A few days ago, my daughter asked if she could go with me to my doctor appointment. Even though I had fantasized about a silent ride, maybe with a stop on the way to pick up a coffee, I agreed that she could come.After checking my weight (too high) and blood pressure (also too high), the nurse handed me two slips of paper. I started circling numbers on the rating scales in front of me. “Read it to me, Mom.”
She understood weight and blood pressure and she wanted to know what I was doing next.I showed her the numeric scale on the top and explained the difference between a 1 and a 5. I started reading her the questions.
“In the past two weeks, how often have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?”
“Oh, you NEVER feel like that, Mom!” she interrupted me and laughed at how ridiculous that question seemed to her.
She, like most people who meet me, can’t fathom that I was born with storm clouds in my head and blackness in my bones. That there are times when sludge seeps from my marrow and oozes out my pores. That it coats my skin like a clinging rotten mold that I can’t remove, a sick syrupy mess that I can never wipe off no matter how much I try.
Depression lies and tells me I feel like shit and I behave like shit because I really AM shit. Depression tells me I should just be happy because I have such a great spouse, and great kids, and a great life, so SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP. Sometimes people tell me this, too.
It’s hard not to listen to your brain when it tells you that NOTHING WILL HELP, SO THERE’S NO USE TRYING. It’s impossible to ignore the idea your brain plants in your head that MEDS WON’T HELP – THEY’LL TURN YOU INTO A ZOMBIE. It’s hard to tell your brain that YES, I REALLY AM STRUGGLING when your brain says, No, actually you’re being weak.
JUST do the dishes.
JUST be nice.
JUST get out of bed and workout.
JUST be happy.
Depression scares me and tells me that the doctor is going to look at me and tell me that nothing is wrong with me.
Depression scares me and and tells me that the doctor is going to think something really is.
I know depression intimately, so I’m grateful for all of the days I DON’T feel trapped by my own mind. Like today. Today is a glorious day.
“Actually,” I tell her, “sometimes I DO feel like that and that’s why I’m here. I go to the doctor to check on these kind of feelings.” I continue reading her the questions on the list as I circle them.
“In the last two weeks, have you felt irritable or annoyed? So much so that others have noticed?” I circle a 2. A low score for me.
“Oh, THAT one is definitely a two.”
Now she’s getting it.
I hesitate on the last question before reading it to her, “In the past two weeks, how often have you had thoughts that you would be better of dead, or hurting yourself in some way?” I am thankful that my rating for this one is currently a zero, particularly since my daughter is watching me circle my responses. Because it’s not always a zero.
I’ve had to learn how to deal with these kind of thoughts when they ultimately return and resonate. I’ve had to figure out how to keep myself healthy even when my brain tells me to do the exact opposite of what it is that I need to do.
“Make an appointment with your doctor TODAY,” I need to tell myself. I need to remind myself that if it makes me uncomfortable to tell the receptionist why I’m making the appointment – it’s okay to LIE. To tell her I want to discuss allergies. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to lie to the nurse too, if I need to. That no, they will not kick me out for doing this. I need myself to know that I can tell the doctor that my friend or my mom or my child or my coworker told me that I needed to go. That I promised that person I’d check in and report back. I need to remember it’s okay to tell the doctor if I’m feeling uncomfortable talking about this with them.
Once I go to the doctor, I know I immediately need to make a follow up appointment. Before I leave. Every single time. I need to constantly follow up. Follow up. Follow up. PROBABLY FOREVER. Because treatment, at least for me, doesn’t look like this:
It looks like this:
I need to remind myself that I don’t have to feel worthless and hopeless. I need to be reminded that those aren’t normal feelings. That other people aren’t thinking about how they’d do it if they ended it. I need to remember that when my brain starts thinking any of those things that I am not alone and I AM NOT WELL.
So, how do I do it? How do I make my brain recognize what I need to be healthy when my brain is at the same time telling me I’m a piece of shit and should just give it all up?
I do the same thing other people who successfully manage their depression do. We plant messages and reminders for ourselves when we’re in a good place. We leave notes up on our bathroom mirrors that say, “You are worth it.” We leave printouts of Pinterest quotes on our bulletin boards that tells us, “DEPRESSION LIES.” We wear jewelry on our wrists that remind us to keep going. We get tattoos on our arms that remind our brain that we can, in fact, feel better than we do now.
We get tattoos on our feet so we’re absolutely positive there is no way we can miss this important message.
We remind ourselves that we are no different and no better than those we know who lost their battle.
People like me need multiple reminders to try the counseling, or the app, or the yoga, or the workouts, or the meds, or the other meds, or the other meds, or the increase in meds, or the inpatient treatment, or the transcranial magnetic stimulation, or the any of the other things that are available to us. We need a reminder that what works at one point might not work later. We need a reminder that what didn’t work before might work now. We need reminders to keep trying. And trying. And trying.
People like me find ourselves wading through the muck so much that when we have an opportunity to feel a ray of sunshine on our faces WE BASK IN IT. We add to our gratitude journals and our acts of kindness every opportunity we get. We practice self-care by reading, doing yoga, creating art, writing, or doing whatever it is that keeps us sane. Because we know these kinds of things are impossible when we’re not in a good place.
My daughter and I left my appointment and when I looked at her face in the rear-view mirror I wondered if she’s inherited the darkness genes or not. If she’ll battle with depression like her mama. If she does, I hope I’m giving her a path to follow so she always gets the message that she is worth the effort it takes to seek out the help she needs.