This morning, when I woke up, my arms felt like they weighed 300 pounds. Each. The mere act of raising them above my head felt Herculean, crushing, impossible. I struggled to pull on a shirt, wash my face, brush my teeth. The day stretched in front of me, a long, bleak slog, full of tasks I knew I needed to do and none of the energy necessary to do them. Just writing my to-do list exhausted me, each pen stroke another burden, another impossibility.
I drank coffee, read a book, finished writing that to-do list, waited for some inspiration. I snuggled up to Brian, rested on the couch, drank some more coffee. Nothing helped.
Around 11 a.m., crying into the fast food I'd gotten on the way home from the grocery store, I had to face the truth. I'm depressed. Truly, deeply, profoundly depressed. I'm staring up at the world from the bottom of a well, the water above me distorting everything and holding me down, the sound muffled and the people I love very far away.
When you've lived - as I have for at least two decades - with depression, each day comes with its own calculation. Every morning begins with an unconscious assessment (the really bad days start with a conscious assessment), a sort of checklist of symptoms. Am I irritable? Weepy? Exhausted? Angry? REALLY angry? Suicidal? Or am I good? Am I optimistic, excited, energized by the thought of the day? And how many days in a row have I felt like this? Too many bad days mean I need help. Too many good ones? Well, there is no such thing as too many good days.
Today's calculation was not good. Starting with my leaden arms and compounded by my insurmountable to-do list and tear-soaked tacos, the math meant I was in a bad place. On the plus side, I wasn't suicidal. I didn't want to kill myself because I didn't have enough energy to DO anything. On the minus side, well, I didn't want to DO anything, just lay in a ball and weep. Also on the plus side was the knowledge that at least I knew what was causing this depression.
This episode is purely chemical, the result of being pumped full of migraine medication four days in a row, culminating with an IV migraine cocktail in the ER mere hours before I left on our family's spring break trip. The meds they give you to stop migraines are miraculous, and powerful, but they all affect your brain chemistry, and my brain chemistry is a delicate thing. Enough of any of these meds will start a chain reaction that takes weeks to overcome, one slow day at a time. I'm simply (I hope) at the bottom of this cycle, and can now begin the long climb back to equilibrium.
Knowing this, and knowing myself, I understood what had to be done to break through and start feeling better. I had to, in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, get action. Roosevelt was also a depressive, prone to dark moods and low periods. When he suffered a great loss, such as the death of his wife and mother in the same day, he knew the only way to get out of the depression that threatened to overwhelm him was to DO. Something. Anything. He threw himself into his legislative work, he learned to ranch cattle in the Dakotas, he fought corruption and tried to start wars.
Today, I didn't have any cattle to ranch or wars to start, but I did have that to-do list. And I had sidewalks outside my house for walking. And even though I didn't want to do any of it, I did all of it. Slowly, one item at a time, and not particularly well. I graded papers and returned emails and strolled around the neighborhood in my oldest sweatpants, hair uncombed. I cleaned out a closet I've been avoiding for six months. I made lunch, and then dinner, and ate both without crying. I organized my calendar for the week and set goals for the month. And slowly, slowly, I dragged myself a little closer to the surface.
I'm not fixed. I don't know what my calculation will be tomorrow morning - if I'll feel like putting on a shirt or washing my hair, or going to work. But I will. I will put on a shirt and wash my hair and go to work. I'll spend another day getting action, and another after that, and after that, until I break the surface of this depression and feel right again. And when it seems too hard, I'll simply repeat to myself, like a mantra, what I need to do.
"Get action. Get action. Get action."