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Leaves on the Trees

Trigger warning: brief mention of suicide/self-harm.

I woke up this morning at 3 am (I drank an energy beverage right before bed because I'm very smart) and felt like this might be the time to articulate what #depression feels like for me. I don't know whether I will be able to explain it, but this is also the first time in a very long time that I've felt like I'm breaking through.

In fact, I feel like I just kool-aid manned through a wall of depression this week.

This blog might be a little self-indulgent, but I think having a place to put into words where people can read it if they want is really helping me. Hopefully people who are actually reading this are people who are interested.

I've been wearing glasses for 25 years now. my vision is pretty terrible. But I distinctly remember the process of getting glasses for the first time. Because the vision changes happen gradually, you don't really notice anything is wrong until someone else points it out.

I was in the 5th grade. In school, there were a lot of alphabetical by last name seating arrangements, so I was in the back of the room. Mrs. Gimbel was writing on the board with a green expo marker, and it looked to me like the marker was dried out. I could see writing, but I couldn't read it. I only knew it was a vision problem because everyone else was acting like the marker was just fine. I could see the red and black and blue markers much better.

My parents didn't believe me when I said I couldn't see at school. I'm not sure why. They probably thought I just wanted glasses...I guess to be cool? Because historically, glasses have been recognized as very cool, especially for the ladies. I had to move my seat to the front, and even then those stupid green markers were basically invisible. Why would you continue using an invisible marker?

When I finally went to the optometrist, I distinctly remember him asking me to read the eye chart and only being able to make out the big E at the top. By the end of the appointment, I determined the second letter was an H.

Putting on a new pair of glasses is a wondrous experience. Every time your prescription changes, you get to relive this magic moment where you suddenly realize that trees have leaves on them and you can see each leaf! You can see the blades of grass. The individual blades! The whole world comes to life in a way you had been missing before. Its magic, but also kind of sad that you missed it. Glasses people, you know what I'm talking about.

So, what does vision have to do with depression? I didn't just wake up depressed one morning. The change was gradual. I didn't even notice. I did notice feeling tired; exhausted, really. It's like doing every task with a weighted vest on. You can do it, but it wears you out. So you start to pace yourself and do one thing and then rest. And then you start thinking that doing the thing is so exhausting, its not worth the effort.

Its not just hard tasks, like exercising or cleaning the whole house. Its little things. Brushing my hair was too hard; I could just put it in a pony tail without brushing it and no one would know the difference. Its ok if I skipped the dishes tonight; I'm tired. I'll do it later.

Its not all the time, either. Sometimes I could muster up the will and say "this weekend i'm going to clean the whole house" and I could buckle down and get it done. Or, at least almost done. Close enough. But after that, I'd be too tired to maintain it.

So then I learned to hide it. Do the minimum so no one knows how deficient I am, but leave everything else undone. Which then makes me feel like a fraud, like at any moment someone will find out that I'm hiding the fact that I can't handle my life.

(This part is fun, because it feeds the #anxiety part of life. You really should try the depression/anxiety combo pack. "I'm worried, but I don't care." Really makes you feel great!)

And I would wonder how other people do handle their lives. How is it possible that there are people who get up in the morning and exercise and shower and eat breakfast and get ready and go to work and they do it EVERY DAY? And then after work, DO things. They have hobbies and interests and hang out with friends. They cook their own dinner? They don't walk in the door and slam down on the couch and stay there until bedtime. Genuinely spent that couch time trying to figure out how that was possible and what was wrong with me that I couldn't do that?

Even with all that, I was getting by until the COVID shut-down. That's when things really went bad. I didn't see any human people except for a few grocery store employees for about three months. No work, no friends, no church. I did talk to people on the phone, but it wasn't the same thing. Turns out I need work and church to force me to interact with other people, or I will go straight crazy. Its very disappointing to learn my introverted self can't handle being alone all the time, but there it is.

It got to the point where I couldn't really do anything other than minimum work so I didn't get fired, but no more than that. But still, I didn't know what was wrong with me. I tried everything I could think of to get myself to function: I forced myself to exercise; I looked for new hobbies; I played my piano; I finally went to the doctor to see if I had some kind of medical problem that left me exhausted all the time.

Because, even with all this going on, I still didn't know that what I was experiencing was depression. After all, I wasn't sad.

I finally summoned the energy to find a doctor and went to see her. At the doctor, they give you a sort of depression screening test. It asks questions like whether you find pleasure in your hobbies, how well you sleep, whether you are tired all the time, your eating habits, etc. It also asks some self-harm questions. This, for me, was that 5th grade moment where I realized I couldn't see as well as everyone else. My answer to every single question except the ones about self-harm was solidly in camp #mentalillness .

(Side note: as a person who was not having self-harm thoughts, taking these tests and answering questions about it kind of felt like a recommendation. It's like Amazon said: because you purchased: depression, we think you'd also like: suicide. And I start thinking: thank you? Maybe I'm not being depressed correctly? Now I can't even succeed at depression. Oh hello, negative thoughts spiral)

Still, it took me a few more weeks to decide to get some therapy. First, I didn't know how to get therapy. And second, it feels like a personal failing. It feels like weakness to ask for help. It is not weakness. But it feels like it.

Depression brain has an uncanny ability to make you want to do the exact opposite of what will actually make you feel better. Exercise, drink water, eat healthy food, get therapy. Or, you know, I could just stay in my bed. I'll feel better if I can just get some rest, right? right?

I signed up for BetterHelp. I filled out all the forms, but it still took me about a week before I actually pushed the button. It was terrifying. But even taking that step made me feel a little bit better.

I'll write some more about my therapy/BetterHelp experience in a future post, but it was the first major step in me feeling better. Its definitely a journey and its not over yet. It may never be over. Sometimes it feels like I'll always be this way; like its a character flaw and I'm stuck with it. But, occasionally, there's a moment like today, where it might be possible to do something.

Today, there are leaves on the trees.

If any of this sounds familiar, I truly recommend finding a therapist to talk to. Its very hard, but it also helps. If it doesn't sound familiar, I hope it helps you to understand what someone else might be experiencing.

I felt alone for a long time; like I had to hide my struggles from the world. But since I started sharing my story, I've learned that there are so many of my friends that have felt this way or felt something similar. They've reached out to tell me so on my posts, via text, on messenger, on other platforms. We aren't alone. It's not weakness. There is hope. We can do this.

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