What I Know Now

Depression has been a companion of mine for a long time. I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone who’s been reading my blog over the years, as I have talked about it plenty before now. But adding new motherhood to the mix of full-time work and regular, everyday stressful life pushed my depression into another dimension that I honestly wasn’t prepared for.

It’s taken me a while to find my rhythm again. But now that I am, gratefully, in a better head place, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned to keep myself at my happiest and most functional in this life stage. So here we go.

  1. Paying someone to deep clean my house is worth every penny if it means I don’t a) stress about needing to do all the things I hate doing, like scrubbing the bathtubs and the kitchen floor, b) have to nag or passively-aggressively try to get my family to do it, or c) feel resentful that I have to do everything myself. It’s two hours I get to spend playing with Jack in the park instead of rage-cleaning, and I’m much less hateful at the end of the day. A total first-world luxury, but it’s a win-win all around for us.
  2. I need equal parts fun and productive time. You would think that spending the entire weekend playing around would leave me feeling refreshed and happier about going back to work on Monday, but oftentimes the opposite is true. If I get to Sunday night and feel like nothing at all has been checked off my to-do list, I panic and feel like I have to go into DO-ALL-THE-THINGS mode so I don’t start the week off feeling like I’m already behind the 8 ball. I thrive on routine and structure, and it makes me grumpy to not feel like I’m organized at the beginning of the week. So each weekend I try to reserve at least a small amount of time to meal plan and grocery shop, catch up on putting all the laundry away, and generally pick up the house. If nothing else gets done, that’s ok, as long as these essentials are checked off the list.
  3. I have to get out of the house. When Jack was first born, the thought of going anywhere with him was incredibly overwhelming. It didn’t help that I was also exclusively pumping, and trying to work around pumping-feeding-napping schedule was exhausting. But then to get all of the stuff together to get out the door, man… it just seemed like too much effort. But the thing is, if I stay home too long, my depressive-leaning brain gets self-destructive. I start to feel sad that I don’t have plans, or lonely that I have no one to hang out with, or hopeless that my responsibilities are taking over my life. So even when it’s a lot of work, I have to go somewhere for at least part of the day, on at least one of my days off. Even if it’s just to grab a coffee and go for a walk. I have. to get out. of the house.
  4. I need something to look forward to. As much as I thrive on routine, feeling like I’m stuck in a rut of just doing the same things over and over again can lead me to feeling depressed. So something I’m trying is to every once in a while – say, once a month or so – put something fun and out of the ordinary on the calendar. Going to a baseball game. Taking a trip. Going camping. It keeps the monotonous days from feeling so hopeless, because I know something fun is coming up. And I need that.
  5. I need regular time alone to do the things that I want to do. People think that being an introvert means being shy or quiet or antisocial. What it actually means is that I need to be alone every once in a while to recharge my batteries. I need quiet time to sit with my thoughts, to do something creative, or to work on something that interests me. It doesn’t have to be much – maybe just a couple of hours – but once I’m done I’m always happier and more fun to be around.
  6. Needing medication does not mean that I have failed. Honestly, I have probably needed to be on antidepressants for a long time. I have spent most of my life cycling through periods of deep darkness countered by what felt like fleeting joy. I always thought that if I just did the right things – eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, getting enough time to myself to recharge – that eventually I would be alright. But when postpartum depression snuck up and slapped me in the face, I realized that a) it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to do all of those things all of the time and b) that even when I was doing all of the right things I was often still depressed anyway. And now that I am on an appropriate dose of medication, I finally understand just how bad my depression has really been all along. I mean, I always knew I was struggling, but now that I’m no longer filled with unfounded anxiety and dread and hopelessness I can finally see all the ways those unmanageable feelings had ruled my life for so long. I can see how illogical so many of my thoughts and fears had been. It was as if I had been wearing blue-tinted glasses my entire life, and, now that the shades are off, I can finally see how dark it had been all this time. That’s not to say that everything is perfect all the time… not at all. But I’m no longer waiting for something terrible to follow anything good that happens in my life. And I finally have the energy and desire to do the things I already know I need to be doing, which as anyone with depression knows, is half the battle.
  7. Another thing I’m learning? Like really learning? That life is always changing, and so too must our approach to it change. What works now may not work in a year or five. As an ISTJ (hello Meyer-Briggs!) who would inherently love nothing more than to figure out a solution to any problem just one time and use it forever, it’s hard for me to adjust to the idea of fluidity. But I’m finding that flexibility is key. I must keep my eyes and my mind open to new ideas for how to handle life’s ever-changing ways. Changing and growing and learning are not signs of failure – they are signs of maturity. Trade worry for trust… it will all be okay.

