A Glimmer of Hope on the Slippery Slope

My search for the upside of mental unwellness.

I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

I’d never realized that I had it until a physical ten years ago. Speaking with my doctor, we realized that I often suffered from depression during the winter months. That visit was the proverbial light bulb moment. I was given a prescription for a mild antidepressant, admonitions to eat properly, get enough sleep, and exercise, and I was on my way.

Nearly every fall since then, she gives me my prescription at the end of August. It’s not foolproof, but it works.

I think I’m basically a happy person. Oh, I’m opinionated, I can be emotionally explosive, I can be bitchy. My current major challenge is tamping down what I call “retirement envy.” A lot of my high school friends have “retired” or are planning on it soon, and yes, I’m jealous. But all in all, I’m content. I have a great husband and pleasant kids, a really nice house, (more than) enough to eat and drink. I have my health. While it’s not a lot, I have some time for creative pursuits.

Life’s not bad.

So why do I slide into depression?

This year, the challenges seem insurmountable.

I could feel the daylight shrinking on June 22. The day after the summer solstice. Two months before I should have.

It’s been a bummer of a summer in Southeastern Michigan this year. We average 75 sunny days and 105 partly sunny days. That’s not a lot. The summer of 2014 has seen a lot of rain, the kind of rain that closes down a freeway or two for a week, where cars float a mile away and basements become swimming pools of three feet of waste water.

It’s been so rainy and gray and cold, I have only managed to grow a handful of tomatoes. At this time of the summer in other years, I’d have tomatoes all over the kitchen, my canning operation in overdrive. Not this year.

A major cause of SAD is a lack of sunshine.

This was the summer Robin Williams committed suicide. There was a lot of online chatter about depression, how he had everything, the love of family and millions of fans. I didn’t know him, but I know people who he’s worked with and who’ve met him, and all describe a great guy, funny, so inclusive.

Yet his depression took him to the ultimate end.

For whatever reason.

You can’t explain mental unwellness. There’s no explaining it.

I don’t know why mental unwellness is still considered to be a taboo subject. Just about everyone I know has been depressed at one time or another; my husband, my kids, my mother, my siblings, my friends. Genetics might play into it. But it’s so common, why is it swept under the rug?

If you have a toothache, you’d go to the dentist. If you have a lump in your breast, you’d go to the doctor.

Why wouldn’t you seek help if it were your mind that was sick?

Life stressors can exacerbate SAD symptoms. This summer saw my son in the hospital. Then my elderly father fell (in the backyard, chasing a mouse) and hit his head on a rock, causing bleeding on his brain. He lost the feeling and use of his right foot. He’s still in the hospital.

My husband found himself in the hospital on Christmas Eve with a pulmonary embolism. He’s still not 100%. His physical condition worries me.

We operate three businesses by ourselves, no manager. I do a lot, but I can’t do it all by myself.

You seem normal on the outside, but no one knows what is happening in your heart, in your head.

The anxiety builds, a little at a time. Pretty soon that tiny knot balloons into a pressing twist in your stomach. You can’t breathe.

I thought I was having a heart attack.

Your mind races. You worry. About everything. Your father thirteen hundred miles away. Your kids in San Francisco. You realize you have no control over anything.

You don’t want to talk to anyone. Depression causes a contraction. You mentally curl into the fetal position.

You can’t sleep. You eat too much, or you eat too little. Your head hurts; your heart seems to be beating out of your chest.

When the alarm goes off in the morning, you can barely drag your sorry ass out of bed.

I’ve been working out like a fiend.

No. You don’t understand. I’m the anti-athlete.

I was the kid who came in dead last when running in races. When the bouncy, physically fit girls picked teams, I was begrudgingly taken. Last, of course.

I joined a softball team when I worked for the post office. It wasn’t for the exercise or because I was good it. Everyone was doing it; it was a social activity. And there was beer and partying afterward.

My team sucked. All of us were athletic misfits. We never won a game.

Two years ago, I bought an incline trainer. I don’t work out in public, and I don’t run outside, not around here, anyway. I worked my way to four days a week. It’s a cool machine. It has Google maps and street view. I can travel anywhere in the world, and never have to leave my bedroom.

The last two weeks, I’ve run every day. Four miles, five miles. Yesterday, 7.45 miles, straight across San Francisco, from the breakers to the Bay.
It’s the only thing I can do.

My writing has come to a halt. It’s not because I have a blockage; no, it’s because I have too much to say. My mind bubbles over. I don’t know where to start. I feel I’ll go crazy if I pull on one thread and the whole rest of my being unravels.

So I do mindless things. Like running. I’m hoping the endorphins will help.

Or I twist wire. Nothing creative, just winding one wire around another, around and around.

Right now, it’s all I can handle.

I’ve been depressed before. I recognize the symptoms. Just as I would when I feel flu symptoms, as soon as I felt myself sliding away, I called my doctor. She gave me a prescription, and referred me to the therapist next door.

So far, the meds aren’t working. Not like they used to.

I don’t think I’d commit suicide. I like living too much. But I can see how if you’re in the throes of depression, the idea might seem like a good one.

Sometimes life is too hard.

Therapy is scheduled for Thursday. It’s my glimmer of hope.

I’ll reach for every glimmer I can find.

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