When I confessed my depression diagnosis last week on the blog, I know it surprised a lot of people – maybe not that I would share it, but that I was struggling at all with depression. If you know me, you know I love to laugh and take care of other people; it may have been a shock to think that you missed something or you should have done a better job taking care of me somehow. You may think I hid my symptoms well, but if you spend much time with me you know that I am pretty much an open book. So what did you miss in noticing that I was in need of therapy?
Nothing. Unless you were in my head or living in my house, you probably wouldn’t notice anything was off. I still loved to laugh and to help people and to do artsy fartsy (as my husband describes them) things. I still mostly functioned in my assorted roles in life. You couldn’t have known that everything made me cranky or just how high my stress level was. You couldn’t hear how terrible and critical my inner voice was. You couldn’t have known that lots of days I had to make myself get of bed or that the effort of just making it through the day was exhausting so much of the time. I could have told you, but after days and weeks and months it just feels like whining. And constant anger feels like a moral failing or a recurring sin problem.
I’m not much for wearing masks, but I’m also not one for constant oversharing and/or incessant whining, and I felt like most of the things I was struggling with were things I could improve by changing my habits and thinking more positively and being more consistent with my Bible study and prayer time. I didn’t even know that I needed more than just some habit changes and an outlet to process my feelings until the week I couldn’t form sentences in the therapist’s office when he asked how the week had gone. It’s actually a pretty funny story now.
I had a ridiculously terrible morning that involved dressing a cranky toddler (if you have never tried to put clothes on an angry octopus, you’re totally unprepared for parenthood…), limping through the morning routine with a knee immobilizing brace, dropping the cranky toddler off late at preschool which made me late for work which made me late for the toddler’s last week of school picnic from which I had to leave early to make it to the therapist’s office to which I cried most of the way because I felt like a horrible person. I attempted to pull it together enough not to sob while I walked in, and then responded to the question, “So, how has the week gone?” with a blubbering mass of attempted sentences. The therapist listened patiently and heard enough to gently offer, “You know, last week we talked about possibly trying some medication to help out for a while. I think maybe it’s time to try that option.” Granted, the week had been a mess that included tearing my ACL, putting our cat to sleep, and dealing with some tough life decisions, but I felt like I had capsized and would drown at any moment. Now that my head is back above water, replaying that conversation is a little hilarious; it plays back like a scene written for a sitcom, and it makes me laugh when I tell other people about it.
I read a few articles last week that I think fit my situation pretty well. One described their mild to moderate depression as “walking depression.” The other described “high functioning depression.” (I am arguably not “high functioning” in the way that you would describe a type A personality, but I manage to accomplish things beyond the daily grind every now and then.) Both articles described feeling depressive symptoms but not so severely that it kept them from functioning in a way that other people would see as normal. You couldn’t have known how hard it was for me to get out of bed that day because I did get out of bed, and I did get myself and the angry octopus child dressed and out the door. From that point on, I was just focused on getting through the rest of the day and wouldn’t have mentioned the extreme “uggghhh” I felt at the thought of starting the morning. And because I was still moving, I tried desperately to keep Newtonian physics on my side, so I tried to focus forward and avoid dwelling on how bad I felt. And because it is extremely impolite to yell a lot and kick people in the shins, I kept a decent lid on my irritability in the presence of other people and just screamed a lot in my car or simmered in silence. Given that controlling anger is a spiritual discipline, I largely assumed that I lacked the discipline to control it and prayed even harder for God to replace that emotion with gentleness and show me better coping skills. But I couldn’t pray it away. And even though it was something I occasionally mentioned to a few people I trusted to pray for me, it wasn’t something I thought of as an issue I needed to talk to anyone about until it felt out of control.
My stress level was like that, too. I finally put words to it in a therapy session: most days I am doing okay with stress, but it’s like I’m at capacity. If something unexpected happens or an extra project comes at me, I am easily overwhelmed. So facing down the future of reproduction in my life plus knee injury plus dying cat equals stress and irritability overload. I discussed each of the things that were causing me extra stress with family and friends, but probably nothing in those conversations made anyone think, “You know, I think Anne is really just depressed. Perhaps she needs medication.” You may have thought, “That’s a lot to deal with at once. She may be overreacting a little, but I’d be stressed in that situation, too.”
I called this post “Show and Tell” because you can’t always see depression in a loved one. You can only know what they show you and tell you. I never tried to hide any depression symptoms, but I didn’t really see some of them myself. I am also pretty good at talking to family and friends when I need help venting or need guidance, but I didn’t know I needed to tell anyone more than what I did. I realized that I had several issues that really needed an outside and professional review. Sometimes family can be too emotionally invested to help make a rational decision; this isn’t bad or wrong – it means they want the very best for you and want you to be happy. I am blessed to have that in my life, and now that my depression symptoms are largely under control, they are who I turn to first to help me cope when crazy happens. Now I need less professional therapy and more time invested in relationships that keep me glued together. Now I know what to show and tell if things feel out of control again.