As I debate sharing these words publicly that were written back in May, I’m reminded of the song “Breathe” by Anna Nalick: “…these words are my diary, screaming out loud”. Ultimately, my hesitation to share this is the reason I’ve decided to. My hope is not to gain sympathy but to normalize an experience that continues to be taboo despite it being so common, and to reassure those who are struggling that you are not alone and it’s ok to not be ok sometimes.
It’s 5 am and my mind is lit up like a Christmas tree. The clock on the wall, which I’ve been glancing at periodically since 1 am, is causing even more anxiety while I panic at the thought of functioning during a workday that is fast-approaching. My daughter is peacefully sleeping next to me, dreaming of what I hope is nothing but happiness and nothing of the nightmare my awake mind has been conjuring up for the past 4 hours. The grief, horror, and hopelessness that is racing through my mind is also gripping my heart like a vice and threatening to remove my focus entirely on the immeasurable joy that is the majority of my life. The fact that I’m letting my daughter co-sleep with me, something I said I would never do as a new mother, is a reminder of yet another thing I’m failing at in my life currently.
If you have ever suffered from anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD, grief, or all of the above, you can probably relate. Maybe you’ve experienced the constant thoughts of worthlessness, or the overwhelming darkness of the cloud that darkens even the brightest corners on the sunniest days, or the feeling of the pit in your stomach and the tightening of your chest, or maybe the feeling of not being able to feel anything. You get how you can be laughing and appearing totally fine on the outside while inside it feels like you’ve just went over the edge of a very high roller-coaster as the memories and feelings come rushing back out of seemingly nowhere, reminding you that happiness is fleeting and never a promise. You know the feeling of smiling while holding back tears, waiting for the moment when it is appropriate to let it all out, maybe in your car on the drive home or in bed once your household is fast asleep. You experience the apprehension of what horrible news will come next or the thoughts of wanting to prevent your child from ever feeling as low as you do today. You feel the dread and regret of having brought a beautiful, vibrant, happy life into this dark world and having little to no control over the bad things that will no doubt happen to them during their lifetime.
As I work towards recovering from a particularly rough bout of my depression and transition through the stages of grief in what feels like the 20th time in my life, the nights are becoming more peaceful and manageable, the rollercoaster is slowing down, and my thoughts are returning to hope and happiness. I’m able to feel the joy and anticipate the amazing things that will happen to my daughter as she grows and navigates her precious life. I’m able to laugh and smile without holding back tears or dreading the return of hopelessness that lurks around the corner. I’m able to see the sunlight permeate the dark corners again and it feels like a weight has been lifted off my chest. I can breathe again.
I know this won’t be the last of depression rearing its horrifying, ugly face. Having experienced anxiety and depression for over half my life, it’s something that may creep in next time someone I love dies, or next time I slip into the feeling of shame from a mistake I’ve made, or when a less-than-desirable outcome comes from something I expected more of. Or, sometimes, for no identified reason at all other than this is how the physiology of my brain works and what happens during the cycle of a chronic illness such as this.
Nobody is immune to the curveballs of life, and I believe we all feel similar to this at times, just some of us more often and more intensely than others. My hope is that, if this resonates with you, if you are currently stuck in a roller-coaster car that is hurtling downward at an alarming speed and are unable to glimpse the light around you, that you hold on and ride it out. Because it can, and does, get better. There are people who love you, who want to help, and who feel like this too. Scream if you need to, cry if you need to, retreat into your bed if you need to, but make sure you are also reaching out to others and doing the things you know will eventually lift you back up and back into the wonders of this remarkable thing called life. You deserve to feel happy again. I have faith that you can, and will.