anecdotes and reflections on life with depression and anxiety
From behind a table covered with precarious towers of used paper plates, half-empty soup bowls, and crumpled napkins, I look out across the church basement at the tables filled with people who are no longer hungry, at least not for tonight. The fluorescent lights and buzz of conversation bathe everyone in a kind of washed-out desperation, but there is a familiarity here, a comfort. People know they will be treated with dignity when they come to eat here. A woman with no teeth mimes her gratitude to me as I take her plate and scrape the leftover food into a compost bin. A near-skeletal man hobbles up to the dessert table, where I know he is asking for extra bananas and telling the other volunteers that they’re good for his medical issues. There is hollering from the kitchen, noise about who is going to start wiping down tables and sweeping the floors. I drain used soup bowls into the slop bucket. Here, I leave behind the things that supposedly make the world go round -- status, appearances, qualifications. Here, what matters is kindness, and sustenance, and warmth. Each week I am humbled by my encounters with these tangible, invaluable acts of generosity.
Around a fire pit with dear friends, I stare at the flames, twisting and jumping, sending sparks up into the air as the logs are jostled with a poker. A beverage in hand, I sink back into the Adirondack chair, allowing the weight of the week to dissolve amidst the laughter and stories floating around me. I don’t have to speak here, unless I want to. I don’t have to be happy here, if I am not. I don’t have to pretend to be anything here. I have come as I am, which has sometimes been broken, or fragile, or grieving, or anxious, and it has always been okay. This is a place in which I am allowed just to be. I will receive hugs and food and enthusiastic toddler kisses here, at this home and in this backyard, and I must do nothing to earn them.
Walking through the airport’s sliding doors, out into the passenger pickup zone, I scan the lanes of cars until I see the one with my dearest, best friend’s face smashed up against it, mouth wide open, cheering with excitement. I watch her grapple with the car door and tumble out of the vehicle, running toward me, screaming and dancing her way to me as we finally embrace, making a scene and not caring a single bit. We glow with enormous smiles and continued hugs, patting each other’s hair and fighting over who will roll the suitcase to the car as her husband smiles knowingly, watching us, from behind the wheel.
Cutting across an expanse of green grass to a brick pathway that leads to the doorway, I enter my parents’ home. I am greeted with smiles and exclamations of, “there you are!” as I shed my sneakers and sling my purse to the floor. The counter is brimming with snacks and freshly baked cookies. I will have to go around the counter into the kitchen to hug my mom, who will be busy at the stove or rummaging in the pantry, always looking to nourish our souls by filling our bellies. My dad will be in his chair, a book cast aside now that his children have arrived, as we exchange half-hugs and kisses on the cheek. My brother and his wife will rise from the couch for hugs, too, and the afternoon stretches out before us, yawning cozily with promises of chatter and good food, and the contented safety of being looked after.
In bed, I am twisted up in covers and surrounded by extraneous pillows at three in the afternoon, because it has been the kind of day that necessitates bed at three in the afternoon. My husband walks straight to the bedroom when he gets home, depositing his work bag and jacket along the way, barely taking time to kick off his dress shoes before stretching out next to me. I can talk or not talk. I can acknowledge him or not. I can move to curl up against him, nestle my head into his chest, or I can keep reading or playing a mindless game on my phone without explaining myself. I am in my safest place, here, a place that has the capacity to heal but also to hinder me, my hiding place when the world is too much to bear. Our sweet cat will join us, perching on my hip or snuggling into my lap, and for brief moments I can remember that not all days will be like this one. I am secure in the knowledge that I am not alone.
A few months ago, when it was still summer and the days were still warm, I sat in a grassy nook just above a sandy beach, staring at the waves and the moored boats bobbing in place over the dark blue ocean. No one had settled in near me, so I was quietly reading and often looking up at the waves, feeling simple gratitude for living in such a beautiful place.
This local spot is one of my happiest, most peaceful places, and yet -- in the midst of being in a favorite place with a favorite companion (a book, obviously) -- my bed called out for me. I had worked a full eight hours indoors on this perfect June day, itching for three o'clock to arrive so I could fly out the door and down the road to be here, in the sunshine and gentle breeze. And yet -- the tousled covers of my unmade bed, the scrunched up pillows and twisted top sheet were calling to me. Even from here.
Why? Why does my old, sagging mattress reach out for me, even on a good mental health day, a gorgeous summer afternoon, after a productive work day and with the whole evening at my disposal? Why can't I get the idea out of my mind that I would rather be in bed?
