Thursday, September 22, 2011

When Sadness Slips Under My Door

                       Photo by my Anna May

There have been a few times in my life where I have found myself clinically depressed. I say "found myself" because it's a place you never intend to be, it just kind of sneaks up on you as you are traveling through life. Like getting lost in a bad part of the city. How did I get here

I remember sitting in the office of one of my therapists trying to explain how I felt. I told him I felt as though I was trapped inside a house with really dirty windows and all I could do was sit there and try desperately to see out. Watching life. Everything going on without me. Longing to be a part of it all, but not knowing how to get there. 

I also remember the hopelessness that ached inside of every cell of my body. Intense longing for something different. Longing that went nowhere. Turning and turning in my mind that led to an infinite number of dead ends. 

Mine was a quiet desperation. Most are. 

I've changed a lot from those days. Not that depression doesn't slip under my door now and again, but how I see this uninvited guest has changed dramatically. And the way in which I greet her seems to have significantly impacted her length of stay. Oftentimes transforming the nature of our visit from the fate of hopelessness to the passage of sadness.

It's why I write to you today. These days I have found sadness to be visiting quite a bit, and I'm doing my best to just let her be. My hope is that even in my writing, I may find some level of comfort. It's difficult for me though. Not that I don't allow myself to be honest in all of this blogging business, but my nature is and always has been to be positive. I don't like whining. And I do, even in my most miserable times, honestly find the good. But today, I am allowing myself to share the real. Today, I am tending to my sadness.

About five or so years ago, my father made an announcement to our family. It was Christmas morning and we had all just completed the opening presents frenzy that accompanies a big family with lots of grandchildren. There, standing in the middle of a great-room filled with strewn boxes and mountains of wrapping paper he said this, "We need to be thankful for these days. It won't always be this way . So right now, we need to be very thankful for all that we have." I don't know if anyone else heard those words like I did. It was a brief break in the chaos and it was Christmas morning for Pete's sake. There was fun to be had. But I heard it, and those words have never left me.

By next Christmas, things had indeed changed for our family. My mother began to experience serious health issues that were extremely painful and unexplained. A condition that has been relentless over the past few years and completely debilitating. The recession hit hard, like it has for almost everyone else, causing the loss of jobs, the loss of homes (my parents home in particular - the gathering place for our family) and a tremendous amount of financial hardship, which continues to this day.

In 2009, after completing the best marathon of my life, I became sick and never recovered. The past two years have been full of countless stays in the hospital, hundreds of tests, doctor's appointments, emergency room visits and medications. I have had surgeries that have made things better and surgeries that have almost taken my life.

In the past year Dave's sister was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, his sister-in-law was hospitalized with an unexplained life threatening illness that has left her on oxygen for the rest of her life, my mother had a stroke and most recently, Dave's dad was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that has left him unable to swallow. During this same time my parents had a house fire, we lost a good friend to cancer, and all the usual illnesses and issues that a family with seven children and a chronically ill mom may find themselves dealing with. I will never forget the day we ran into Dave's brother as he brought his wife into the Emergency Room at the hospital. It was one of the rare occasions where we were actually leaving the ER and not being admitted. They were not so lucky. I will also never forget the look in those two brother's eyes as they hugged each other in silence.

These past few months have been difficult, to say the least. At some points there have been three or four family members in the hospital all at the same time. It's an odd practice, prioritizing which family member needs to be seen. I know that for my husband, the exhaustion of it all has a way of melting everything together. Who is where, why are they there, and when was the last time we visited are all items to be straightened out in the elevator. It's surreal.

This week as I watched my own parents struggle with more than their fair share of pain and hardship, as I watched my husband get up at 4:30 each morning and crawl into bed at midnight, trying to fit work and caring for his father into the same 24 hours, as I laid in a hospital bed myself while my own daughter had to go to the emergency room alone, as I found out about a good friends husband suffering a heart attack...
I am so sad.

I hold on to the truth that nothing lasts forever. That there is no light without dark, no good without bad, no joy without sorrow. That the weather changes, it comes and it goes on the breath of Nature and that this is the truth. I know this. I tell this to my family, to my daughters, to myself. With the shallowest of breath, I whisper it to myself.

But I am not hopeless.

When I think back to those days of looking out my clouded window, unable to be a part of the world outside, I find myself in an entirely different space. Sadness is no longer something outside of me, something to be conquered or destroyed - it IS me. It is just as much a part of me as joy, love, compassion, anger, greed... all of these things make up what is me. To destroy my sadness - to somehow annihilate my sadness would be to annihilate part of me. To struggle in this way would mean to do violence towards myself. If I cannot be compassionate towards myself, then how will I ever be able to show compassion towards those whom I love - the very ones for which my sadness arises? What I have learned over all these years is that the best thing I can do for my sadness is to care for it. To care for it just as a mother cares for her child. Just as I would care for one of my daughters. Fully experiencing it, not replacing it with anything else, letting it be.

