Fifty Shades of White: Depression, Winter, and Hope

I know I am not alone when I say: Winter GTFO. I'm done. We're done. We're all crying uncle. I am done with:

  • Snow days. (The actual and the preemptive.)
  • Cold days. (You know, because kids walking in -16 degrees to school is not ideal. I get it. I guess.)
  • Cancelled and then rescheduled only to be cancelled again work appointments.
  • Only having the energy or brain capacity to think about such serious topics as #thedress or #FiftyShadesofGrey.
  • Cabin-fevered kids climbing the furniture and tracking their wet boots throughout the house and destroying anything and everything I just organized. (Because, I had nothing else to do and neither did they).
  • Car accidents. (At least one in this house so far this winter.)
  • Pipes bursting. (Replaced a 3-foot copper pipe yesterday in fact.)
  • Appliances dying. (All but the microwave had enough of this crappy winter too. Every single called it and said: ENOUGH. Awesome. If you're Sears.)
  • Sinus infections. Stomach bugs. Fevers. Flu. Vitamin D deficiency. We've had it all.
  • Feeling trapped. (Figuratively as much as literally: "I will never leave this house. I will never ever get out." Which spirals into: "There's no reason to go on. Winter will just return in 9 months, and we'll have to do this all over again.")
  • Depression. (See Vitamin D deficiency, whacked out sleep schedules, lack of physical movement, lack of hope and the feeling of isolation and despair.)

As much as I joke, there is more than grain of truth to this last one. I have struggled this winter. From the horrendously busy weeks leading to Christmas to the months of January and February that brought with them the cold, snow, and endlessly gray days, I have felt an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, isolation, and I'll even say it: the impending approach of depression.

The thought of getting up and going to work, the thought of even reading a paragraph let alone a book, the thought of cooking a meal, the thought of folding a load of laundry, and the thought of going for a walk was all too much. Not even doing those activities was causing despair--just the THOUGHT of them did. So I gained weight. I slept too little. My lethargy gave way to anxiety and fear. I laid awake at night thinking: I can't go on like this. I can't do all of this: working, parenting, driving, cooking, writing. Enough.  My brain would not cool it. I tried meditating. Drinking herbal tea. I got up and paced. I sat back down and pinned the crap out of my Pinterest boards. (Man, they look great.) I rearranged my bookshelves no less than six times. (Never read a book, mind you, but moving them around was oddly comforting.) I got in my car and cried. I came home, hid in the bathroom, and cried some more. Over and over: I said to myself: Pull yourself together. Come on.  

Then in the past two weeks I watched news reports of notable suicides--first a young veteran and then a promising, beloved school teacher. Both reports cited friends saying a version of: "We didn't see it coming" and "She was always so happy!" And it hit me like an icy white snowball: People still don't get it. Depression isn't a mood. Real depression doesn't play out on the surface. Like a heart attack, you don't know what's been building, what's coming until your completely consumed and crushed by it. When people who die suddenly of heart attacks or strokes--others don't say: "We didn't see it coming. He/she seemed so lively and happy." Major Depression is a disease the NIH says is caused by a "combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors."  It is not a mood. It does not play out on the surface. And if people who have it can't talk about it, can't get the help they need, can't be real to those around them, it only gets worse. Depression doesn't have a look. Depression doesn't have a face. It's shades and shades of white, gray, black and layers of more black that lie beneath the clean, bright surface. Like the white snow covering everything cruddy and ugly beneath it, a smile and a happy disposition belies the muddy, cold depths below.

For example, despite all those dark thoughts I had this winter:

Did I get up and go to work every day? Yes.

Did I smile, laugh and play with my kids, my friends, my coworkers and throw parties to surround myself with friends. Yes. Yes. Yes and Yes.

Did I do all that was asked of me at work and at home. Yes.

Does it mean that I don't feel despair? Feel isolated and alone? Does it mean that I am not struggling? Absolutely not.

The difference though is I have the tools and skills of a lifetime of therapy, and yes, medication, to help me. I have an amazing husband who I talk to every single day and check in with. I have sisters who are an I.M. away. I can talk about what I am feeling freely and do so regularly. And when I do, it's an invitation for others to be real with me too. So we can help each other.

Just yesterday I received a beautiful message from a reader responding to an August blog when I wrote about my previous suicide attempts. She wrote:

"I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for writing the article about being a suicide survivor. Right around the time your article surfaced the web I was tangled in a pretty dark web.... and your article just gave me one more reason why LIFE was a choice and I needed to live it. I've struggled with depression and OCD ever since I was a child but never really talked about it. Your article has made me realize its ok to tell your story and be proud."

See what happens when we can be real? Authentic? When we can melt away the snow-white glow of "everything is OK" and "everything is fine." When we can quit smiling and choose to reach out and let others know they have a safe place to talk and share and be real too. It's too much of a burden to carry alone. Imagine if we each unloaded that burden and made some space on our shoulders to carry a friend along?

Yesterday, I was close to despair. The book I am writing is taking longer than I thought. The book sales of Proof of Angels are what my publisher calls "modest." (Which in laymen's terms means: Don't go shopping. You're not getting a royalty, Sister Friend.) I am overwhelmed and overworked at home and in the office. I never seem to have enough money, time, or patience. I feel alone and sad. Motherhood is a lonely, often thankless business. I don't see my family or my friends as much as I wish I could. The list goes on. But, just as I was about to spiral into a vortex of despair, a friend I didn't even know, reached out into the darkness and said: Because you made a difference. You matter, Mary.

And it clicked: Again, it goes back to that. We need to know we matter. That we will be missed. That our lives have a purpose. That if we reach out we can and will impact another's life. I matter. You matter. We all matter.

And so I am going to share again. Because, I do believe it makes a difference.

I do believe there is hope. I believe in Spring. I believe that sharing our stories and truths is the only way to fight this. I know I am not alone, and I know there are so many people out there who feel the same way. And together we can do this. We can beat this cold, dark vortex of depression, loneliness and despair. And we can do it, only by letting others in.

And so I am.