I am trying to hold onto the words but they are as weightless as I am. In this moment all of my physical mass has left me. My ability to stand firmly on the earth is gone and I am aware of the slippery tiles beneath me. I am not sure I will stay upright. I am in the shower with Steve, a practice we began when the boys were so little that the only way to get through the day was to literally double dip, grabbing a moment together before we were back out on the battlefield of parenting young children. I spent almost five years raising them while I was still in a pit. A combination of therapy and medication and sunshine have helped me
Today the boys are middle aged kids, just like I am a middle aged woman and I can hear the clear tone of my older son saying goodbye as he leaves for school. I call out to him through the foggy shower glass to have a great day “lovebug”. I have lost the word. It is gone. Do I call him that? Have I called him that before? I whisper it again to myself, this term of endearment that has suddenly lost all meaning and it feels squashed like the bug it is. Now I am flattened. It feels like I have an exoskeleton that can’t do its job because I have asked too much of it. The water slices down me through the cracks in my armor and finds its way in. I wonder if I can drown from the inside out.
Steve reaches out with the fancy soap that he bought for the holidays to celebrate a special memory. We first found it on a spontaneous holiday in Mexico, where amongst piles of dirt and unfinished landscaping we showered in opulence in our casita and were introduced to l’occitane. I remember that trip for so many reasons. Oliver learned to swim, Leo wore his winter hat with his flip flops, and Steve planned the whole thing in response to my mounting misery that January in Vermont. In this shower the soap brings back the feeling of the resort. How it was unfinished. How we lived in a lovely little space amongst construction in an almost empty resort. How we rattled around grand dining rooms and the boys collected tiles and screws and cigarette butts and lined them up as armies. How much that is like our life overall. We polish up the little bit that we can see and the rest is untended, unfinished, until it is just done.
These thoughts must have continued for a bit because Steve is using the soap to gently wash me and I stiffen and pull back. “Don’t do that” I tell him. He hands me the soap in silence and I let it slide in my fingers. Before I can do anything I notice the water cooling. First a tiny bit of the temperature is gone then more and it has fallen off a cliff into freezing. I don’t have time to wash. The reality that the hot water tank can’t meet our needs is horrifying. The cold water seeps in.
Steve hands me a towel. I know I could be appreciating my husband, his hand helping through the next step of showering but instead my attention is on the towel. It is part of a beach set that I spent too much money on, imagining that the perfect bold stripes would turn us into the kind of family who hit the pool in the summer with bathing suits that fit and healthy chilled snacks filling sturdy tote bags. The towels failed at their job and have ended up the towels in our modern monochrome bathroom. Like too much blush and lipstick they mar the picture of elegance I have tried to create. I realize I am cold and Steve is waiting so I take my towel and try to avoid the spot where it is coming undone. For the millionth time I am thinking about Wally Lamb’s “She’s come undone.” I find the phrase comforting in its finality. The undoing is over. She simply needs to be undone now. I think I could handle that.
I studied archaeology as an undergrad but these days I only excavate myself. Even though it has been almost three years since I had a prolonged depressive episode I continue to examine the shards of individual events, trying to determine whether I am passing through the era of stability back into a time of tumult. I know from study of myself and the earth that strata can have inversions. We do not proceed through the time periods in a strictly linear fashion. We can have previews of what is to come. And for me we can have reviews. I have been collecting evidence for a while now. I am rooting through the dirt of the past month. There was the time I didn’t let Steve touch my wet hair. There was the time I wanted to weep over the blog post because I thought I could no longer see what was OK to share about my friends. There was the time that I felt as thought there was nothing in life today or tomorrow. There was the time that I cut my walk short because I couldn’t lift my legs anymore. There was the time that I watched a mother dog reunite with her puppies and became convinced that one was missing. That she could never feel complete. That her wagging tail belied an emptiness that she would never feel. While the screen filled with happy emoticons as other viewers rejoiced in the reunion I became more anxious. I watched the video several times seeking signs of the fifth dog. Which never showed up. That time was this morning.
