Today is my birthday, which makes me happy. It also makes me introspective.
When I think about the past year, I am a little astonished at the difference between how I feel today and how I felt last August 18. That’s because last year, I was in the initial throes of the only real depression I’ve ever had in my life.
Like most of us, I’ve had lot of ups and downs in my life: less-than-wonderful jobs, one divorce, a kid with a chronic health condition, the deaths of both my parents, siblings who get along far better with other people on the planet than with me. And there’s the challenge of being both a writer and an editor, which is enough to give a person emotional whiplash. I grew up in a family where people didn’t talk much about mental health issues. We were just supposed to buck up and get through whatever was going on. Oh, and there was no need to air dirty laundry. Thus, I was pretty tight-lipped about the growing feeling that I was ready to get on an iceberg and drift off to sea. But, damn, there are so many things that people have in common that they don’t talk about. And when you don’t talk about things, you feel like you are the only person in the universe dealing with whatever’s in your head. That’s not a very good recipe for getting over anything.
Last summer, I remember waking up every morning and wondering if I would get through the day without crying. I figured this feeling would pass, that it was part of peri-menopause, that I just needed to figure out what I was doing wrong. Days stretched into weeks and into months. Everything that didn’t go just right was magnified a thousand times. My partner and my kids did not know how to react to me. For that matter, I didn’t know how to react to me. When school started in September and my partner went back to teaching while my daughter started 10th grade, I thought I hit the absolute bottom. When they would leave in the morning and I was by myself, I would allow myself to cry, sometimes unable to move for an hour. Even our dogs were worried.
By the time I finally talked to the doctor about it, after spending lots of energy unsuccessfully trying to hide what I was feeling from my family, I couldn’t get through an entire sentence without blubbering. Inside, I knew this wasn’t me, that something was really wrong. And I was partly right. The slide into menopause wasn’t wrong, but I was unprepared for the intensity of the mood swings that come with hormonal fluctuations. That wouldn’t have been so awful had it not been paralleled by an emerging hypothyroid condition, the thing was turned out to be wrong. I had no idea that thyroid trouble could include symptoms of depression. Once my doctor ran labs and figured out that my thyroid was slowing down – something she told me is not uncommon among women in peri-menopause – she put me on the lowest dose of thyroid medicine. We talked about how things would settle down and I should start to feel better.
Then came the hard work of coming back to who I am. I really had to get my head around the idea that, yes, I could be depressed, and, yes, there were things I needed to do to take care of that. I talked to a therapist. I wrote poetry every day for 100 days in a row. I changed my exercise habits. I hit the road with a friend and went to the Badlands without partner, without kids. I let go of people who make my life miserable; being a good girl isn’t worth it. I admitted that I often don’t particularly like doing things that other people my age do; I’d rather be less serious and never get out of my blue jeans while I listen to punk rock. And that doesn’t mean I can’t deconstruct a text or critique a movie or argue about the social contract, thank you very much. Age is just a number.
If my mother weren’t already dead, she would have died reading this bit of dirty laundry. But I think, in retrospect, that she may have had some of the same feelings. I wish she had talked about them. I’m sure as hell going to tell my daughter so she knows that if she’s crying every day, she needs to get out of the house and start talking.
Pass it on.