There’s nothing cozy about a blanket of depression, especially in the time of Covid.
Image from HERE.
I consider myself experienced at dealing with depression, but that doesn’t make me an expert. I’m just an ordinary person who has seen the darkness, felt it closing in on me, and witnessed others snowed under it, too.
But I’m here to tell you that I threw the blanket off, at least for now. By that I mean both figuratively, the heavy cover of sadness and bitterness, and literally, the soft meadow-blue flannel sheets I took refuge under for so many days.
Miraculously, I am in recovery, holding onto happiness one moment at a time.
Depression is an illness. It’s a grip on your heart and mind. It can manifest as inertia, both physical and emotional. Inability to move or feel. At times in my past, it has been too painful for me to muster up a smile, no matter how much my husband, Dan, coaxed me, no matter how pretty the sunset streaks or how good the clam chowder. My heart was hardened, locked. My will was broken. A grin, even a shaky one? That was not within my power.
The prettiest lipstick, the pinkest sweater, the finest chocolate bark — nothing I used to love could lift my spirits. Life was letting me down.
The sadder you are, the more it can snowball. The angrier your heart, the more it tightens into a clenched fist. Your resentments course like poison through your veins.
It requires clarity, strength, presence of mind, willingness and wellness to be aware of a weighted blanket, let alone cast it off.
I don’t have any secrets for a cure, hardly for myself, certainly not for others. I have a kind, helpful therapist and prescriptions carefully managed by a skilled and compassionate nurse practitioner. I try to exercise in the fresh air and connect with nature and, more recently, to avoid sugar, a substance that is a mood changer for me. A cupcake or cake pop seems so homespun and true, but it leads to more cupcakes and cake pops and my erratic, unstable, crazy-scary behavior. I have long attended a warm support group, now on Zoom for the time being.
Sitting on this sofa, tapping these keys on my small Rose Gold MacBook, thinking I will reach someone, that someone will hear me — it helps. Weaving words helps.
It might help you, too. Or maybe your process is to embroider, knit, bake, walk, run, act, sing, go birding, sketch, paint, hike, make pasta from scratch, clean, sculpt, do hair, practice yoga or tend a flower garden. Anything that gets your mind from Point A to Point B, peacefully. Pick up a paintbrush, push a needle through fabric, swim to stay afloat.
I hear Pete Seeger playing on the Google speaker in the kitchen.
I see our little lamp, a sturdy white base with a celery-green shade, balanced on a short stack of beloved books. One is a cookbook, The Cape Cod Table, its beach photography and recipes impossible to resist. Inside, I wrote in black pen: Bought — with joy — with my Rosie in July 2004 at Stop & Shop in Orleans, Cape Cod. (Rosie is a nickname, after my Italian grandma, because little auburn-haired Annie, then eight, reminded me of her.) I see that book’s pretty aqua spine, and the cheery yellow backbone of Nancy Drew/The Secret of the Wooden Lady.
All are holding steady on my Irish grandparents’ old mahogany table by the back window. It is the table from break-the-budget roast lamb and mint jelly Easters in their spare apartment, and Christmases on which my grandmother, Alice — in her rocking chair by the tabletop tree my Sis helped trim with dime-store elves and doves — took a rare, celebratory sip of Harveys Bristol Cream.
That table, that family, weathered tough times and I will, too.
A tall glass of ice water at my side (rocks are a must, even in December), I’m trying to see a path in the darkness. It’s not for me this time, but for someone else in my household.
Yours, mine or ours, living with depression is painful. So is the stark realization that life is not a Hallmark card.
This darkness reminds me of a summer walk I took with my family in the woods by Doane Rock on Cape Cod. It was a nighttime activity led by a park ranger. We were looking for signs and sounds of wildlife — beings that do their bidding when the sun goes down.
“After a few minutes in the dark, your eyes will get used to it, and you have night vision,” the ranger told us. And indeed we did. Under the light of the moon, I could make out the trees around us, the path underfoot. Our sense of hearing was also heightened, to the sounds of birds and insects, a rustling in the bushes and the rolling waves of the distant sea. Our Annie, age four or five then, held tight to me, hood up on her fuzzy blue L.L. Bean fleece jacket. I carried her part of the way.
Many people are afraid of the dark. Others learn to navigate it.
The small pond I love to visit in winter, spring, summer and fall at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary lies straight ahead when you leave the Nature Center and point your sandals toward the walking trails.
Years back, the pond was bigger, but now, its borders have drawn in; the natural pool is closing in on itself. My friend Rose*, quietly observant and keenly smart, a mother of three, a wife and a person with a demanding and meaningful career, is always expert at spotting the frogs in that water, though they camouflage so well in their little muted wetsuits. Rose notices their movement.
Our kids usually wanted to scramble ahead, in a blur of shorts and sneakers and flip-flops, toward the turtles at larger Goose Pond, the bird blind, the lookout by the marsh cabin, the bridge near the tiny Fowler’s toads and the double seat buffed smooth by time in the hollow of a wind-worn tree trunk. When we corralled Charlie, Alison, Annie, Robbie and Skippy for a minute to scan the water and weeds, it was my friend Rose who would softly say, “Is that a frog over there —on the lily pad?”
That is our life task. To look closely in the murkiness for promise, for signs of slow stirring. For beauty and rebirth in a shrinking pool that may appear dull and lifeless; for good nature in disguise. The discovery can be a small miracle.
This Christmas, I’m hoping we, my family and I, do not get lost under the stress of hauling boxes from the attic and the pressures of gift buying and money spending. Our small house is already cluttered, so making room for Christmas seems like a lot. Dan and I are older now, not the thirtysomethings who moved in and bounded up the stairs. All those cartons can seem like a burden, not a gift.
I hope we find peace. I hope our tree stays up without tipping over. We try every year — with a good metal tree stand — but since the mighty pine stands in a corner, we weigh it down unevenly with too many expectations, too many ornaments on its flouncy outer skirt of branches.
We expect it to hold up our holiday when it isn’t on steady footing.
That unseen corner stays bare — who can see it, anyway? — and the evergreen from Fred’s Christmas Trees (since 1956) inevitably topples. We lose a few precious keepsakes every December when it slams to the floor as though it were just felled at a tree farm. The pieces are shattered and Dan, if he is in the light, takes out the Krazy Glue to try and mend some — the pink ballerina chosen for young Annie on a lunch-hour trek to Bergdorf Goodman, the blue and white porcelain Wedgwood snowflake Sis and Don brought back from a holiday trip to London.
This Yuletide, in the time of Covid, when positive case numbers spike, frontline workers bring courage every day, hospitals ache and exhale, kids struggle with remote learning while teachers hold fast, businesses flounder and technology consumes us, I pray for a full heart and a bright outlook.
I pray to pause and notice the sounds in the darkness — to see the hope and the life in what appears to be still.
Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
*Names changed to protect privacy.