It wasn’t because I have to pack for tomorrow’s free trip to Cancun.
It wasn’t the deadlines and work that allow me to make my living from home as a writer.
It wasn’t the beautiful city I’ve moved to, my children that need me, or the husband that loves me.
For about a week now I’ve struggled to drag myself out of bed every day in spite of those perfectly good reasons to face the day. Once up, I’ve fought to focus on what needed to get done – and simply decided to not do much of what wasn’t absolutely critical. I’ve slogged through my days aware of the fog that chokes me, but unable to use that knowledge to break free.
But this morning, I knew I had to get up, finally, and hammer these words into existence:
Depression is not ungratefulness.
Whenever the darkness creeps in, I instinctively try to beat it back with an angry list of blessings.
“What do you have to be depressed about? Your life is great!”
I spend so much of my life focusing on gratitude and happiness now that I don’t even have to work to remember why I should be happy. I know all the places where joy can usually be found. I know about the miracle of time with nature and the power or giving thanks. Happiness is no longer something I’m searching for, but rather something I strive to embody and encourage. Happiness – and it’s precursor gratitude – are as familiar to me as the toothbrush that sits in the miniature glass vase above my bathroom sink.
But depression isn’t caused by a lack of knowledge, any more than it’s caused by a lack of wanting to be better.
Depression is not an attitude problem.
Depression is a health issue.
I’m pretty vigilant (now) about treating and managing my depression. I use a pill dispenser to make sure I take my two doses of antidepressant every day. I eat more organic and whole foods than junk. I get out of the house regularly. I listen to my body.
And sometimes my body tells me to go to hell.
Despite consistent treatment, I still have what the World Federation for Mental Health calls the occasional depressive episode.
Depressive episode involves symptoms such as depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and increased fatigability. Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities, but will probably not cease to function completely. During a severe depressive episode, on the other hand, it is very unlikely that the sufferer will be able to continue with social, work, or domestic activities, except to a very limited extent.
It’s been about three years, I think, since I had my last severe depressive episode. That was the last time I refused to get out of bed for days. That was the last time I had to have Jared come home to take care of the kids, because I just couldn’t.
I’m better than that now.
I’ve been to doctors and I take my medicine and I don’t freak out when I feel unmotivated once in a while. In fact, I’ve learned to just give in when my body and brain demand a mini staycation from time to time.
But once or twice a year, the fog creeps back in. I tell myself it’s just one of those times when I need to decompress. I remind myself that my life is great. I resolve to catch up later and just lay in bed a little longer, just this once. I finally get up, but the determination to play catch up does not come. Later, I say. Later.
I’ve been putting off as much as I can until later for about a week now.
I finally admitted to my husband last night that I’ve been “having some depression or something.”
I don’t know what triggers these episodes in a well-medicated woman. It might be the changing light or the fluctuations in temperature. Maybe I have offset the balance between greens and ice cream recently. Maybe the moon and the sun get together and cause these flare ups. I don’t know.
I don’t know.
It’s not easy to admit that you’re at the mercy of unseen forces in your body. It’s not easy to have to constantly reaffirm that your brain and your body are fragile, and that you will suffer because of it sometimes, no matter how hard you work to keep yourself within the range of normal.
But I know that I am not ungrateful.
I know that happy, lucky, blessed people can have depression.
I got up this morning because today is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s focus is depression. I got up because I remember what it’s like to not know that depression is not a personality disorder or a character flaw. I remember berating myself for being bad, trying so hard to be more grateful.
Depression is a disease. It can be treated and things can get better, so much better. The fact that I can recognize a depressive episode for what it is now – even if I try to avoid that truth for as long as I can – is a symptom of my treatment. Depression still tries to lie to me, but I can see the untruths for what they are. I still get overwhelmed by fatigue when the fog comes, but I know that it is sickness and not laziness. Most importantly, I know that it will pass.
Because I am treating my depression, I know that I will find a reason to get out of bed again.
Today that reason was you, because maybe you haven’t learned yet that gratitude is the key to happiness for a healthy mind. Maybe you still worry that not getting out of bed when you have a great life waiting for you means that you are bad or ungrateful.
Maybe it scares you to know that depressive episodes are a recurring reality, even after treatment. It scares me too, but I’m not afraid of being scared anymore.
Depression is a treatable, manageable illness. It distorts your perception of life and yourself. It can make you tired, unmotivated and unfocused. But it doesn’t erase who you are. You’re still there, under the fog and the lies and the desperate desire to just go to sleep. You just need some help to clear away the mist.
I got out of bed this morning to tell you that.