We are in Sunriver, Oregon right now . . . but by the time you read this, we will be back home so please, if you are a robber, don’t bother breaking into our house.
It’s been two years since we were last here. Two years ago, Buddy was five; Sweetie was three, el husbandio was as amazing as ever. And I was severely depressed.
I just didn’t realize it.
In spite of my crying-for-no-reason, my anxiety, my everywhere-but-nowhere pain, my inability to sleep well, and then, my inability to get out of bed, my trouble processing more than one simple thought at a time, my feeling that it would feel really good to drive my car into something concrete (I know; it’s awful to admit), I didn’t realize I was depressed.
How is that possible? After all, I had been through it before. I should have remembered, oh yes, here’s the depression again.
The first time (at least the first time I gave it a label), I was six months postpartum after the birth of Sweetie.
But I thought that was postpartum depression. Something hormonal and temporary. Temporary or no, it was so debilitating that I stumbled around, forming Team Sarah, a combo of mi husbandio, a close friend, my doctor, and my therapist. And yes, medication.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Zoloft, the first SSRI I tried, eventually worked like a charm. It allowed me to feel the opposite of an incapable, despondent, suicidal, insomniac. Zoloft didn’t make me feel happy; it made me feel normal. Functional. Present. Not constantly crying.Like it was a better idea to steer clear of concrete.
But after two and a half years, I figured I should wean myself off of it. After all, I felt great again, AND, if it was “just” postpartum depression, there would be no need to stay on meds. Aren’t we an over-medicated nation as it is?
Of course, that’s one of the sneaky, terrible things about depression: sometimes, when it’s more than “just” post-partum depression, it comes back. Dressed in an invisible cloak and soft-soled shoes. As my dear friend Janna Cawrse Esarey says in her memoir, (and I’ll paraphrase) “that’s the thing about being depressed, the depressed person is often the last to know.”
So I called my lovely doctor who saw me THAT VERY DAY and who also explained my depression perfectly: “Sarah, your brain doesn’t make the right about of serotonin. That’s all it is.”
I loved that.
Actually, I didn’t love that. Being who I am, I don’t appreciate slacker organs. Slacker anything is unacceptable. But I loved that she reminded me depression is a medical issue. Not some issue a wack-job creates out of air and cotton candy. Not something that can be willed away.
Still though, it was embarrassing. Postpartum depression was OK. Chronic, clinical depression? Well that’s not necessarily something to chit-chat about at parties. Not really something to highlight on the old resume.
But (speaking of resumes) as I reminded myself, I was a writer. And weren’t writers always dying of depression or alcoholism? Given the choice, I’d definitely rather be mentally ill. Mentally ill writers are allowed to have a glass of wine now and then and not get dirty looks from their friends.
Only I was not in the mood to die from anything other than really old age or excessive laughter. Or eating too much watermelon (which I almost did today). So I re-formed Team Sarah, added a Dr. Marty Hoiness, Psychiatrist (AKA, His Royal Hoiness) to the team, embraced my underperforming brain, and got myself back on Zoloft.
Of course, getting rosy again wasn’t easy. Beyond the medical team, I had to rely heavily on my husbandio, who, thank God, is the tallest, most solid piece of concrete I’ve ever run into. I also leaned hard into friends like Schmidtie who developed a score system for me, knowing that someone who is depressed has a hard time articulating how she’s feeling. If I told Schmidtie I was at a Two, she’d be over in a heartbeat. Anything between Three and Five was rough but not desperate. Anything above a five? Well, that never happened. Until the Zoloft eventually kicked in.
I have had people tell me (people who don’t know I struggle with depression) that meds are unnecessary and silly, that Americans should be OK feeling sad now and then, that we pop pills to make us feel happy. I have had friends (who do know about my depression) tell me I should just buck up, change my attitude. I have had someone jokingly compare my depression to her problematic overabundance of ear wax. Yup.
Whatever. I understand people say silly things because they are uncomfortable with mental illness. I also know it’s easy to have opinions on something when a person’s never had first-hand experience. But frankly, I’m a little tired of the stigma (which is, of course, the main reason I share in this very public venue). Why should I have ever been embarrassed?
I guess I also think people who don’t deal with depression or bipolar disorder or OCD or paranoia or schizophrenia should consider themselves lucky that their brains make the right stuff each day and zip it already.
Because being here this year makes me remember how I felt two years ago, and I know this (plus, my concrete-solid husbandio will back me up): summer 2010 in Sunriver is a heckofalot sunnier than it was in 2008. Thank goodness.
Even my poor, slacker brain knows that’s a fact.