After the shower I got back into my Pajamas and back into bed. I should log that evidence.
Steve brought me tea and banana bread and looked into my eyes. “Are you crying?” He asked me. “No.” I was surprised to hear that. “It must be allergies to the cat.” As he walked out the door into a life that has a today and tomorrow, I felt my face with my finger.
There were so many tears.
Here is what I say to my evidence. I can still measure you and collect you, but I am not buried by you. Facebook tells me I am not alone with my raging response to the stroking of my wet hair. Facebook, for all of its shit, also tells me that I am not alone. My upset over the blog post is in the past. Clear eyes read it and reassured me. I was able to listen. My judgment was not on tilt. At least not any more so than a typical day in my stable era. There are things to do today. An architect to meet, medications to refill, yoga to practice. It is quite possible I will do all three. In ten days my family heads to Italy for the first time. There will be ruins but I will not be one of then. Even though my walk was short there was still a walk. And there will be another one. As for the puppy. Maybe four was the number. Maybe the family was complete right there and I took her joy for anxiety.
I have a husband who celebrates our family and loves the bold colors of the towels without seeing the dangling strings that could make them unravel, and he brings me tea.
Maybe the tears coming down my face are the water leaving, so I don’t drown from the inside out.
Apologies to my mother who reads this blog and will be so so upset to hear these words. Lets take that for what it is…a mother’s worry is never done but it comes from love and connection. And lets look at the real evidence. I am writing this instead of keeping it in. If there is any sign to hold up to the light it is that one. See you in Rome. I am so looking forward to the trip. Almost totally.
For one of the most readable and relatable books on depression I have ever seen please try this one.
35 thoughts on “Drowning from the inside out- what depression feels like”
Incredibly moving read. Relatable, and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.
wow. so amazing.
Thanks. So much.
Not supposed to be cheeky. Trying to express gratitude inspired by your cadence. This can all get lost in comments.
I feel like some of us were designed to feel the grief of all humanity. Unrelated to personal affairs. Beautifully put.
Thank you. When I am in this mind state the idea of feeling content is as far away as inhabiting the body for my 9 year old son. They both feel impossible.
Anna, you said at the end what I was thinking as I read: that your composing and posting this piece is evidence on the positive side of the scale. Well, those are sort of your terms. I was thinking, that your accomplishment (this piece) was evidence you’ve got hold of a good lifeline. When I feel most vulnerable to being pulled into the abyss, my lifeline is action/movement/accomplishment of literally ANY kind. I’m talking things like make the bed; put shoes in closet; walk dog; keep moving to the next thing, banal as it may be. Go for short walk, bingo. I wouldn’t claim to understand what you’re feeling. But it sounds like a world I’m too familiar with. Anyway, this is all just to say, great piece! And congratulations of writing it so beautifully.
Also, I’m excited for you all for your chance to spend time in Italy! As you may remember, I was a Mormon missionary there and lived there for most of 2 years in another life/world. My favorite places were Sienna and (just outside of Sienna) San Gimignano in Tuscany. Sienna with it’s old city inside the wall, and it’s piazza where they still hold an actual freaking horse race twice per summer, with different horses/riders representing different neighborhoods in the city, flags and colors for each, etc. And San G. for it’s even older, more rural feel with ancient towers, etc. Anyway, not that you’ll have time to get to either place, but if you are nearby, I’d recommend those!
Keep on keeping on.
Thank you once again for reading and commenting. A lot of days if I was my face I feel I am already a big winner. What an incredible time that must have been. A lifetime ago now.
Your writing consistently moves me. The power of your words makes me feel your emotions, even when you express them with deft subtlety.
The tales you tell may be of your own struggles, but you take us along with you.
And we want to be with you.
Please continue to allow us the privilege of your words. <3
This is a beautiful comment. Thank you!
