2011 was a rough year for me.
Wow. Just typing that sentence feels self-indulgent. And, in a way, I believe that it is.
This past year was not filled with any debilitating disasters or losses for me. In fact, if anything, 2011 was a year of riches, particularly compared to what others endure every day. I still have my job, and acquired another one this year that I love equally. My children are healthy, happy, and thriving. My husband, in spite of all reason, seems to love me more than ever. I am surrounded by supportive family and wonderful friends. I want for nothing that I truly need. And therefore, any complaining on my part feels not only self-indulgent, but selfish and petty. I mean, if life were rated on a 1-10 scale, any objective observer would give mine a 9. I am a very lucky woman, and I am deeply grateful.
I just sometimes have trouble feeling it all.
Clinical depression is something I have struggled with my entire adult life. I was first diagnosed in college, and Depression and I have had a very up-and-down relationship ever since. Like any relationship, we have moments of bliss when everything seems to click. I let Depression alone, and she does the same for me. We do our own thing and are happy for it. We are both still aware of the other's presence, but that awareness only helps enhance our happiness because we both understand, more intimately than anyone else could, how hard we've fought to get to such an awesome place. In blissful times, we are each other's biggest supporters. We stand back and cheer each other on unobtrusively.
But there are darker times in the relationship when we clash. We drag each other down, tear each other apart, hold each other back. Those are the really rough patches, the valleys of despair when the only defense against the pain is to embrace numbness. The goal becomes simply to plow through, to try not to feel anything. But the numbness becomes heavy, like pounds of mud sitting on my shoulders, and it takes all my energy just to keep moving through the muck. I feel exhausted, weighed down, apathetic, detached. During those times, Depression and I are not on the same side. We want different things - I to rise up, and she to keep me down. And so, it becomes a battle. Once more into the breach, dear friends. We fight, and fight, and fight, and fight, and fight again.
2011 was a year of fighting.
Depression and I have been together a long time. Long enough for me to know that eventually, we will once again find a way to live together peacefully. It takes time, and patience, and a lot of work. Some days we almost get there; other days we are at each others' throats. However, after many years of denial, I've finally accepted that Depression isn't going anywhere. No matter how hard I try to push her away, she always comes back. We seem to need each other, her and I. For better or worse, we are a pair. Whether friend or enemy (and she has been both to me), she is always a part of my life. Recognizing that fact has been oddly liberating. While I don't particularly enjoy Depression's company, knowing that I can finally stop expending so much energy trying to get rid of her is freeing. Depression is here to stay. The only option is for us to learn to co-exist, and that is what I focus my energy on now. Finding and maintaining the balance between us is continuous work, but it is worthwhile work.
And so, in 2012, the work continues.
I don't talk about my relationship with Depression much because, as I referenced earlier, doing so often feels self-indulgent. I fear that people will judge me, will look at my admittedly wonderful life and think, "What in the hell do you have to feel depressed about?" And part of the reason I fear that is because, deep down, I share that opinion. It is ridiculous that I should feel so empty when my life is so full. It makes NO SENSE. But, unfortunately, depression is a senseless illness. I know that to be true. Yet I still struggle with the guilt of not being able to just shake off the damn self-pity and enjoy life. So if I - someone who understands depression more than your average Joe - can still feel that way, it seems reasonable that others would probably label me a whiny narcissist.
Yet, on the flip side, the same average Joe doesn't have the opportunity to understand depression if no one ever talks about it. Ay, there's the rub. (Oh, William. You understood depression well, didn't you my friend?)
There is still much to my relationship with Depression that I don't feel comfortable revealing...and perhaps I never will. Like any relationship, I believe that many of the more intimate details should remain private. However, I do think it important to try and strip away the fear of speaking of it at all. Giving voice can mean giving hope, and if my words help someone else, even in the smallest of ways, then the outcome outweighs the fear.
The one person in this world who understands the intricacies of my relationship with Depression better than any other is my husband. He knows how hard I am on myself, how much I struggle to feel my own beauty and worth, how much my depression manifests itself as self-loathing. He has seen the darkest parts of me, the parts that I hide from all others, and he is still my most steadfast friend and supporter. That alone is a priceless gift. And on my birthday a few days ago, he and my daughters gave me another gift - one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.
It was a simple hand mirror. (I have never owned a hand mirror. I'll let you guess why that might be.) But they decorated the back for me and attached a note to the mirror with ribbon.
I don't know if I will ever get to a place where I am able to fully accept myself as I am. One of the most harmful aspects of my relationship with Depression is how thoroughly she erodes my self-worth. But I believe that love IS beauty. So at this moment, as I hold my mirror in my hand and stare into the glass, I see the love of my family reflected back at me. And that love makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.
Jennifer Mathews is ETD's Communications Director and an actor in the ensemble. She is the manager of this blog as well as an occasional poster. Click here to read more of Jen's posts.