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.
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.