I’m speechless at the beautiful poetry of your words. Truly moving. I’m trying to understand my husband’s anxiety and my sister’s sudden nervous breakdown after several bouts of depression and anxiety and your piece has given me some real insight.
I’m so glad to hear that. I mean about the insight. I am obviously. It glad to hear about the anxiety and the breakdown. Wishing all of wonderful tomorrows.
Anna, Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been enjoying your writing since I found your site a few weeks ago. I can relate to this one too well. I applaud you for sharing these difficult thoughts and feelings; it is so helpful to those of us who have them too but don’t have the words for them. Much gratitude.
Thank you sue. For reading. For relating. And for commenting. Headed to go follow you on Twitter.
Having been depressed many times, I know this feeling so well and I know how terrible it is. But I love your writing. The way you describe ordinary things, ugly things, banal things, simple things (like the boys on vacation) with such close observation and threading together. It’s so beautiful. You’ve given my jealousy of tote-bag toting families (which I felt a few weeks ago when my friend talked of going to the tennis club every day and packing food and I thought how beyond me that was, the packing of food, how I’d throw some chips in and suddenly my kids would be starving and I’d buy from the snack bar, every day, pouring crap into them and my money into crap…) a home. So glad you’re still writing.
Oh the tennis club…so innocuous. So simple. So homey. Yet such an opportunity for those of us not at our best to measure ourselves unfavorably. This is such a concrete and basic thing to work on for me. I eschew botox but care about snacks (and exactly as you say the money to buy the crap) seems hypocritical! I’m sure there is a silver lining. Like that there is no golf course attached. Or that the pool is unheated, offering our kids a small wake up moment. I will share it with them someday.
Ann, this is so beautifully written. I am in awe of your strength and willingness to share your journey with all of us. Like others have said, reading your words helps me to step back and reflect and not immediately react to my loved one who also struggles daily with his anxiety. Your words offer hope. Thank you.
Anna — so sorry for my type-o on your name! Ergh…
I take it as a sign of our closeness!
Thank you for reading. You are a great support to me and to your family.
I typed “best post ever” but then deleted it and here I am typing it again. Is it strange for me to write that it makes me miss you even more. I think of you often and our conversations.
Thank you. I do too!
Oh, honey. This made me cry, of course, because I love you and I know these feelings so deeply and personally. There is nothing like wondering if a pharmaceutical lapse is imminent.
I know, right? F’ing drugs.
Beautifully written. Incredibly moving. Brave of you to share. And hopeful…despite the challenges, hopeful. I feel privileged to have read it.
I am so glad the hope came through. I have had some worried calls, but for me it was mostly about the hope.
Maybe we are all the same underneath the mask of the parts we play in this massive theatre. As I came round from recent surgery, I heard someone crying in the distance and felt vaguely sad for whoever it was. Then as my consciousness came back more fully, I realised the sides of my face were soaked with tears. What you have written here is very raw and honest and I so wish I felt free enough to do the same. I take a different approach and hide away while trying to silence the gremlin that sits on my shoulder talking crap in my ear. It is a good job not everyone takes my approach or we would never know how alone we aren’t.
Crying in the distance. That is so lovely and so sad.
Beautiful words to a horrible illness. Depression isn’t being down it is being empty. Thank you for sharing.
Empty. Yes. Well said.
Almost totally! Yes, I can appreciate your words. Thanks for sharing.
What an incredibly moving post. I really feel your pain throughout the whole of this but I can see so many similarities in you with myself. All I’d like to say is that you are extremely strong for sharing this and for creating your ‘evidence’. One day you’ll look back at this and be proud at how for you’ve come. I suffer with anxiety but also had mild depression at the beginning. It’s a horrible disease and one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Good luck though, I’ll be coming back!
I appreciate you reading and commenting! It certainly helps to write about it, and learn how many people share some of the same struggles. Externalizing it helps a lot. I hope your anxiety is under control.
Thank you for writing this. It hurts my heart so to read it but I empathize so much. The more we write about our struggles, the more we bust the stigma. So much love to you.
Thank you thank you.