I’ve considered blogging about a number of things over the past several years: racial injustice, my foes and follies and the ways I unwittingly contribute to white privilege and racial injustice, as well as my transformation from what I am now (basically a toddler, with a high tolerance for mess and a low tolerance for impulse control) into something of a swan, with elegance, and quinoa.
I rejected those ideas for the following reasons: who needs another white perspective on racial injustice; even Tim Wise is viewed skeptically among people I admire. Chronicling the ignorant things I say and do on a daily basis would diverge and tumble into a blog on racial injustice, and people far more biting than me can recap privileged things a white person says in a day. And the last one … well, the last one was rejected because I regularly eat chocolate cake for dinner before going to the grocery store at midnight for ice cream and then having a snack of Cheetos at like 2AM. Also, sometimes my wife finds stains on the bed and asks me what they are and I say with a lot of optimism that they are chocolate.
Elegant swan, I am not.
Which leads me to depression.
Depression is something I have known for years. It’s something I was told wasn’t real, then something I was told I needed to accept as a part of me, and now something I have been told to externalize as outside of me: it’s not a facet of my personality or soul or moral code, but something that happens to me, something that comes by to visit, to see how I’m doing from time to time, and who lingers, for days on end, until I find myself burrowed deep under the covers, not knowing if I am hiding from depression or if depression is fully present, sitting on top of my bedding, bearing down, making itself comfortable.
Depression causes me to look at my schedule for the day, think “nope,” and roll back over. Depression makes me think “I can’t” – not in the proverbial way stereotypes of gals can’t with one another when they act unbecoming or when Starbucks gets their name wrong – but in the way that I don’t think I can get out of bed. In the way that I can’t lift my legs to get to the shower. That I can’t go to work, can’t go for a walk, can’t get a coffee because I will be a profound disappointment to everyone I encounter, and also because, most repugnantly to me, I don’t care. In that moment, or moments, or days, or weeks, I don’t care what happens in my life.
If that sounds dramatic well then, yes, you are right. Depression can sound dramatic and macabre, and can feel heavy and foreboding. And for me, it can also feel unbearably light – the sense of floating above it all even as the ceiling has crashed down and pinned me underneath missed obligations and ignored responsibilities. Because depression is so experienced, and skilled – it can wear any hat, though usually they smell musty, like a basement. “How are you?,” it asks, searching my soul. “It’s fine,” it reassures me as I blow off my friends, ignore my wife, sit with a bag of Starbursts instead of going for a run. And I start to believe it. You’re right, depression, I think, popping a few Starbursts in my mouth. It IS fine. Everyone needs a break. And it’s not like I’m eating ALL of the Starbursts. Just the red and pink ones.
But then suddenly, as we’re getting along, as we’ve settled down to watch a movie together, depression changes course. It gets antsy and anxious, like it needs to move on. “Hey girl,” it says sadly and with a hint of irritation, “I need to go. But I will see you later?” I’m exhausted now, a combination of physically weary from depression hanging off me and definitely in the throes of a sugar crash, so I nod in it’s general direction, and resume watching “The Office” on Netflix.
And no sooner has depression slunked away, does shame starts slithering towards me, whispering secrets. “You know,” she says, as she surveys the room, stepping over a wrapper on the floor pointedly, “This is why you’re fat. All of this junk food. And you know that it doesn’t help your mood. I mean, you’ve read enough on the subject to know better.”
I glare at shame. Defiant, I take a handful of Starbursts.
“You’re disgusting,” she says nonchalantly, without breaking eye contact.
She turns down Netflix. “You’ve also missed a lot of work. People can’t rely on you, you know. When are you going to be more consistent? It can’t be that hard to just be consistent. To go to sleep early, to eat right, to exercise regularly, to show up for people. To show up for yourself. To meditate, and journal. To invest in your friendships. Why is this so difficult for you? Think of the five women you compare yourself to in your head on a rotating basis. Do you think they indulge in all of this self-pity?”
I go on Facebook to look. No, they are not indulging in self-pity. They are eating lobster rolls and jumping in front of oceans. They are captioning photos with “not a bad view for a Monday.” They are talking about their fitness goals.
Shame continues ,”Honestly, and I only say this because I love you, but you’ve been letting a lot of people down recently. And it just feels like … I dunno, like maybe you should re-think some of your goals. When was the last time you were ever really successful at something? I mean successful in the way that you want to be, not in the way that people give out trophies for effort.” Shame gives me a little smile.
I sigh, pause the Office, and walk to CVS to re-up my junk food. Shame is harder to manage than depression, because shame does. not. shut. the. fuck. up. It requires more, whereas depression requires less. I can go days without eating or moving when depression is in town. With shame, I need all hands on deck. I need the Cheetos, the chocolate, the takeout, the soda. I need every conceivable weapon of mass self-destruction that I can get my hands on because shame takes every cheap shot and my coping skills (albeit poor, and often high in calorie) help soften the blow. Fighting with shame is an all out war and there are no winners, because ultimately I am just destroying myself. And eventually, shame will stagger away and we will both tend to our wounds; me to therapy, self-help books and my endlessly patient friends and family and shame to … well, I don’t know where shame goes, but I can only assume she returns to the Heathers School of Mean Girls and Irish-Catholic Mothers, for more ammunition.
And I get some respite and relief. I resume daily activities, regain an interest in red lipstick and shopping. I go running and dutifully make green smoothies. I make jokes. I meditate. I try to focus less on me and more on others. I have a surplus of energy, an endless array of good ideas. I show up for people. I show up for myself.
And I wait for depression to creep back in. And for shame to follow right behind it.
This blog is about me taking back all of those weeks over the years that depression and shame took over. It’s about getting something from nothing. It’s about connecting with others, and about letting some light in the room where I hide with and from depression. And, I hope, it’s about getting better. But even if I never outwit depression, and even I never accept depression and invite him/her/it/the demogoron in, this blog is about me refusing to believe that I have to be ashamed of myself, my experience, my story. Because shame can talk a big game, but no one has ever accused me of being quiet.