I was thinking the other day about some of the projects I made in seventh grade art class. One was a clay bunny that I painted brown, only to realize that I had created something that looked exactly like a giant turd with ears.
The other was a perspective drawing of a city street, which turned out surprisingly well considering just how badly I draw. I really had fun with that assignment, probably because it involved very little actual skill beyond an ability to draw straight lines with a ruler. It was amazing to me to see how something that appeared to be so complicated was actually quite simple to create.
It was all about breaking it down and looking at it differently.
The teacher didn’t seem to be bothered by my utter lack of any artistic skill whatsoever, but she became annoyed when I wouldn’t give her an answer about whether or not my family would be there for the annual Open House. I hemmed and hawed and stammered and finally mumbled something about my mom being sick. The teacher stared at me for a long, quiet moment before hauling me out in the hall and demanding the truth.
I don’t know what possessed me that day. I opened my mouth and told her details I hadn’t even told my closest friends. Words I barely understood: modified radical mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, prognosis. I told her the truth — that my mom was scheduled to begin chemotherapy on the day of the Open House, and we didn’t know if she would be sick that evening or not. I couldn’t give the teacher a definite “yes” or “no” because I didn’t know what to expect.
“I had breast cancer two years ago,” the teacher told me, after another long, quiet stare. “And chemo. You show up if you can, stay home with your mom if she needs you.”
In that moment, I wasn’t alone anymore. My mom was no longer the only person I knew with breast cancer. With those few words, my teacher changed the way I saw my mother’s cancer, and I could breathe again. She made my world that much bigger.
She gave me dose of perspective. A way of looking at things from a different angle.
It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with a lot of issues in recent months. I don’t like to say that I “suffer” from depression, because that sounds too passive. I “struggle” with it, “deal” with it, “fight” it, but I don’t just sit here and suffer. I hate it with a passion.
I am not, however, ashamed of it.
I’m never sure how much to say about my depression. I don’t want to be seen as a whiner, or as someone trolling for sympathy. I don’t want sympathy, and I don’t want people to walk on eggshells around me. Seriously, just because I’m going through a bad time, it doesn’t mean I need people to check up on me all the time. I’m not going to lie; there are days when my greatest accomplishment is simply staying alive until sunset. But I’m not that fragile. I’m just . . . . depressed, and doing my damndest to climb out of a very deep, dark hole.
I want to keep it secret because I don’t want to be treated differently. But I also want to talk about it because I want people to understand why I sometimes withdraw from them and want to spend time alone. Why I cry for no apparent reason. Why I can come unglued so easily. Why my temper sometimes flares up in ways that are not proportionate to the situation. I’m asking for some patience, but not pity.
It’s all in how you look at it. Perspective.
It’s been a rough summer for me. I worked too many part-time jobs and pushed myself to the point of exhaustion, and it still wasn’t enough. I lost my dream house anyway. I ended up in the subsidized apartment building here in town, where I am surrounded by boxes and bags and piles of everything I own, and I am too overwhelmed to make the next move of actually putting anything away.
I organized my silverware drawer and I move boxes of books from place to place. I’ve unwrapped my Lladros and Dresdens and even managed to cook a real supper for my boys the other night. And I discovered that I own far too much tea, which has worked out pretty well since I haven’t been able to find the filter basket for my coffeemaker. I haven’t had coffee in a week, but I’ve worked my way through some delicious Earl Grey and other treasures for my morning caffeine.
I turned to my pastor for help. She told me this is all God’s way of telling me to go back to my husband. I told her that God must be sending mixed messages, since my ex is currently engaged to someone new and my return at this point might make for an awkward honeymoon.
I don’t care for my pastor’s perspective. She sees my situation as a punishment for my sins. I see her as a total asshole, and I won’t be returning to her church.
That’s my perspective.
Look, I am an author and a blogger. Most of the time, I manage to make people laugh. I have been so fortunate to be able to find my voice and follow my dream and all that. My kids are healthy, I have the support of a lot good people, etc. Lots of good stuff, right? On my good days, I’m able to appreciate how blessed I really am. And on my bad days, I cling to the good stuff like a lifeline, and that lifeline keeps me from going completely under.
Depression sucks. There are those who believe it’s a weakness, or a choice. Who perceive it as wallowing in self-pity or looking for attention. Who are going to read this and shake their heads in disgust.
All I am asking is that you take a second to see the world from a different perspective, and understand that depression is not a choice. It’s an illness. In the United States alone, 16 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. That’s 6.9% of the population, guys. It’s real and it hurts.
And I’m choosing to own it. I am not ashamed of it anymore. I’m looking from a new angle, seeing it as something that is not a weakness, not a fault. It’s treatable, and I can do something about it. There is hope.
I am Amy, and I am being treated for depression.