Can’t make lunch. I have a headache. Another day?” I text to my friend.
“Of course! Feel better!” she responds instantly.
Her upbeat response stings. I imagine her out in the world doing all the things a mom is supposed to be doing, while I sit hunched at my kitchen counter in my pajamas.
It’s not that I don’t want to go to lunch, or I dislike my friend, but the outing seems daunting, overwhelming in fact.
I have an excuse. Last year I faced a debilitating freak illness that permanently damaged my eye and optic nerves. Parasites invaded my cornea, and it took eight months of pain and medication for me to regain some semblance of my life back.
I am one of the lucky ones. Most people who face this disease need corneal transplants or lose* their eye. Some have ongoing health problems.
I shake my head to bring me back to reality. I try to dig deep and find some motivation. I know I will feel better if I am productive, yet my mind feels foggy and my body slow.
I shift my attention to the sink full of dishes, and the counter is hidden with papers and the floor covered in crumbs.
Shame washes over me. Once an outgoing extrovert known for getting things done, I now can’t face even the most mundane of tasks or simplest social encounters. I slowly rise from my chair admonishing myself for being so lazy.
I glance at the clock and realize that my three children will be home from school in thirty minutes, and my husband soon after that. I attempt to pick up our kitchen, moving things here to there, but I don’t make much progress.
I want to show my family that I accomplished something today, anything, but the quest seems futile.
Living like Groundhog’s Day
I live this day over and over for several months, struggling to open my eyes each morning and counting the minutes before I can crawl into my bed each night. I forget appointments and make excuses for missing events. I talk about how busy I am yet I have no accomplishments to claim.
I am an actress playing a part I no longer understand.
I try to be grateful for all I have – a loving husband, healthy children, beautiful home – but gratitude exudes me. I wish to be a person that is better because of their life-changing experience, but I cannot move forward. I am stuck in the cement of my mind.
I do not share my feelings with anyone. I hide my apathy for my life, my disdain for the ordinary. I become a master of deception. I do not want to be judged for my ungratefulness, nor appear weak.
I do just enough to get by.
The Straw that Broke It All
Until one day when a friend calls and abruptly says: “I think there is something wrong with you, and you’re not telling me.”
“No, no. I’m fine, really. It’s all good, everything’s good,” I choke out through stifled tears.
But her words bring me to my knees.
“I think you need to talk to someone. You went through a traumatic experience, loss of vision, intense pain, disconnection from those you love. You’re not right,” she says. “I have a friend that specializes in depression in women of child-bearing age. I’m going to tell her you’re going to call.”
I offer the obligatory, “I’m fine, just tired,” remark that is my safety net for sticky situations, but I know I am marked. She has seen what I knew to be true. She saw my depression.
But there is no way someone like me, someone who has everything, can be depressed. There is no way I need help. There is no reason I shouldn’t be grateful.
Later that evening while watching television, I blurt out my confession to my husband.
He is not shocked by the admission.
“What can I do to help?” are his only words.
I sleep hard that night and wake the next morning with new resolve. I take a walk, I complete a grocery errand, I drop something off to a friend. I procrastinate and move slowly, but things start to get done.
A few weeks later, I pick up the phone to make an appointment with a therapist. At our session, she confirms what I already knew: I experienced a depressive episode.
“You are lucky,” she says. “My guess is your illness altered you chemically and emotionally. This could have spiraled out of control. Make sure you watch for signs.”
I thank her, and she injects one more comment: “No one is immune to depression. Our lives can appear seemingly great, yet we can still face a mental illness. It doesn’t make you weak or ungrateful. Don’t forget that.”
And the weight of her statement seeps heavily into me.
I am the Face of Depression
I am the face of depression – a happily married, successful mother of three.
I did not need prescription drugs to treat* my illness, but I would have taken them if I did. Instead, I pursued other strategies to combat depression. We brought a dog into our home, so I had something that forced me out of the house each day.
I watch my diet. I shared what I was going through with a few friends in my inner circle so they could hold me accountable. Most importantly, I came to peace with the fact that it was okay to believe that I just had awful luck sometimes, and even though my life is rich with blessings, I also faced some difficult obstacles as well.
I no longer try to gratitude my problems away.
Depression is the most prevalent type of mood disorder today, and it’s estimated that approximately 17 percent of the population will face a depressive episode during some point in their life span.
If you experience ongoing signs of depression, such as appetite changes, loss of energy, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, changes in sleep patterns, trouble concentrating or remembering things, or thoughts about hurting yourself, please consider contacting your physician.
It’s a call I should have made much sooner.
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