Today, my mind is clear. I’m doing my work from start to finish, not minding even the trickier tasks that require more focus. I plan ahead, thinking about what I’ll make for dinner, how I’ll spend my afternoon and evening productively, looking forward to reading a book with some literary value (I just started “The Orphan Master’s Son,” a Pulitzer winner by Adam Johnson, and I’m hooked already). I feel competent, intelligent, aware, self-possessed.
But on other days, even just a few days ago, depression fogs up the glass in the inner workings of my mind, and nothing feels so clear. I can’t plan from one minute to the next, let alone the rest of my day. I slog from bed to couch, turning on my laptop and staring fuzzily at the screen, wondering how I can focus long enough to get any kind of work done. I’m tired, but the fogginess is more than that: it’s like someone half-heartedly ran an eraser over the words making up my life’s script, leaving smudges and faint outlines of letters in my brain without allowing me to see the full lines clearly. Every task, every plan, every idea and ability is halfway blurred out.
I might forget to put the coffee mug under the machine, so the coffee drips all over the counter. I might put body wash in my hair instead of shampoo. I stare at my sweet cat and try to remember if and when I am supposed to feed her. Or did my husband do that? Is she meowing at me? Does that mean she’s hungry? Thinking to look and see whether there is food in her bowl doesn’t cross my mind. Logic is hard to come by right now. (My husband feeds her in the mornings, every morning. Don’t worry, we don’t neglect the cat.)
If I’m able to work, it’s slow going, and I end up trying to avoid any kind of task that might require clear and precise thinking. Or, if that’s impossible, I ask countless questions of a co-worker, many of them to which I should know the answer, and when she responds patiently I feel a dim sense of familiarity -- oh right, I knew that. She must think I’m an idiot. Why didn’t I think to reread that email from my boss for answers to that question?
This isn’t me, is it? The salutatorian of her high school class, the cum laude graduate of a selective college? This person, who loved writing original criticism of medieval Spanish literature and who spent hours devouring Toni Morrison? On foggy days that intelligent, bright woman seems light-years away from the person my depressed brain sometimes makes me. On these days, the most focus I can muster is to reread a James Patterson thriller I’ve read before, or rewatch countless episodes of Friends, taking solace in the mindless and familiar.
The fog doesn’t just settle throughout my brain, though; it takes over my body, too, so I feel sluggish and unresponsive. Can I make my muscles remember how to make the bed? Do I have the motivation and awareness to get my dishes from the table to the sink? On the bad days they stay wherever I’ve eaten. On most foggy days, they make it to the closest countertop and sit there until my husband clears them away (yes, he really is a saint).
It can be scary to feel like your brain doesn’t respond to stimuli the way you’re used to: to know that you are capable of thinking, analyzing, writing -- and doing all of those things well -- only to type your own name six times before you spell it correctly. To know that you’re a great home cook and find yourself staring at the side of a box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese, wondering if you can actually measure the milk and boil the pasta without getting confused or spilling everything or just giving up before you start. These experiences only give credence to the negative self-talk that’s already present in the mind of a depressed person, so I hope you can imagine how it might snowball from there. You feel foggy, so you mess up a couple of things, so your already-negative brain starts to beat up on you for whatever (usually insignificant) mistake you just made. It’s not the ideal mindset for a person trying to take gentle care of herself and push past depression into wellness.
So you slog through what you can at work, you take a nap, and you settle for reading the thriller over the Pulitzer today. You learn to tell yourself it’s okay, that tomorrow will be better, the lines of the script will come in clearer, and you will be competent again. The thing with fog is, when you give it time, it tends to lift.
Thank God for that.