If you’re struggling right now, I hope you can find the time and resources to figure out what you need, so you can help yourself. Everyone is different, and so too are each of our needs. And taking time to reflect, being honest, and asking for what you need are not selfish acts. You don’t need permission to take care of yourself.

Love and peace…

…Jess

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Depression lies.

They say that depression is a disease.

But for me, depression is a voice.

A tiny, nagging, Negative Nancy that never shuts up.

Sure, sometimes she gets quiet. Maybe down to a whisper. Sometimes almost inaudible. But she never actually goes away. Not really.

Depression is like having that little devil on your shoulder that you see in old cartoons, constantly feeding you all the thoughts you know you shouldn’t be having, giving you ideas you know you should never act on.

Depression is the little voice that says, “No one cares about you, not really.”

“They only tolerate you. Because they have to. They’re just being nice.”

“This is why you have no friends. You don’t deserve to have friends.”

“But how pathetic does that make you? What sorry excuse for a person has no friends? Even losers have friends.”

It’s the voice that whispers, “Not even he really loves you.”

“He’s only here because he has to be. Because he signed the papers, and getting out would just be too much damn work.”

“You’ll never be as good as his ex. He only settled for you because he couldn’t have her anymore.”

“Sure honey… keep nagging him. Eventually it’s just gonna push him away. Hell, right now he’s probably only one more of your passive-aggressive meltdowns away from just walking out the door. If you want to save your marriage you should just put your head down and deal with all the shit yourself.”

“Why is he even with you? There’s nothing to you… not a damn thing about you that makes you interesting anymore. No wonder he’s always talking to someone else.”

“How could he possibly want to be with someone as broken as you are?”

“You’re so fat, so ugly, so inept that you couldn’t possibly satisfy him. God… you can’t even fill that role for him anymore. How useless are you?”

It’s the voice that yells in your ear, “It’s not ever going to get any better than it is right now. There’s no point in trying.”

“Man, if you thought today was impossible to get through, just wait. If you wake up tomorrow it’s just gonna be more of the same. And so will the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that…”

“No matter what you do, the outcome will still be terrible. Moving won’t fix your problems. Then you’ll just have to find another job – which you’ll undoubtedly hate – and the financial stress will drive a wedge into your marriage, and your children will suffer, and you’ll, yet again, have to face the fact that you still don’t have any friends. And you still won’t be happy.”

“You don’t deserve to have anything better than this. You can’t even be grateful for what you have.”

“God… if you can’t even handle the one baby you have now, what makes you think you’ll ever deserve to have another?”

“And why is this so hard for you to deal with anyway? That person over there is handling things just fine. Millions of people all over the world have it way worse than you do, but here you sit, spoiled little first-world brat, feeling sorry for herself.”

The night is dark and full of terrors. That’s when it’s the loudest. At the end of the day, when you remember all the things you did wrong, realize how happy everyone is but you. Those are the nights you curl up into a ball so tight that you fear you might simply disappear into a black hole. When you sob so hard that you fear your shaking may wake him, despite your ability – practiced since childhood – to do so without making a sound.

“What’s the point in waking up tomorrow? Nothing will change.”

“Everyone would be better off without you. Your brokenness just ruins things for everybody else.”

“Oh, you think you’re a fighter? That’s cute. How long have you been fighting this battle, and you still haven’t won?”

Depression lies. Or so they tell us.

But depression answers back that that’s just something they say, to make us feel better. To placate us. To make us stop saying scary things that make everyone uncomfortable.

Depression won’t be silenced by an easy one-liner like that. That’s just fake news, bitch.

You can know intellectually that all these things are lies. You can read enough self-help books, listen to enough uplifting lectures, go to enough therapy sessions to understand that depression doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. But it’s just one more punch to the gut when you realize that you know all the right words, but they haven’t had any real impact on how it feels to have a monster buried deep within you, in the marrow of yourself. It’s just one more demonstration of just how broken you are, that not even all of the right tools could fix you.

But what is there to do but keep going? You’re not ready to give in… there is – somehow – still fight in you yet. Take an ambien to silence it for now, and pray that tomorrow is somehow better, despite the inevitable crying hangover to come. This, too, shall pass.

You start with just one more. One more minute. One more hour. One more day. Give it just one more chance. Give yourself just one more chance. One foot in front of the other, dear. Now just one more.