She was beautiful–no, radiant. Glowing with warm and joyful energy. Long, blonde hair and blue eyes. Slender; dressed in a delicate white eyelet sundress that stopped tastefully just above the knee caps–which only drew more attention to the fact that her lower left leg was encased in a bulky black walking cast. She seemed indifferent to her leg’s plight as she stood with her brand new husband, her hands clasped around the handle of a cake knife poised and ready to slice through a layer of pale blue fondant.
We were a mere 15 feet away on the patio of a French restaurant–out for a date, two cohabiting young adults and accidental witnesses to another couple’s intimate wedding reception. I was not-so-radiant, underdressed in worn jeans and a rumpled tank top, grumpy with my boyfriend because he a) was breathing, b) had looked at me funny, and c) still hadn’t proposed yet. I was sinking into my melancholy when the groom quietly walked over and set two pieces of cake on our table. I looked up and across the patio to the temporarily disabled bride who smiled at me and said, “I’m so sorry we’re interfering with your dinner. We thought you might like a piece of cake.”
I was stunned.
This girl was happy. Genuinely happy. So happy I could feel it from 15 feet away. She was thoughtful and kind to strangers. She was not grumpy that she was wearing a walking cast on her wedding day. And she had good taste in cake. I wanted to be her.
Because I wasn’t happy. I was occasionally thoughtful and kind, but I was also mercurial–prone to laughing one moment and crying the next. I took things personally, and obsessed over every little thing anyone ever said to me. I was depressed and anxious.
Let me tell you something about people who suffer from depression and anxiety: We don’t always look depressed or anxious. We don’t always stay in bed all day with covers over our head, although sometimes that happens. Often, we go to work, we do our jobs, we show up to birthday parties. Sometimes we are the overachievers, because working your butt off is the only thing that keeps your mind focused and tunes the crazy out. Oh yes, the anxious are sometimes
obsessively productive. But inside, we are tortured. Because every day, just getting through the day is exhausting. Living in our own thoughts is exhausting.
This is what goes on in the mind of a depressed or anxious person: We dial a number. The person doesn’t pick up. We think, That @#%hole! He never picks up. I bet he’s sitting there just looking at the phone and ignoring me. He’s so $@#%ing selfish. He doesn’t care about me. So we turn to anger–maybe even rage–because anger is much easier to tolerate than anxiety. Or we go the other extreme. We melt down. We get disproportionately sad. We think, I’m so alone. No one loves me. I guess I’ll go eat worms. I wish I was dead. And it feels like the weight of Sisyphus’s boulder is resting on our chest.
It took me a long time to recognize that feeling like this wasn’t normal. I got away with blaming my parents’ divorce for many a year. And then I was in college, so I was homesick and finding my way in the world. Then I was living with my boyfriend and trying to figure out how to peacefully co-exist with a member of the male species. I had a new job. I had a new apartment. I was in escrow. Someone died…
I channeled my anxiety in productive ways. I pushed ahead, I got promoted. I sat for a certification exam. I went to therapy, I went to Al-Anon. I read books about optimism and cognitive behavioral therapy. I ran, I lifted weights, I got a personal trainer. I thought, Once we get a bigger place, I’ll be happy. Once I get a better job, I’ll be happy. Once I fit into my college jeans again, I’ll be happy. Once we have a pet, once we get engaged, once we get married…
I would cry and tell my boyfriend–now husband–that I had a perfectly good reason not to be happy. And after a while, I ran out of excuses.
One night, after we had been married for seven months, I lost my mind. He left the kitchen cupboard open. That @$#hole! How dare he?! Here I am trying to keep things in order around here and he’s just being an inconsiderate slob. I snapped at him, and he snapped back. The snowball started rolling down the hill. I raged, I cried, I spun… and I melted.
Once I gained control, and my breathing slowed to a normal pace, I sat with him calmly on the couch and whispered, “I think I need medication. I don’t think I can fix this on my own.” He held my hand and nodded.
Enter stage left: serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
Suddenly everything was different. Actually, nothing was different. Except me.
I went from seeing the world in 1 bit color to 32. I was able to relax and speak without crafting every word in my head first. I stopped agonizing all the time about what everyone thought about me. I stopped replaying the day over and over in head while I lay awake in bed at night. I was more compassionate, more understanding, more willing to listen. And when my husband left the cupboard door open, I could roll me eyes and say, “Hey, quit leaving the cabinet door open, would ya?” Or better yet–just close it and walk away.
Now that’s not to say I don’t still struggle. Don’t we all? I still have moments when, like Alice in Wonderland’s dormouse, I need to have some jam (or tea) put on my nose. But I am happy. Genuinely happy. So happy, you can feel it from 15 feet away. In fact, if I had some cake, I would share it with you.
If you or someone you love suffers from depression or anxiety, know this:
- You are NOT alone. One in four adults in America suffers from a mental health disorder, and one in 17 suffer from a serious mental illness such as depression (www.NAMI.org).
- There is HOPE. Talk to your Doctor, find out if your company has an Employee Assistance Plan, or call 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264).
- There is no need to suffer in silence. There is no need to feel shame. Shame can only exist when we hide in the dark. So come on out into the light. It’s nice out here.
Stevie (short for Stephanie) is a wife and mother to three fur babies that have taken over her heart and home. A lover of words and yoga, she blogs at Joy in the Midst Of about her quest for joy and learning to love a little deeper, laugh a little more often, and live with more gratitude for all the blessings life has given her. She serves as a contributing writer and Community Lead for the SITS Girls and can also be found hanging out on Facebook or tweeting away at @joyinthemidstof.