next week she would ask me if I had done those things.  And what if I had to tell her that no, I had just napped on the couch instead and cried into my fourth glass of whisky.  What if she saw what an utter failure I was?  Or worse, what if I had to actually get up off the couch and exercise?  Better just not to see her.  Easier.  Maybe no one will have to know.  Shame.

A few months ago, I wrote this.  I seem really happy with my hibernation, but somewhere between February and May, pleasant winter hibernation turned into depression and a complete disengagement from life.  Like I said, you might not have known.  I still met my friends when they set something up, and I always felt better when I was with them, glad that I went, but when they bailed, I was relieved that I could stay home.  I had moments of joy with my kids when the sun was shining or they were being particularly funny or adorable or just being so themselves that I was overcome with love.  Everything I said on facebook or when talking to people was true.  I just didn’t talk about the part how I was also crying for no reason and not taking care of myself and hiding in my bed all day. 

Here’s the good news.  The fact that I am telling you this means that I think it’s over.  I’m writing.  And while a part of me is still judging every word harshly and wondering why any of you would even give a crap, I’m still writing.  I filled up my old lady 4-week pill container yesterday with all of my superstitious supplements.  I got off the couch and cleaned two bathrooms, including tackling a pile of random crap that had been accumulating for several years.  When my kids made me get up six times in the space of about two minutes to refill their after-school snacks today, I didn’t even snap at them for disturbing my love affair with the couch.  Progress. 

So what got me out of it?  Well, spring doesn’t hurt.  Spring is good.  Flowers and the color green and the smell of lilac and 75 degree days and flip flops and dandelions.  Also, I decided to plan my next photo shoot.  I’m going to do a pin-up shoot.  Now unlike posing in a bikini, plus size women doing pin-up is not exactly revolutionary.  That kind of fashion was made for curves, and plenty of curvy women know it and have demonstrated it beautifully.  But while a pin-up shoot may not be as political or groundbreaking as wearing a bikini, you know what it is?  Fun.   It’s fun to buy leopard print bras and matching panties with attached garters.  It’s fun to buy slinky red wiggle dresses and fabulous corsets. It’s fun to experiment with red lips, and play with crazy rolled up hair, and plan something that will make me feel good. 

From the couch.  I planned it from the couch. 

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is.  In part, I just want to be honest and tell my story, particularly because there was a shame component that kept me from seeking help.  Even me.  Depression researcher. Past board member on not one, but two non-profits aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.  Person who takes her shame and blogs about it for all to see.  Still.  Even me.  It even happened to me.  That means that even with all of the recent openness about depression, there is work to be done. 

Another part of the story is to say that part of getting out of this depression was meeting myself where I was.  I was on the couch.  Yes, if I were magically in a twice-weekly yoga class, I probably would have gotten better faster.  But I wasn’t capable of making that happen.  I was capable of shopping online, perusing pinterest for vintage hair styles and posing ideas, and getting excited about doing something fun for myself.
A week or so ago, a hummingbird flew into my house through my open front door, lured by the bright red glass of my foyer light fixture.  And then he couldn’t figure out how to get out.  He kept banging his head against the white ceiling, thinking it was the sky.  Over and over, it wasn’t the sky. The door was wide open right next to him, but he tired himself out banging his head on the ceiling.  Eventually, he stopped and perched on the light fixture, making the most pitiful sound.  I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know how.  The door was right there.  All he had to do was look over, see the flowers outside, try something new, and the whole sky would be his once more.  But he couldn’t see it and no one else could show him. Eventually, after more than half an hour, after I had stopped watching, he found his way out the door. 

I think I’ve found my way out too.

*Side note: When I posted on my personal facebook page about the hummingbird, a prophetic friend suggested I put on a sexy red dress to lure the hummingbird outside.  As it happened, the arrival of a sexy red dress may have been the tipping point that helped me find my way out.  Never underestimate the power of a sexy red dress.


  1. You are brave and beautiful, and a beautiful writer. So glad you are finding your open door. :) Love to you and powerful red wiggle dresses.

  2. This post had me in tears, because your depression exactly describes mine. The sloth, the disinterest in self-care, the lack of motivation, the shame... I have mixed feelings on what I want to say, because while I wouldn't wish this grey dolor on anyone, I'm so grateful to know others experience what I go through. So... thank you. For being screwed up like me, and for being brave enough to share it with the rest of us, and for not bullshitting about it. From my couch to yours, I heart you.

    1. Awwww, Andi-Roo, comments like this are why I do it... why I show the dark and shameful parts of myself publicly. Because we're not alone. Or at least, we don't have to be. Couch hugs.

  3. Well girlie girl-
    My anxiety-based depression hit this winter while I was camping around the SF Bay Area with husband and dog. I hadn't felt that low in a long,long time. Mostly what gets me, aside from the lack of energy to get out of that state that I am in, is the persistent panic that I feel about my life totally slipping away from me, and a general feeling of bad and then a kind of paranoia that I am just a big pain in the ass to everyone around me.
    And yet nothing really horrible happened. How could i explain it ? I just felt ungrounded, crazy, unmotivated, and ashamed that I couldn't become more pro-active. I gained weight. More shame, more blame.
    Everything that came out of my mouth sounded like whining. Wha wha whaaaa.
    I came back home and spring begin to come. I began to walk every day and pretty soon the icky poo-poo ka-ka's lifted, the del-judgement came to a manageable level, and here I am again. In my life and enjoying.
    Love you girlie girl, Z

  4. I've missed a lot of posts and need to catch up, but I love your blog. While I don't think I suffer from depression, I have been having a hard time recently. I've felt anxious and distracted, isolated and totally overwhelmed by my kids. Sometimes I'll buckle down and clean until I'm exhausted, but you can't really tell I did much. The dishes, laundry, and mess pile up around me and I just want to cry. Even when I've done all the chores, I feel guilty for not spending more time with my kids.

    Twice a week I go to roller derby practice. My first real bout is next weekend. Athleticism does NOT come naturally to me and sometimes it hurts and frustrates me. My mom has asked me why I don't take some time off from derby if I am so stressed, but that would take away from me, all in one swoop: a dozen or more friends, an amazing twice-weekly workout, the relaxing experience of skating, and (not least of all) a reason to wear fishnets, short shorts and cute knee socks. If I didn't have all that, I just don't know where I'd be.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds such happiness in sassy clothes and makeup. I'm SO glad to have seen your bikini photo shoot post. Sometimes I'll be pulling on my little black shorts over bright blue tights and wonder if I shouldn't wear something longer and looser. But then I remember you and your bikini, and all the amazing rollergirls I've seen rocking short-short shorts on the track, no matter their size and looking awesome, and I'll think, I am going to love my ass NOW, just the way it is. I bet your pin-up photos will be great. I've been thinking of having some done too, but haven't quite worked up the nerve or figured out the details yet :-)

  5. Ah....Just found this one-- recommended by Heidi S-B. You are not alone. I love how truthfully and beautifully you describe depression, but am sad that you, too, go through it sometimes.