Let me introduce you to my dance partner. Her name is “Depression.”

“When I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell
I know, right now you can’t tell
but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
a different side of me.
I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired
I know, right now you don’t care
But soon enough you’re gonna think of me
and how I used to be.”

“Unwell” by Rob Thomas, Matchbox 20

I took a shower this morning, washed my hair, and brushed my teeth.  Big deal, you say.  Well, yes, it IS a big deal.  Until this morning, the last shower I had was this past Friday.  I hadn’t brushed my teeth since Monday.  Today is Wednesday.  You’re thinking, “GROSS!!” and I don’t blame you.  But it could be a lot worse.  I know because I’ve been there.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I’m not bipolar.  I’m not schizophrenic or psychotic.  I “only” have plain old, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety depression.  But I can tell you for a fact that it packs a punch and it leaves a body that’s bleeding.

I was officially diagnosed in November 1995 when I was 42 years old.  My therapist believes that depression first came to me when I was in junior high school.  My school wanted to skip me several grades ahead after first grade.  My parents consented to just one.  Public schools didn’t have a clue how to deal with their gifted students back then.  Their method of motivation and support was to continually hammer into your brain that yes, you’re smart, but you’re not good enough, you’re not doing as well as you can, over and over and over again.  I was blessed to have the occasional saint of a teacher who protected me from the onslaught, but there weren’t nearly enough of them.  You hear this stuff repeatedly over six years of junior and high school and you start believing it.  Then, you go away to college when you’ve barely turned 17 and not emotionally equipped to handle it, so you prove to yourself that all those people telling you how insufficient and unworthy you are were right all along.  I started drinking and popping pills.  I flunked out my freshman year and what little was left of me tucked tail and crawled back home.

Flash forward 24 years.  That’s a long time to feel guilty and bad about yourself.  So much had happened in those years from the hardly bearable to the truly horrible.  I won’t go into any of it here.  There are some things my family doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know.  Like I once told my dad, “If I told you everything I’ve been through, it would make you weep.  You really don’t want to know.”  I’ve survived.  But as 1995 went by, I knew I wasn’t doing well at all.  My work was suffering.  My relationships were suffering.  I was having a breakdown.  I said something to my doctor and she told me to get help and not to wait.  I made the call that day.  I met my therapist the next week, started medication the week after that, and began weekly sessions.  In mid-December 1995, I took a one month medical leave of absence from work while the medication took hold and I found something in myself to grab on to.  Sixteen years later in 2011, I was finally able to stop therapy and take care of myself.  It was a long, hard road getting to that point.  I won’t go into that here either.

Depression is a murderer.  It will kill your sane mind and make you believe there’s something wrong with you.  You become delusional.  When I first started therapy, I couldn’t function in some areas like a normal person could.  There were days when I walked on the furniture because I was afraid that if I stepped on the floor, I would have to be an adult, leave my apartment, cope with the world….and I knew I couldn’t do that.  There were many times when I couldn’t go out.  Even a trip to the grocery store was frightening.  I would put on my coat and hours later I would be sitting on the couch in the dark with my coat still on because I just couldn’t move.  You do irrational things for no good reason and often without being aware you’re doing them.  When I relocated to be closer to work, my Dad helped me move.  We found over 200 cans of Campbell’s soups in the closets of my apartment.  When he asked my why, I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know.  I just kept buying soup.

Worst of all, depression is a liar.  It causes you to believe things that aren’t true and you don’t know that they’re not true.  By the time I started therapy, I knew in my heart that I was worth less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes.  I believed I was stupid, unworthy of the least kindness, a bad person, dangerous in some way to everyone around me.  I had no joy.  I stopped playing the piano.  I stopped writing.  Depression told me I couldn’t play and I couldn’t write, that I was miserable at both.  And I believed it.  That’s when “Little Debby” emerged.  Little Debby was the deep part of me that had endured the hardly bearable and the truly horrible.  She was the part of me that knew best and knew most that I  was so vile that no one could love me or think kindly of me.  I couldn’t love me.  So I put Little Debby in the deepest part of my heart and bricked a wall around her so thick and high that no one could see the “real” me–the vile me who depression told me I was.  No one would ever know the “real” me and then no one could be disgusted by me or hate me.  It was a hard thing to keep inside.  It was like having a pressure cooker in my chest waiting to blow off steam, to tell the world just how horrible I was.  When the pressure would get to be too much, when my life was so out of control that I couldn’t stand it anymore, I turned to the one thing I could control: my body.  Self-mutilation.  Just a small cut or two would let that steam escape safely and I could breathe again.  We do what we must to get by.

But as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.  I’m a lot better.  I don’t need therapy anymore.  I’m still on medication because my depression is both an imbalance of chemicals in my brain and emotional, situational, environmental, or whatever you want to call it.  I will be on medication the rest of my life and that’s alright because my life is so much better now and I’m happier.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have bouts of depression.  I battle with it every day.  It’s been a bit worse for the past several months.  When a period of depression starts, the first thing that goes for me is hygiene.  That’s my first clue.  For some reason, I can’t brush my teeth.  Then, I’ll notice that I haven’t been showering.  I put on clean clothes every day, but forget everything else.  I’ll take a wet washcloth and run that across my teeth and wash up, but for the life of me, I can’t do the full job.  It’s okay, though.  I have family and friends who don’t hesitate to tell me that I’m beginning to stink or that my teeth are starting to look like hell.  🙂  Right now, I’m showering and brushing more than I was a month ago, so life is looking up.

There are things I can do to help myself when I feel the depression coming on.  Don’t be alone, especially with my thoughts.  Get out of the house and go where there are people.  Go to a bookstore, a restaurant, a movie.  See a good play or listen to a great concert.  Do some house cleaning or anything that provides instant gratification and a little pride in myself.  Just talk to Ginger, let her know I’m sinking and I need her to get out of the house with me.  Therapy armed me with many ways to help myself not sink all the way to the bottom again.  If I can catch the depression early, I can function and bring myself out of it.  If I don’t and it gets really bad, I can see my therapist for a tune-up.

Now, please don’t feel sorry for me or badly for me.   We all have our cross-eyed bears and this is one of mine.  Don’t feel like you need to comment here or on Facebook and tell me how strong I am or how sad it is or whatever.  I didn’t blog about this for that to happen.  In fact, I’d rather you didn’t comment at all.  So why did I write about this?  One of my brothers once said to me, “I don’t spread my life all over Facebook and the internet.”  Well, I do.  I’m a writer.  Writing is what I do.  And what I write about is often what most people won’t put on paper or Facebook or the internet.  I write the hard stuff and I do it because somewhere out in the blogosphere is someone wondering if she’s crazy, if he’s a loser, if she’s awful for cutting herself.  There’s someone feeling lower than a snake’s belly and wondering if anything can be done about it.  There’s someone going through something truly awful and wondering if she can survive it.  I write about this to tell them all that yes, you can survive whatever it is.  I know because I have.  Let me tell you all about it…..