Over the weekend I was the guest of a friend at a conference. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the growing restlessness and angst I’ve felt for several months seems to be sticking around and getting worse, like an untreated cavity I’m trying to ignore.
I’m vaguely, but barely aware of how depressed I am. It’s been a slow 8-month decline starting with the death of a cherished family member, exacerbated with another spectacular swan-dive of broken promises, and then a meandering, “I’m OK, I’ve got this” fake-it-til-you-make-it
It left me realizing that I really don’t have the coping skills I thought I did. I’m not the mother, friend, daughter, or sister I claimed to be — and genuinely thought I was. That failure sits in my belly, despite platitudes and Pinterest boards full of comforting healing quotes.
It all started when…
Depression claimed me at 25. Then, and with every bout since, I’ve felt a “slide” — a tangible understanding that I was in its grip. I would put myself on anti-depressants and muddle through. When one would stop working, I would switch.
And when those stopped working, I was recovering from a knee surgery and discovered how much I loved opiates. I became the poster-child cliche suburban housewife addict, popping up to 24 Norco at a time. I lost 5 years of my life, but the reality is that I lost it to depression more than the drugs. I was checked out either way.
This time the depression is different. Something akin to being a frog in a boiling pot of water. You went into the pot when it was a cool swimming pool, and the temperature has now increased to the point that you’re nearly cooked.
Self-awareness hasn’t been a claimed superpower, let me assure you.
This time I chose to battle a little differently. What got me through before wasn’t working. I weaned off, and then went cold turkey off an especially nasty antidepressant that caused more side effects than it helped. I refused to refill anti-anxiety medication. I won’t touch anything stronger than a single Tylenol.
Sidebar: None of that makes me stronger than those that do take meds. There’s no shame in that game. I just need to break my cycle, and going med-free in this season of my life is the right choice for me.
I think. Maybe. I’m trying.
This depression is a different liar.
It’s apathy, rather than overt sadness.
It’s imposter syndrome.
It’s feeling like my failures define me, and my story is written and finished.
It’s looking at my mistakes and failed relationships and not accepting that I did the best I could with what I had at the time.
It’s believing insults and gossip. I can’t shake things off. Every brick thrown draws blood and also adds to the pile on my chest that I have no impulse to remove.
I’ve spent days in bed. Having an iPad with you doesn’t make it any less unhealthy. It means that technology enables your coping issues.
There are “unknown unknowns” and I’m not good with those.
I’m at this conference with a friend that doesn’t know that her quiet, encouraging strength is propelling me on this day. That her stern, “show up or else” message is what got me out of bed this morning. The fact that she paid $99 for the ticket. It’s positive peer pressure, and I’m here for it.
I’m certainly out of answers on my own.
The conference starts out with a terrible registration process. Inefficient. I’m already on edge just being more than 2.5 miles away from home. Anxiety has me edging toward agoraphobia. This is new, but again, without me consciously realizing it’s now a thing I get to deal with. All I know is that I’m irritated that they can’t find me in their database, and I’m more irritated that they don’t have a schedule of events. The start time wasn’t on the website, and no one answered their “live chat” when I resorted to asking. I’m pretty bitchy to their staff.
I hate this version of me, but I can’t seem to disrupt the impulse.
I try and chalk it up to the fact that I plan conferences professionally, but really, I’m starting to freak out a little bit. Maybe the universe is telling me this wasn’t meant to be. What keeps me there is the fact that my friend is inside, and I am having an amazing hair and makeup day, so vanity wins and 20 minutes later I’m inside.
And I’m immediately more stressed by the happenings on stage. It’s a business conference, but it’s got a pretty strong woo-woo vibe with some meditation and guided breathing happening from the stage. Except that Dave the sound guy can’t quite cue up the right track that the lead speaker needs to take us on this amazing planned journey and he’s stalling, dipping behind the curtain to check while also trying to not lose his shit. For several long uncomfortable minutes. My critical brain can’t let go and just be there. I’ve been on the production side and I know it’s going off the rails, but I’m also emotionally rebelling. I don’t want to stand when he asks us to stand. I don’t close my eyes when he tells me to. I don’t want to breathe deep. I don’t want to recite the positive affirmations.
It feels like the church.
Which I left because of manipulative shit like this.
Woo-boy. This is triggering on a whole new level.
The music finally cues up and it’s everything I expect it will be. Crescendos at the right time, quiet pauses for effect. It’s a carefully crafted sermon, and I know those like I know my own name. I’m not buying what they’re selling. I’ve been here before and I know the psychology of what’s happening.
Despite those feelings, something keeps me from walking out. Something tells me to just trust my friend. It’s only time I’m wasting. I’m not in bed, and I’m peopling. That counts for something.
I have no idea what the schedule is, but I’m pleased that the first speaker is a well-known guy with a great message I’m familiar with. I take a lot of notes. I start to breathe a little easier.
His story is powerful. He’s a success coach that struggled with success, losing a house to foreclosure after a dip in his business. He’s struggled with depression. He’s been at a loss for answers and struggled to ask for help — because he’s supposed to have the answers. That’s his business.
Oh, hello. It me.
His honesty and transparency thaw my frozen little heart a bit. It’s not just inspiring. He shares what he did to move through the muck.
Tangible action. Not platitudes, or feel-good, “it’ll get betters” — those are lies as much as the lies the depression tells me.
I get some digestible bites of small changes I can consider. That feels good. It’s not easy, and it’s humbling, he says. But the alternative is to live stuck and unhappy.
Show up. Get your body ready for good things. Clear your environment of the clutter.
Win the Morning. It sets you up for the day.
Hearing this from someone that has slogged through the shit and done the work makes me feel better. He’s empathetic, not just sympathetic.
I move a brick off my chest. It’s the first time in 7 months. I have a lot of bricks, and this is going to take a while, but I breathe a little bit better.