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A Brain's Betrayal: This Is Depression

Watch your head on the root, got to let your eyes adjust.

I’m sorry about your suit, can’t do nothing about the dust.

Welcome down underground, hunker down a spell.

Gets to feel like home to me

though I know it looks like hell.

Down in the hole

Lord, it’s deep and the sides are steep

And the nights are long and cold, down in the hole.

Light and love and the world above mean nothing to the mole.

-J.Taylor

Last summer, I was called to appear for grand jury duty, and I tried to get out of it. Everyone gets out of jury duty. But, as it turns out, not everyone gets out of grand jury. Actually, next to no one does. You have to be going bankrupt, or dying, and even then, you have to have proof of those things. So, I was forced to serve my time.

While this was a big pain (once a week for the whole summer, driving into the city, etc.) it was the panel that I served on that really clinched it: I would be listening to case after case of SVU stories. If you aren’t familiar — grand juries listen to several cases per day, sometimes up to 20 or so, as many as they can fit in a certain amount of time. Because of the nature of the panel for which I was picked, the theme that ran throughout had to do with special victims, many of whom were children. Children who had experienced beyond comprehensible physical and/or sexual abuse. As the procedure goes, a grand jury panel listens to witnesses, typically police officers or detectives, relay details of the cases in which they’ve participated. And when I say details, I mean… details. What the sexual predators said to the children. How they responded. What the sexual predator then did/said. How the child responded. And so on. And so on. And so on. It is difficult to describe what it was like to sit and squirm, day after day, week after week, while listening to these stories of these helpless, beautiful children. Looking back, this was when I first began to feel that familiar darkness creep into my mind again. While it can be kept at bay for many years, depression — like that old racist neighbor that you never liked — can resurface with a vengeance and begin to take over, as it did for me.

Although the symptoms had been familiar to me since my early 20’s, this time was different, as it felt as though I had been hit with a large truck, and then slathered in molasses, so that when I attempted to move, I could only do so in incrementally small movements. Other little things started to go wrong around the same time: we got an ant infestation in our pantry — otherwise not a big deal, but with depression, enough to send me to bed for three days and avoid opening any cabinets (this isn’t an exaggeration). I remember the syrup bottle was covered in the smallest ants I’d ever seen. They thought they’d hit the jackpot. One cabinet turned into two, three, four. I knew I needed to call someone. This seemed impossible.

When you are the mom, you are the runner of things. The runner of laundry, the cleaner of counters. The food stocker. You are the unpacker, the re-packer. You are the checker of the spirits. You know when your kids are a little down, when your spouse is a little down. Depression crushes all of this. It is a machete, striking through any order you have created. What kind of illness demands that you look at your beautiful children and feel a blankness? Makes you feel that they would be better off with a mother that did it better, like so-and-so, and if they had her they’d have a better house anyway?

Depression does.

This is an illness that will set you back months. Years. You will be feeling confident in your skin, at your peak physically, and grateful for each beautiful moment that you are graced with. Depression will snatch it all away. Andrew Solomon writes: “You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a gray veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and that now you’re seeing truly… but it’s difficult with depressives, because we believe we are seeing the truth. But the truth lies.”

Friends asked if my vacation had helped (I had recently been away with my family and parents) and I told them that it truly didn’t matter if I was on a beach in Maui getting a massage or getting drilled without novocaine in a dentist’s chair. The pain would have been the same. Startling and selfish — how cruel not to notice the beauty around me, the loveliness that I had. The squealing delight of my children’s laughter in the next room, the sweet flesh of a summer peach on my tongue. It all felt like hell.

This is depression.

You will look at pictures of yourself smiling from the previous year and think what a fool you were: you never saw it coming.

But I kept going, as we do, picking up the clothing and putting away the milk, because if I didn’t, who would? Also, that’s a lie, sometimes I didn’t, and I would stumble down the steps, my gaze falling upon the smelly dishes in the sink, the plates littering the counters. I would will my body to begin moving, to go through the familiar motions it knew so well — because the alternative, asking for help, describing to my husband what I needed, seemed impossibly difficult. It seemed that the further in my hole I got, the quieter I became, until I was able only to pretend to smile and speak with my children. Although I loved my kids more than anything, I wanted more than anything to lie still in silence. Unmoving. My words seemed to turn to stone somewhere between my brain and my mouth. Initially, I would try to find them, fish them out somehow. But as the illness worsened, I did not care. Which is the scariest, worst part for me. The not caring. Because it is the closest to the Thing No One Wants to Say. That it just feels too hard, and that you are maybe, probably, not worth it anyway. These words screamed at me, day after day. But my children leapt at me, talked at me, loved at me, day after day as well. They wanted more than anything to move and speak and to play nonstop. Interaction felt excruciating. And the guilt was almost more than I could bear.

I think that what saved me, really, was choosing to believe in the tiny part of me that told me there was hope. There it was, that shred of human spirit that is in all of us, if we allow it to be. And so, I went for help. And tried something, and tried something else. And when that didn’t work, something else. An exhausting, awful task, and ultimately, one that only we can choose. No one can make us go. Only if we decide that we are worth it, after we have fallen, again and again and again. For some reason, we decide to get back up. I decided to believe the people around me who told me that I was valuable, worthy, capable; even though my whole body and mind told me that this was absurd, laughable.

Depression is a terrible flu of the mind. Coming out, we are timid, cautious, nibbling on saltines and slow to make sudden movements. Prior to this last bout, I was encouraging others to make decisions about their health, putting posts on the internet about having the right kind of attitude. “A positive attitude?!” depression taunts, “Good luck with all that.” Recently, I was driving my children to the park and I saw a woman pushing a stroller with two children in tow. Her body was so beautiful; the kind that, well, it was — tight. “You could bounce a quarter off that ass,” I thought. I looked down at my stomach. It is soft now, after months of focusing less on abs and more on survival. My cheeks flushed. It hurts to begin again. To come back into the body I have abandoned, but here I am. I have been humbled, to say the least. And yet, here I am, a little over a year later. Still yearning to feel a peace in my soul, and the confidence I deserve.

Follow this journey on Courtney’s site.

Getty image via Matthias Lindner