A friend I hadn’t seen in months bumped into me at Starbucks.
I’d been standing in line waiting for coffee. There was a tap-tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw my friend, Brian, who, like me, had been a lawyer for over twenty-five years.
Accomplished and well-connected, Brian had a quiet composure that appeared to follow him wherever he went. I liked him. You could look into his eyes. And he would look attentively back. He knew I had struggled with depression.
“How are you?” he said.
“Not so great,” I slumped.
“Aren’t Your Meds Working”
Baristas scrambled to fill orders during the pause in our exchange. Customers were sprawled out on nearby tables. Some read the New York Times while others pecked away on well-travelled laptops.
“Aren’t your meds working?” he said thoughtfully.
My head felt like it weighed 500 hundred pounds. Talking (or more precisely, explaining things) demanded more energy than I muster. Everything seemed to move in a slow, syrupy motion around me.
The pause before I answered Brian seemed like a minute. It was more like five seconds.
“I don’t know,” I responded sheepishly.
I had no answers.
I only knew that depression had returned to my doorstep. No need to knock. It knew the address. Walking into my head without wiping its feet, it made itself comfortable.
I had no idea how long it would stay.
It’s exasperating to live with depression: you’re tired, but can’t sleep; you know what you should be doing to feel better (Exhibit A: Exercise), but can’t find the motivation to do it; or you might feel better being around other people, but isolate yourself instead.
But what really drives me cuckoo is how I can go long periods of time – months – where I feel fine and then, suddenly, fall down the stairs into the basement of depression.
“Feeling fine days” are filled with the sense of being alive with creative ideas, fun plans, the polychromatic range of feelings, irreverent tomfoolery, more or less a desire to exercise, and an overall sense of relative contentment. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
“Depressed days” are always grey, and occasionally black. The black ones are the most painful. It feels like life has been squeezed out of me. What remains is an emptiness, a painful ache of absence where there had once been the bounty of being truly engaged with life. It was this reality, not some Pollyannish happiness that I missed.
The best explanation I’ve ever read to explain the difference between “feeling fine days” is from Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. in “Undoing Depression“:
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience a full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief. Depression is not an emotion itself; it’s the loss of feelings, a big heavy blanket that insulates you from the world yet hurts at the same time. It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness.”
How Quickly Things Can Change
Things always change.
Driving in the lane of “feeling fine days,” something rips the steering wheel away from me. Crashing through a guardrail, I go airborne as the chemical balance in my brain is shaken, not stirred. The car comes to rest. I am in another place. Depression feels like that; another place. I am stuck waiting for the tow truck to arrive: my therapist, the medication to work, the love and kindness of my wife and friends, or the serendipitous hand of God reaching out to lift me up when I struggle to do it for myself.
“Hang in there, Dan,” Brian says. I see him walk out to his car and look backwards to me with a smile. I wave.
I know Brian cares. And I know I’ll hang there. I always have.
“The Fever Has Broken”
Somehow, a few days or weeks go by.
And then the darkness lifts.
I recall sleeping in bed with the flu as a child. My long-gone mother comes to my bedside with some cold orange juice. She’s got a thermometer in her hand and shakes it. With the other, she gently touches my forehead.
“The fever has broken,” she says sweetly.
Coming out of the fever of depression, I am grateful. Life is full of vitality again like the spring appearing after a long winter.
It would be nice if she were still here, my mom.
Still here to touch the forehead of a man approaching 60 and tenderly say, “The fever has broken.”
By Dan Lukasik