Growing up, I loved autumn. I looked forward to it all year. Halloween! Jumping in piles of leaves! Bonfires! Add in that my birthday typically fell on the first day of fall, how could I not love it?
As I get older, I have embraced the cooler temps and sweater weather. Fall means cardigans and knee socks and pumpkin spiced lattes ( I allow myself but one all season). I still look forward to my birthday. But the excitement of autumn has been replaced with a fear of the October doldrums.
I lost my dad to lung cancer 6 years ago. He was diagnosed on October 15. We buried him on December 15. Two months. While I know the rapid pace was better for him – he didn’t have to suffer long – that timeline haunts me every year.
Years earlier, my brother had a heart attack in October. The next Thanksgiving, he had more surgery for his heart. And by the third year, he had triple bypass surgery before Christmas.
My love of zippy weather has been replaced with a genuine fear for what terrible thing will hit me this year. Usually I can stave off the depression until October and I suffer through until after the start of the new year. Some years are easier than others. Some find me struggling more than usual (I’m looking at you 20 pound weight gain last year).
This year Mr. Blue settled in early, taking up residency before my birthday so I know it’s going to be a long ride.
I was diagnosed several years ago with dysthymia, a low-level, chronic form of depression. It means that I can still get up and function daily and most people have zero idea what’s going on behind my mask. And frequently things are good, but just as frequently things aren’t.
For those people who have never had to deal with depression themselves or with anyone close to them, low-level, chronic depression seems like something I could easily get over. Just pull up your boot straps and keep going.
But it’s not that easy as anyone who goes through it knows.
This conversation came up recently with a coworker who, shortly after meeting, admitted to having depression and having a partner who doesn’t get it. I related to her situation. I empathized with her.
I was impressed with her ability to be honest and candid about her experience after such a short time of knowing me. And I was impressed with my own ability to speak out about my personal struggle with someone I work with. As I could feel the grasp of this year’s depression growing tighter, my words to her became my words to myself. I was speaking to her, but more importantly, I was speaking to myself.
Two non-medical resources I frequently recommend to people are Hyperbole and a Half (Her two posts (1, 2) on depression are pretty spot on) and The Bloggess. While both capture the topic in humorous ways, the accuracy of their insights is uncanny. I highly recommend checking out The Bloggess’ video on how depression lies. It’s not funny, but extremely helpful.
This week I had a few moments when I realized my happiness mask was slipping. My reaction to a request from my boss was out of character. I thought back to that Hyperbole and a Half post and realized I was having my own breakdown of sorts.
“I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.”
This panel gets me EVERY TIME. As much as I try to fake it, eventually everyone figures it out. And generally it ends with the other party thinking “wtf is up with her?”