sticky octopus of depression

Graffiti of a silhouette of a person leaning into a wind, their hair and skirt blowing back, along with petals from a flower they're holdingGood morning, good morning.

Here in Southern Maine, it’s snowing like rain. Winter finally arrived for real, it seems, in February – we’ve had good cold temperatures and wind and capital-S Snow. I mean snow that’s not cute, not fluffy, falling gently like feathers; I mean snow that’s small, persistent, steadily blustered by the wind, and not at all fun or romantic to go for a walk in. Snow you’re happy to get back inside from. Right now, Sophie and I are debating about how long we’ll have to be out there for her morning ablutions. Our debate consists of us sitting on the couch, bundled in a blanket, looking out the window at the snow being blown in waves through the glow of the streetlamp. She does not seem in any especial hurry to get up and go.

It’s the last day of February, and on Friday, I’ll be turning 51. I don’t really want to write this post, and I keep feeling myself pulled away, pulled toward something I can just consume, passively watch or read, not have to engage with or create. I’m moving out of yet another heavy deep trough of depression, which very much seems tied to my hormonal cycle and my periods, and I’m wondering when these are going to start to change — I mean, wondering when my periods are finally going to start to change.

I think it’s certain that I’m dealing with perimenopause, though, of course, no one can say for sure, because it’s just something that half the human race has been dealing with since the human race came into existence – why would we have developed ways to better understand or talk about or help women cope with or understand what’s coming (the way we can do, at least to some small extent, with the experience of puberty or the realities of pregnancy; for those who become pregnant, there’s an entire industry built on explaining “What to expect when you’re expecting”)?

What’s the thing I want to say about this, this morning? I don’t know that I want to get into a whole thing about menopause – I can go back to Our Bodies, Ourselves, to see what they had to say about it once upon a time, and there’re some newer books that delve deeply, honestly, and empathetically into menopause’s realities, as I understand it. I haven’t read them yet – I’ve been too sad to do so (perhaps ironically, perhaps not, who can say?).

As so many of you who are reading this know, depression is lonely – both for the person who’s depressed, and for anyone who tries to spend time with them. I constantly feel like I should be apologizing to anyone I’m around these days: “I’m sorry, I very much do want to be connecting with you right now, but I’m apparently stuck on the other side of this enormous and old wall of grief and loss, and I can barely see you through all of my shame.”

What’s maybe hardest — do you ever feel this way? — is understanding that this awful thing I’m tangling with is invisible to everyone else. It seems unfair. If I could carry around a sticky octopus of lost opportunities that keeps its head on my shoulder and constantly whispers awfulness into my ear, maybe the weight of it would make more sense to others – and even to myself.

(I’d actually rather not associate octopi with depression, given how brilliant and beautiful they are – but they’re the alien-iest, arm-iest, heaviest, and most unmanageable thing I can think of right now.)

For much of the last several years, all I want to say when I’m with people is, “I’m not ok, actually. I’m really struggling.” But that gets old. I can only assume it gets old. And I feel ashamed, embarrassed, to be this age and still riding the same old wet rag of grief and loss, even . And so I don’t say it. Or I think, I’ll tell them, I’ll just wait for the right moment – and then the right moment doesn’t come. Or I think, I’ll wait for them to ask how I’m doing — and then they don’t ask, maybe because it looks like I’m doing fine. I seem to be doing fine. Those of us who had to always look like we were doing fine when we were experiencing some of the worst possible things at home when we were younger — we carry that skill into adulthood, don’t we? We keep on Looking Fine, many of us, even when we’re very much not. It’s hard to learn to let that mask slip, to stop Looking Fine, to tell the truth, to just be visibly Not Ok.

Because I have a lot of time alone, it’s mostly my animals who see me being Not Ok, and they are pretty patient with me (except when it’s time to go out, and even for that I’m thankful — there are days when I’d never leave the house except for Sophie’s need). Of course, my wife is patient with me, too, and my family. All they can do is wait for the hormones to shift and hope that this won’t be one of those months that the depression keeps laying heavy on my chest even after I begin to bleed.

It doesn’t seem fair that I would be doing all the things They say to do to deal with depression – exercise, sleep, self care, better foods, even a whole lot of antidepressant medication – and still be this sad and heavy this much of the time. ┬áNow I’ve got my fingers crossed that maybe, maybe, once I get to the other side of menopause (which is still a long time away, given that my periods are still pretty damn regular and steady – Come on, body, those eggs are all done. Do you really think we’re going to get pregnant now, after so many years of not even trying? Can we let the rest of those still tucked up into those ovaries go and move ┬áinto the next thing?)

The light is starting to come up, and the outside has taken on that blueish tint that snow can bring up. The snow’s still coming down hard, and at sharply changing angles, which means blustery wind; I don’t think there’ll be much of a long walk today. But the puppy and I will play in the snow with the ball for awhile, and we’ll watch the birds tussle around their feeder, and we’ll watch the dance of flakes around our faces.

Another thing I learned back in high school — when the Bad Things seemed like they’d truly never end — is that time was going to keep moving forward, and the next day (or sometimes even the next minute) would bring something new. I learned to wait to see what was going to happen next. The grief lifts its head and shifts, loosening its hold on my heart and throat; the enormous sanding truck boulders past the house, flashing us with lights and sound; the puppy’s paws dance as she dreams next to me on the couch; the cat howls from the other room, ready for her breakfast.

Some days, being easy with myself means just staying here until the next thing happens. Some days, as some of you know yourselves, that’s a lot. So here’s to being easy with ourselves today. I’ll do the best I can on this end, and I send the same wish to you.

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