Sylvia Plath called and she wants her brooding darkness back.
I am in a dark place. Not homicidal dark. Not suicidal dark. But bottom-of-a-pit dark. Rock-bottom dark. Drowning dark. Sylvia-Plath-poem dark.
This darkness as been building now for several weeks. Maybe a month. Before the air was choked with smoke from the most recent California fires, I had found my groove. I was killin’ it. Routine was dialed in. I’d get out the door, carrying baby in the carrier, and would jam on a walk for over an hour. Get back. Shower. Settle into the rhythm of baby: eat, play, sleep, diaper change, repeat. Then the air quality plummeted. And I was trapped. Trapped inside with a baby for weeks. I got cabin fever. I couldn’t go for a walk. I gained weight. When the rain finally came and the air finally cleared, I didn’t make it back into my routine. I had sunk down into the muck and didn’t have the energy, the will, the strength to pull myself out.
I could feel the darkness accelerating, revving up inside. It had started to make my skin crawl. I wanted to escape my own body, to slither out of it like a snake shedding its skin.
Depression is not an emotion. It is not sadness, though you may cry and look sad. J.K. Rowling said it well:
“It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is … to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling — that really hollowed-out feeling.”
I am going to say it again because it is important: Depression. Is. Not. An. Emotion. Depression is not something that I can fix by listening to a nice song. Depression is not something that I can just decide not to feel anymore. It is not a choice. It is not a decision. It is not a mindset. It is a mental illness. I cannot will it away any more than a diabetic can will away their insulin insufficiency. I actually think diabetes may be a good analogy here: a walk might help but won’t cure it. Diet might help but won’t cure it. Having support might help but won’t cure it. Sometimes these non-pharmacologic things are all one needs to keep it in check. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes medications are needed. Sometimes things get bad. Sometimes it takes a hospital stay.
Mental illness is real. To those going through it: keep fighting. You are worth it. To those walking with someone going through it: be patient. It is going to be so hard to do but, please, be patient.
I wrote a poem today, in one go, as I struggle to advocate. For you. For me. To explain. To cry out for understanding. To be seen. To be heard. To be well. I am not sharing my story for pity. I am not sharing my story for support. I am sharing my journey so that the other women and men who are out there - suffering, searching, fighting - can see they are not alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, or other mental illness, please reach out for help. You are worth it.