a malady of kin
Depression runs in my family. Sometimes it brings profound and suffocating sadness. The weight of the world descends for no apparent reason. Tears flow freely and frequently. At other times it’s a brain fog, no energy, the absence of motivation. Daily tasks and routines become my twelve labors of Hercules. Brushing teeth, taking a shower, cooking dinner. All are unreasonably exhausting.
I’m so tired today. I just need more sleep.
A nap lasts all day… for days on end. And then the self-criticism begins:
What’s wrong with me? Why am I so lazy? I have no discipline, no ambition. I am worthless.
Crosswords. Sudoku. Freecell. Mahjong. These games fill my days. Solving simple puzzles is all I can accomplish. I must continually remind myself to eat, to bathe, to take out the trash. I live in pajamas and sweats. My natural ability to focus, to concentrate, has evaporated. I surf the Internet endlessly. The news cycle demands my full attention. The plane crash in Malaysia last spring consumed me. So did the Ferguson protests this fall. I stayed up deep into the night watching live feeds of tear gas and clashes. I compulsively posted stories and commentary on Facebook. I was outraged and overwhelmed and emotionally empty.
My train of thought would derail into a pile of mangled images and feelings. This mental fog and idleness lasted for months and eventually deteriorated into anxiety and hypochondriasis. My marathon naps had slowly shifted into sleepless nights and frantic google searches on cancer. I felt out of control and crazy and finally admitted I couldn’t cope anymore.
It felt like defeat.
Why did I need medication? Why couldn’t I be normal? Why was my family cursed with this malady?
Physical illness is socially acceptable. The community rallies and lends a hand.
But mental illness? Stigma. Judgment. Isolation.
“Just snap out of it. It’s not real. Everyone feels sad and tired sometimes.”
People who’ve never had to fight the fog don’t understand. There’s no blood test or scan to confirm the symptoms. Depression is a hazy, murky, confusing existence.
Both mental and physical illness are real. Both are biological. Both require medication. Depression runs in families. So does high blood pressure and diabetes. I’m as healthy as a horse physically, but my mental health ebbs and flows.
One of the cruelest symptoms of my depression is my inability to write. It’s more than writer’s block. It’s a loss of language, a stifled and silenced voice. I have nothing to say.
My thoughts are migrating starlings in a tree: thousands of incoherent and deafening squawks merging into annoying noise. Words are impossible to capture and record. They melt into the mist. They flutter away into a murmuration of black nothingness.
After two months the meds are kicking in. My energy is back and concentration comes easier. And words. The words are returning. Pen to paper is not so fruitless. I still have low-energy days where I nap with my cats for hours or surf the Internet for news and purpose. I’m learning to accommodate the rhythms of my inheritance. I remind myself that depression runs in my family, and I talk to my mom about our common experience.
“Me too,” we say. “Yes, I know what that’s like. It’s what we have. It’s okay, we’ll manage.”
Shared experience is so vital in this life. It’s the heartbeat of our human condition. Find your kinfolk of common struggle and listen, tell. We need each other. We cannot survive alone.