When Good Days Happen

I had a really good day today. I’ve had more and more in the past month, since my new medication regimen started to take hold. Except last week. Last week, I had a virus, and I was miserable. My mood plummeted, and all the bad thoughts and bad feelings took over. But when I began to get over the virus, a miraculous thing happened: I felt good again. Better than I’ve felt in a long, long time.

I’ve been canning. I like canning, and I’m good at it (blue ribbon winner at the county fair). I’ve put up apple butter and plum butter, and plum jam. Today, I picked grapes from the 100-year-old Concord grape vine in our back yard. Tomorrow I plan to juice them, and the day after I’ll make jelly. I have plans for a batch of my mom’s special chili sauce — not salsa, more like a spicy tomato chutney — later on. Still later, there’ll be more plum jam as the plums on our other tree ripen.

These may seem like little things, but to me they’re huge. I haven’t done them in ten years, haven’t been able to, because for ten years I’ve been struggling with a major depressive episode. I’ve accomplished some things in that time, but many others have fallen by the wayside. Most days, it’s been about what I can do to look after the details of making sure the bills are paid and the cats are fed. All too many days, I’ve been capable of little more than reclining on the sofa, chatting with my Internet friends or playing some casual game.

I can’t express what it’s like to wake up, think, “Today I will make apple butter,” and DO it. To be able even to conceive of doing it without the idea totally overwhelming me. To go outside and pick the grapes from our overflowing and ill-tended vine. I can’t express why those things seemed so far away, or say what put them there. In a depressive episode like the one in which I’ve been trapped, I can have a thought: “Grapes are ripe. It would be a responsible thing to do something with them, so they don’t go to waste.” I can see the giant hairballs the cats have shed on the floor and realize the house hasn’t been cleaned in more months than I can remember. But the information doesn’t affect me. There’s no impetus to tidy up, to do, because on a deep level none of it matters. Often, for me, depression can be summed up in a few words: “Oh, well,” or “So what?”

I was trying to explain this to my husband tonight. I said I knew he had his periods of feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, his avoidance behaviors when things get tough, but they don’t, to my knowledge, negate his existence on a soul level. Those are really the only words I have for it. For ten years, I stopped. I was done. For ten years, I didn’t really exist.

I wish I could be clearer about what it feels like, but it doesn’t feel like anything much at all. I wish I could be clearer, because I think a lot of the misunderstanding about mental health issues in general, and depression in particular, are tied to lacking an accurate picture to give to people who don’t suffer them. They look at their own hard times, or their own periods of hopelessness, and they think those are what it’s about. So they see no reason why you can’t do what they did: Go for a walk, take up a hobby, make a change that will pull you out. Even if initiating the change is difficult, once it kicks in, it operates under its own power. So just grit your teeth and do it. I’ve had psychiatrists tell me that.

But just as you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change, you can’t change someone who virtually isn’t there to BE changed. And in the grip of depression, you can’t even recall who that person was, or believe they ever existed.

Maybe this will make sense: The first time I was hospitalized, in my teens, for self-harm, I had to take a series of Rorschach tests. I saw all kinds of things: sea creatures, doorways, sunsets. The second time I was hospitalized, a year later, I had to take the same tests. The therapist showed me the very same ink blots, and I saw nothing. I could remember what I had seen the last time, quite well. But they looked like empty shapes. They had no impact, no meaning.

I told the therapist this, and she didn’t understand at all.

Depression is a stasis box. Nothing gets in or out, and nothing changes. It’s a place out of time, out of everything. It may be another dimension entirely. I wish more people understood this.

Anyway, these were some of the thoughts I had while looking at my jars of apple butter and my harvest of grapes. I wanted to write them down, so I did.