What My 'Pillow Forts' Look Like Now as an Adult With Depression

Do you remember building pillow forts? You’d construct this fluffy castle of pillows and sheets and any blanket your mom hadn’t hidden yet? You could enter through a little slit between the sheets, and there was always, always a password.

I’m 31 years old and still building pillow forts of my own these days. I crawl back into my bed at the end of the day and position the sheets and comforter all around me. Then I wedge my pillow just close enough to the surface that my head pokes out enough to receive oxygen. The goal is you can’t find my secret fort unless I let you in.

I don’t know if I’m building my fort to keep the depression inside of me from getting out into the world or if I build it to protect myself from the depression in the world that I worry will seep in. I think it’s a little bit of both. I can’t bear to take on anymore of a burden, but my soul is not in a place that it can let these feelings out of their cage.

My husband is the only other person allowed in the fort. (Others have been openly and probably rudely denied access.) Partially it’s because it’s his bed, too. Partially it’s because he knows the passwords: “I have snacks” or “I have your pills.” Mostly because in the uncontrollable storm of depression, he steadies my ship. And if my ship wrecks, he knows whether I’d like to be put back together yet and how to start the process.

I’m sure most people, my therapist included, think I’m making some sweeping metaphor when I say I build my fort. They probably picture me going through some sort of emotional American Ninja Warrior to toughen up. But the point of my fort is exactly the opposite. I go to my fort when I’m not feeling strong. I go to my fort when I worry that one more thing might tip the scales into a spiral that I can’t handle. I go to my fort when I need a safe space.

I’ve been building these forts a lot lately. On the weekends, I sometimes rarely leave them. The outside world poses too much of a threat, and I’m forced to see it enough during the week. So weekend fort time is especially luxurious since it’s not just about recovering from that day. It’s about recovery.

I start a two week sabbatical from work pretty soon here. I’m looking forward the uninterrupted safety, if not, dullness, of my fort. The sheets wrap around me, and I know in some child-like way, the world can’t get to me. You may try to correct that way of thinking, but under the blankets and between the pillows, that logic is sound.

At the end of the two weeks, we’ll see if I’m willing to let me fort turn back into a bed. We’ll see if I can tuck in the sheets and fluff the pillows, and make it look like a grown up (two grown ups) sleep there. I’m not willing to do that just yet, but maybe in two weeks, I’ll be open to it.

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Thinkstock photo via Richard Nelson.

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