At the beginning of this year, my four-year-old daughter was interrogating me at the breakfast table.
Sprout: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Me: When I was about your age, I wanted to be a paleontologist and dig up dinosaur bones. But when I got a little bit older, I wanted to make movies. So that’s —
Sprout: You must be sad.
Sprout: Because you’re not doing any of the things you wanted to do.
There are layers to that conversation, and it put me in a deep rut. For days. It kept repeating in my head, having my daughter call me out in such a direct way.
Was she just being precocious, or was she right on the money, and noticing something I hadn’t?
It would take me a while to acknowledge that there was a deeper problem. I needed help, and it wasn’t just about my career.
When I was in grad school, it was easy to ignore issues I was having because of my general busyness and the novelty of living in a new place. It was the same when I would start teaching at a new school, or with Sprout coming into our lives. So long as there was a Big Important New Project to throw myself into, I could use that work to paper things over and ignore what was beneath the surface.
But no success was ever enough. Every failure or missed opportunity felt apocalyptic. It got to a point where I would mull over and second-guess a three sentence email for several anxious hours.
And with the end of the school year, I was spending afternoons on the couch, eating junk food and letting auto-play on the TV do its thing. I kept telling myself tomorrow might be better. And then tomorrow would wind up just like the day before.
Sure, there were lots of things to prep for a new baby, and lots of other work to be done, but I still had plenty of time for the things that I enjoy the most. If I could just get to them. If I could just get myself to try.
And getting myself to try kept getting more difficult.
So I did what the commercials tell you to do: I talked to my Doctor.
As of writing this, I’ve spent almost a month taking an SNRI antidepressant.
I’m sharing this because so far it seems to be helping. It’s not a night-and-day difference. I’m not suddenly one of the happy, peppy people crushing it 24/7. But I’m more resilient. The strategies I have to bounce back are working better. I feel more aware of what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it.
I’m sharing this to acknowledge that this is something I should’ve tried years ago. Looking back, I can see how a lot of the choices I made, the missed opportunities that passed me by, and my reactions were related not to some kind of innate unworthiness, but a glitch in brain chemistry. I can’t get that time or those choices back, but I can change how I see myself today and what I do from now on.
I’m sharing this because if even one person reads this and asks questions, or goes to get help, then I can feel like I’ve left a ladder behind after I climbed out of this hole.
Because living with depression was like being haunted. But instead of having books launch off your shelves, or spectral visions trying to teach you the true meaning of Christmas, it was like seeing shades of your past self taunting you.
The person you thought you were, who thought they’d be somewhere else by now. The person you thought you’d be. The multitude of different “yous” that never got a chance to exist. All there. Darting in and out of your peripheral vision. Distracting you and keeping you frozen in place, feeling trapped and powerless compared to them.
And in just a few weeks, I see small ways that I’m busting those ghosts. Making room to feel positive things again. And it’s not just me who sees it. Like in a conversation with my wife the day after I made some pretty excellent shrimp tacos with homemade guacamole and pico de gallo.
Me: I think I like cooking again?
Dena: I think you like a lot of things again.
I like liking things.
What I’m doing right now may not be the only answer for me, but it’s an answer that’s helping right now.
Medication is giving me the leverage I need to do the heavy lifting of fighting these ideas that my brain was misinterpreting as facts. It’s helping me to get my butt in a chair and put words back on the screen.
It’s helping me fight to make the most of today. It’s helping me start to fight for tomorrow as if tomorrow matters.
But most of all, I hope it can help me show my daughter that what I’m doing right now, in this moment, does not make me feel sad.