My nose is crooked. It happened the Thursday before election night last November. I was walking my dog in the dark, looking at my phone and not paying attention. I tripped and fell face first into my neighbor’s brick mailbox so hard it broke my nose. It hurt like hell and made my face into a bloody mess.
I’ve been going back to that night, replaying the events between then and the following Tuesday when the whole world felt like it collapsed in on so many of us, unable to make sense of the election results. I’m trying to pin-point the date my latest round of depression began. As if that’s something you can do — trace a line of sadness, your very own trail of tears back to a moment in time, the same as you would go about finding the last text from someone you love.
Depression is a tricky mother fucker. Mine starts as a slow drift into the what-does-any-of-it-matter-abyss. There are always signs along the way that I never catch until long after I’ve passed them. Obsessively thinking about everything I’ve done wrong. The friends I’ve lost. All the wrongs done to me (or so, I tell myself). I buy more and more books, but read less and less. I sneak handfuls of Nestle chocolate morsels throughout the day – a stand-in for the Camel Lights I gave up ten years ago.
My anxiety soars at even a hint of disruption during my day. I forget my daughter’s tennis practice and can’t let it go. I leave clothes unfolded for days (weeks?). The kitchen table stays covered in unread magazines and kid-clutter, crossword puzzles left undone, bills I keep forgetting to pay. The bananas in the fruit bowl grow too brown to eat. Soft avocados waiting to be thrown in the brush beside our house – my makeshift compost pile.
I look at the mess and think what does it matter?
What does it matter is my depression’s way of saying hello. A call that I never recognize on the first ring. My response is the same. I’m just so exhausted, because I’m just so exhausted is easier to hear than I’m sad.
But then, the random crying starts, forcing me to turn my face away from the rearview mirror while my eight-year-old explains what improv is from the backseat of the car. (As if I didn’t know. As if improv wasn’t the foundation of my entire parenting practice.) I catch myself looking up closed AA meetings near my zip code while pumping gas on the way home from the grocery, even though I’ve never been to an AA meeting in all ten years of my sobriety. I wonder what that would be like – how I could even talk through the sobbing mess I would surely be, giving into the vulnerability of admitting my alcoholism to strangers instead of my therapist.
Sitting in my car, waiting for the tank to fill up, I close my eyes and imagine my therapist’s office and can smell the nag champa incense. During the entire 24 years I’ve been seeing her, she has had a pottery bowl the size of my palm in the waiting room filled with Hershey kisses.
Every visit, I eat as many as I can without emptying the shallow bowl. I let the first one melt on my tongue, sitting in the upholstered chair, reading the Marianne Williamson quote on the wall about how our deepest fear isn’t that we are inadequate, but powerful beyond measure.
“Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
I wonder about that file some where in my therapist’s office with my name on it that goes back 24 years. What did my psyche look like so long ago? That poor wounded mushy-matter, still 17 years away from admitting I was an alcoholic. How sad must I have been when I finally sat down in front of a professional and started my story.
It was the Spring of 1993. I was broke. Neck-deep into my addictions. Bulimic. My days were centered around binging and purging, binging and purging. I ended up in my aunt’s house, home from college because I couldn’t hack it – and not living in the house where I grew up, because I couldn’t hack it there either.
I was staying in my aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom. My aunt who sent me to that first therapy appointment, those first Hershey kisses. There was an antique dresser in her spare bedroom where I spent so many nights, learning how to stop making myself throw up. The dresser had belonged to my aunt’s grandmother, my great-grandmother. The story was my great-grandmother would hide away in her attic for days, weeks (months?). The guy who refinished the dresser for my aunt found the words “I’m dead alive” on the backside of that wooden dresser.
I wonder what my great-grandmother kept in that dresser. Linens? Quilts? I kept my clothes in it. The denim shorts I wore waiting tables at a place called The Brewery. I sat on the murphy-bed beside it, scrawling words in my journal. There was a mustard-yellow and white ceramic dish that sat on top of the dresser where I would put my change and tips from the night, the lighter I always had at the bottom of my pocket.
I was sad. I drank. I got high.
I felt dead alive.
In the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben, the author claims trees are families that live and talk and nurture each other the same way humans do. It’s been nearly 25 years and I still think about that dresser. How it once kept my great-grandmother company. I imagine it as a sentient being. The wood it was made from still being the tree that was cut to build it. A living breathing tree older than anything I know. I wonder if it understood the words my great-grandmother carved into it. Could it feel her? Did it see me, in that spare bedroom, scrawling in my journal? Still naive to the full-force of depression, not knowing it was more than a word I threw around when I felt sad — that it could trick me into believing everything was all my fault…trick me into believing nothing mattered.
Unaware depression could leap from one strand of DNA to the next, moving from a mother, to a son, to a great-grand-daughter.
This week, I was trying to figure out how to work our shop-vac while cleaning my car. I thought there was a switch that made it go from blowing to sucking – not realizing there are two separate hose-attachment entries for each function. It was nearly 100-degrees outside, my favorite weather. My daughter was with her cousins, my son and husband on a camping trip. I had the day to myself to do as I pleased.
Sitting on my garage floor, crying because I couldn’t figure out how to work a shop-vac, I knew. I wasn’t exhausted, and crying over the shop vac wasn’t me being sad about the world. It was depression, back for a visit to make every mundane task feel like the weight of a thousand worlds crashing down on me.
I’m better now. I haven’t cried once since figuring out how to work the shop-vac. My nose is still crooked; I think of it as my personal precursor to a crooked election I still can’t make sense of. My kitchen table is nearly clutter free, beyond the few back-to-school leftover supplies collected this week. And the fruit bowl is replenished with brand new bananas and still-green avocados.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop, drinking a latte, and writing, trying to remember that full Marianne Williamson quote, and thinking about trees.