It's funny how things come to you. As I work through this day, words come and go, meanings arise and are transformed by the movement of my effort. For the past five years I have heard my father's words, "It won't always be this way." as a sort of predestined fate. It's good now, but just you wait.
But this is it! This is exactly it! Oh, how I wish I could have known then what I know now, in this very moment! Dad, you are right! You are SO RIGHT!

It won't always be this way.

This is the truth that I hold on to, that I have been telling my family and my children - the truth that you Dad , YOU have been telling us all along! The truth you need to hear from your very own heart. It won't always be this way. 

This sadness - it's going to be here for a while. And that's okay. We will care for it - each of us. And we will care for each other. And in the end, it's passage will give light to the most beautiful day. A day made so much better by the reflection of the suffering it was born out of - refined and polished by the stones and tears that paved this very journey we are on.

This is my peace.   


Anonymous said...

Oh you touch on one that most of us deal with in fragments if not whole. I'm lucky in that it is very fleeting for me but not lucky in knowing fellow brothers and sisters amongst us have severe depression. It's very hard to watch and not be able to help other than prescence. This is a wonderful topic to broach upon though many won't feel comfortable enough to share. The shame society puts on those people is horrific. Oh boy, here I go, don't get me started. Been there. for a bit.
tammy.. gentle hugs

Deb aka murphthesurf said...

Depression almost goes hand in hand with chronic pain that is untreated properly. Often docs for ra will prescribe depression medications which is fine but they don't really address the severe pain for those of us who have not found relief with the ra medications. Both need to be treated thoroughly with ra. Seems like you are on pretty sound ground lately and that is wonderful but it is also great that others realize that depression is common with chronic illnesses.

Christine said...

I think that depression walks hand in hand with chronic illness. I feel (although many would disagree because of the chemical imbalance associated with depression) that we have the choice to grab on tight to its hand and let it consume us and weave its way into the fabric of our soul. There is the second option to release its grasp, acknowledge it and send it on its way as often as we possibly can. I pray for you that you can continue to release yourself from its hold as much as possible....

Theresa said...

Thank you so much ladies! First of all, I have to say that most likely you read this post before I was even finished! Somehow I must have clicked Update during my writing. I did not realize this until during one of my reviews, I saw your comments!! Oh lupus… you make me laugh.
Anyway, it was good for me to write and I am so thankful you are there to read!! Love you all, dear friends.

Anonymous said...

You are wise beyond your years and have the outlook one can only wish everyone had. We do have to take care of our depression and sadness as only we ourselves can. I still have days of sadness and wouldn't be human if I didn't but one has to look in from the outside and take care of it with time and patience with ones self. Each day is a gift from God and it is what we make of it. You make the best of everything and I am so in awe of you every time I read your blog. Take care and God Bless you my friend. Sue

Anonymous said...

My dear, dear Theresa. Once again, you share yourself with all of us in your honesty and openness so that we all can know that even though we have ups and downs, we can get through them by facing them and not running away from them. You face your sadness as a part of yourself...amazing...but thank you. I've been rather sad lately myself without always knowing why. When I read your writings, it always lifts me up and makes me think of the good in my life. I love you girl and hope to see you soon! God bless you!

Theresa said...

So many good comments! Thank you!
It’s interesting to me how I even struggled to let myself write this post. To allow ourselves to be anything other than perfect is difficult. Even if it means being sick - “perfectly”. The identities we attach onto are sometimes worse than the ones society holds us accountable for. It’s only in being truly vulnerable that I open myself up to healing. And it is that very same vulnerability that makes me human and carries with it the potential to heal others. Isn’t that what it’s all about, really?

Maya said...

Just amazing, Theresa. I especially loved this part:

"I've changed a lot from those days. Not that depression doesn't slip under my door now and again, but how I see this uninvited guest has changed dramatically. And the way in which I greet her seems to have significantly impacted her length of stay. Oftentimes transforming the nature of our visit from the fate of hopelessness to the passage of sadness."

Thank you so much for sharing this piece on my page (Loving With Chronic Illness) and, more than that, thank you for writing these words. You described the experience of depression very accurately...that window image is vivid and so accurate. I think it's incredible how you've embrace sadness as part of you.

It's strange timing to read this, since I worked all day on a post about my depression. It will be coming out in the next week or so and I hope you'll read it. We have a very similar way of viewing the world, I think. Thank you again for your courage to share; know that I have you and your loved ones in my prayers.

~Maya (

Theresa said...

Maya, thank you.
How wonderful to have connected with you in this big world of ours! I look forward to reading your blog and getting to know you better!