Depressives tend to bristle at the advice that we need to go out and get fresh air, or exercise, or meditate, or drink more water, or smile more, get out of bed, go to bed at a reasonable hour, or any of the pat responses we get about our depression.
We know these things will help us. The issue is that when we are at our worst, we can not find the will to do these things.
I know how hard it is for people who have never experienced debilitating depression to understand how deeply in our bones can be felt the absolute hopelessness and despair that makes doing the things that will help us get well seem utterly pointless. When we are at the bottom of the pit, we truly can not remember a time in which we weren’t at the bottom of the pit. Someone might come peer over the edge and say, “You weren’t always down there, you know. Just last month you were up here with me.” And while we know we were “up there,” our minds tell us that while our bodies were up there, our souls were still at the bottom of the pit. Any attempt to drag us out comes across like Buffalo Bill telling us to put the lotion in the basket. What’s the point? Take care of ourselves just so we can inevitably fall back into the pit? The pit will always get us.
There have been whole swaths of my life i spent at the bottom. If I wasn’t actually sleeping, I was certainly sleepwalking through my life. From 13 to 33 I was in and out of the deep pit of depression. Making bad choices. Choosing bad people.
I have spent the last seven years steadily climbing my way out of the pit. I’ve slipped a handful of times. But I believe that I am, at last, standing on solid ground, with the pit behind me (but always somewhere in my line of vision).
I wish I could say that I remember what it’s like being up here. I wish I could point to a time in my life that was spent up here. But I think most of my life, I’ve dwelled somewhere in that pit. Or at least, I’ve been sitting on the precipice, legs dangling over, with a very tentative finger hold on the ground beneath me.
I want to pause here to once again remind the reader that I share these things, not for sympathy, but rather simply because it is my story, and the only way to tell it is truthfully. It is what it is. I don’t want or need sympathy. If I were a diabetic, I wouldn’t expect sympathy for that. It’s a condition I have, and I am doing what I can to live with it.
It’s only once you’re out of the pit that you can begin to understand that all the well-meaning advice you’ve been given to take care of yourself, is finally something you might have the will to try. Of course sleeping all day isn’t healthy. Of course exercise is good for you. Of course eating healthy is good for you.
I tried Transcendental meditation for a while, and I couldn’t get it to stick. Last year, in order to drag myself out of the pit, I decided to adapt that practice and make it something more manageable. But when the world came to a halt, I let the practice go. I was overwhelmed by suddenly being a fulltime parent and homeschool teacher, with my industry shut down, and very few prospects for work.
I slid back down and got pretty close to the bottom again. Everything felt unmanageable. My stress and anxiety would shoot through the roof the second Monty started complaining about whatever thing his seven-year-old brain was telling him was unfair. I felt like an absolute failure at everything. My parenting, my “teaching”, my partnering, my sistering, my writing. Everything. I felt myself sliding faster, and I was worried that once I hit the bottom, this time, I might not be able to even see the top, let alone crawl toward it.
In early June, amid the din of cries for racial and economic justice (and the basic human right of not getting murdered by the police), I found a wellness app called “Shine.” Founded by two women of color and 80% staffed with BIPOC, Shine offers daily meditations, readings, check-ins, advice, and mental health exercises. The meditations are usually less than 10 minutes long. When you’re done checking in each day, you get rewarded with a celebratory message and emoji. It’s nothing, really, but it’s enough to track your commitment to your own progress. I have checked in every day since I downloaded the app. 27 days. I do it as close to waking up as I can. Before I start getting into my day. One morning I didn’t get to it, and the day spun out of control, with Monty and I hollering at each other over something stupid.
I Clarice Starlinged myself out of that pit. I found myself at the bottom of the pit and was like, “Shut up! Stop screaming!” and I groped around in the dark for a while, until I found Buffalo Bill and I shot him a whole bunch of times. And then I hoisted my own self out of that pit and was like, “I killed the bad guy. You’re okay.”
I am aware that metaphor doesn’t really work, and I’m aware that another bad guy could surface at any moment, but I’m running out of time. I only get small breaks here and there to do anything that doesn’t involve Monty, and that’s my time, folks.
I’d like to think I’m putting some real distance between myself and that pit.