The year starts heavy like an anvil in our collective consciousness. We read the news from Indonesia, France, and Nigeria. News of tragedy, terrorism, intolerance; news of death. The cold air feels like needles on my face, as I feel sympathy for the casualties of a lost airplane, or the victims of a terror attack in Paris and villages in Nigeria.
“It’s easy for me to feel depressed in winter. My brain can’t absorb enough Vitamin D from the weak daylight.” I give myself this and several more logical explanations for my lack of joy and my somber thoughts, all rational, cerebral. But I don’t internalize any of those reasons, and continue to drag myself through the days despite having little energy and experiencing self-harming thoughts.
The insurance company neglects to pay for my last therapy sessions. I call my doctor to reduce the frequency of our appointments because I don’t have money to pay for once a week visits. I’ll have to see my doctor once a month, do my best to cope. Still this is better than what the majority of the mentally ill people in this country can enjoy. “I am privileged,” I tell myself, “no reason to complain.”
When I feel I am reaching an unhealthy level of sadness, I switch into depression coping skills mode, what I have learned in years of therapy to balance myself without increasing medication. Tuesday is particularly difficult. I don’t feel the need to get up from bed.
But I must. I haven’t gone this far in recovery to relapse without a fight. “Depression is not a one-way ticket. I don’t have to stay down. I must come back, and feel joy again.” I insist.
I get up, shower, and make coffee to start the day with a semblance of routine, of normalcy. I write a to do list, my first attempt at pulling up strength to carry through the day.
- Stay away from the news
- Do something healthy (Walk, do yoga, sit in the sunlight, weed the garden.)
- Meet writing goal for the day (a thousand words)
- Have a cup of tea
- Call a friend
- Read a poem
- Cook dinner
- Submit work
At the bottom of the page I write, “Get through this day and you’ll be fine.”
The day drags. My unkempt wooly hair gets stuck between my fingers as I try to brush it off my face while I write the thousand words I have pledged to write daily. When I finish, I connect back the Internet to submit my work to the writing forum I am part of, and do my share critiquing my fellow writers’ work. When done, I check another item on my to do list, and battle the thoughts of going back to bed. I cry sitting on my desk, with negative thoughts berating my effort, “Look at you, you are a shadow of what you used to be.” The words in my head describe a miserable life I don’t have.
I repeat my mantra: “Get through this day and you’ll be fine.”
I don’t have energy to walk a mile, but stand up, nonetheless, go downstairs and stroll quietly to the mailbox in the bright morning sun. I cry at the sight of a cat crossing the road.
I come back from walking and drink another cup of tea. I call a friend. She is sweet and understanding, and lets me talk even when my words get stuck in my throat. She then tells me about her own tribulations. I gain perspective, understanding once more that the reason for my sadness is merely chemical. I have a great life. Were it not for my condition, I should be a happy person, sharing laughter and joy with the rest of humanity.
At my desk I reach for a book, “The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou.” I open the book on a page marked with a craft my college freshman son did in preschool. The card is a turtle, smeared in paint, with his name written on it in the sweet handwriting of a child who is not experienced with a pencil. “So many years ago,” I think, and cry some more, at how time will never reverse.
I read the poem “Phenomenal Woman” aloud to myself. I let the words roll in my mouth, let the rhythm of its verses penetrate me with their energy, let the music of its rhyme sing in my ears and carry me through the hour with optimism and joy.
It’s four o’clock now and there are only a couple of items left to cross from my to do list. I go downstairs, turn up the heater, play some music from my itunes library (no radio) and set to cook dinner. It must be simple and fast, which is all my depressed brain allows at this moment.
After cooking dinner, I go to the garden to pick up dead leaves, and water the hanging baskets, the ones the hummingbirds love, with tears running down my face.
In the evening, when my husband arrives, I hug him and cry on his shoulder. “It wasn’t a good day. Was it?” He asks. “It was difficult,” I answer, “but I pulled through. I even cooked dinner.”
The next day, the sun wakes me up early. Without effort I get up from bed and set goals for the day, and the rest of the week ahead. I have weathered this storm in the best possible way, using the coping skills I have learned, with a to do list and determination as tool.
The battle goes on, but I’ll succeed. I am a phenomenal woman.