It's not that I'm sleepy and just want to close my eyes -- I have no qualms about doing that here in the park, where the sun warms my skin and the waves lapping nearby make a perfect naptime soundtrack. I want to be here, at the beach, in the summertime, just like everyone else.
I've even intentionally set myself up with an early work schedule so that I can have the afternoons and evenings free. I like to read, to have time for a walk or the gym, to do summery recreational things, you know, like going to the beach. As I wake up in the mornings I anticipate all the things I can accomplish after work -- the farmer's market!! Coffee with a friend! The book waiting on my Kindle! -- and yet, as soon as the three o'clock hour rolls around (and sometimes even sooner than that), I can't help but feel drawn to the comfort and safety of my bed.
Not my couch. Not my dining room table. Not the warmth and familiarity of just being home. I long entirely, and specifically, for my bed.
The answer, I think, is simple: it's depression. It makes me tired, and unmotivated, and sometimes, it teams up with its ugly friend anxiety to make me hesitant to leave the house. It doesn't have to be a bad day or even a so-so day. It can be a good day, a productive day, and yet still I will be tired, still I will be tempted to crawl into my bed and read, or cuddle my cat, or just lay there until I fall asleep. Even while I'm doing things I love, there is often -- if not always -- a sense that it would be better just to be home in bed.
Is bed my happy place? Do I just like naps? Should I accept laziness and complacency as foundations of who I am, and embrace all the time I like to spend horizontal, particularly in this one very specific (and isolating) place?
Or is this the force of mental illness, even on the decent days making me believe I need to stick to what's safe and known, rather than venture out to even the most ordinary activities? Making me feel that nothing in the outside world is as fulfilling, or as worthy of my time and energy, than sinking into a pile of blankets and shutting out everything else? Making me feel that I might not deserve to be out in the world doing normal human things, because in my bed, alone, is where I belong?
I choose to believe the latter. Because depression lies, and daily it tells me that I don't deserve to do the fun stuff of life. It tells me I'd rather be in bed, and I have to challenge that distorted thinking every day, so that I don't miss out on life.
Depression will always tell me lies, but some days the sunshine and sea breeze can carry them away, just for a little while. Some days, can be enough.
I've been thinking about Thanksgiving because -- gasp -- it's less than two weeks away. I'm gearing up for the big grocery shop, dreaming of which kinds of wine to buy to go with dinner and already working on some of the goodies I can freeze ahead (make these. Just... do it.)
But it's important to note that amidst all of the festive preparations I'm making to get ready for this holiday and the others soon to follow, I'm still doing the basic things I need to do to take care of myself. I'm still sitting in front of my sun lamp for 30 minutes every morning. I'm still taking my meds. I'm still making time for naps when I need them and walks when I need those, too. Because one thing I'm starting to learn (over years of slow progress), it's that letting those seemingly small things fall to the wayside is a.) the perfect invitation for daily, all-consuming depression to charge back into my life and b.) a way for all of my planning and excitement and preparations to fall apart.
It's mid-October as I walk through the sliding doors at Michael's, a chain craft store near the mall. I'm surprised to see everything I'm looking for -- the fall-themed decorations, adorned with pumpkins and turkeys, and all the rest -- right in front of me. I find Thanksgiving place cards almost immediately and peruse the rest of the seasonal items before walking the aisles, just browsing. (I'm out! On my own! Doing happy seasonal things! This is a victory all by itself.)
Already the Halloween things are relegated to a lonely corner of the store, marked at a steep discount. A huge table sits in the center of the widest aisle, covered with nothing but white, cottony, glittery "snow," as an employee rolls up with a cart overflowing with ornaments, greenery, wreath-making supplies and more.
The holiday season is officially upon us.
So -- where were we? Ativan. Lorazepam. Pills. Right.
An “as-needed,” or PRN, anxiety medication is the newest addition to my pharmaceutical arsenal, and at this point, it isn’t really new at all. I was prescribed the Lorazepam after some intense physical anxiety had cropped up -- unexpectedly -- for the duration of a tortuous, squirmy plane ride, throughout which the only therapeutic advantages I had at my disposal were Dramamine, squeezing my husband’s hand really hard, and stealthily sipping from a nip bottle of flavored vodka I had in my carry-on (I was desperate). I also tried cell phone games and counting backwards from 100.
oh, hey --
My name is Lauren. I'm thirty-something, and I like to take naps and read good books and watch bad television. I love my husband and I love my cat, and I live with depression and anxiety, which is mostly what you'll read about here.