This morning was like every other. My eyes struggled to open as I dragged myself from the threaded waves of bed sheets. A grunt, or three, I make my way into the land of the living—a brightly lit house brimming with the kind of optimism only my 10 and 5-year-old can bring through an early morning sunrise—a place that feels more unfamiliar, yet more comfortable, with every passing day. My feet drag, arms just weighted appendages, while the ache in my chest awakens, emboldened by the start of another day; a new day with new beginnings and hopes, or a new day with more of the same.
Through the first cup of coffee, I’m the most unlikable protagonist: angry and restless for no real reason, but also every reason in the same breath. The series of motions adds to the gravity crushing my bones. My children sense it. They keep their distance until my eyes pop wide open, but even still, there will be an emotional barrier for some time. Until the grog completely fades (it never really does). Until something shifts my perspective.
Until it’s time to move on with this new day. And so, I do.
We dance through the morning, a dizzying array of choreographed routines to get them dressed and ready for their school day. Lunches are packed. Chores are complete. Dinner is prepped. Without giving my thoughts the chance to stack, and instigate, I move, and I keep moving, and I don’t stop moving until the day’s end. There’s an art class. And grocery shopping. And work. I work and I write, and I write and I work. I run. Far and fast, in the blazing summer heat of the south. Recovery is a cold shower where my mind wants to drift; to sink into the chasm of depression. There’s no time. There’s never any time. I do what I’m used to doing—treat the symptoms systematically, however little my attempts may help—because in the end, I want to heal. To feel the highs and lows of living.
In the evenings, I assist with homework, do the laundry, and laugh at my son’s obscure jokes. You might find me folding and re-folding the laundry, sweeping, and re-sweeping the kitchen floor, or counting, and re-counting the seconds that pass. These are pieces of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Pieces of me. Together with my anxiety and depression, the disorders try to exhaust me to death. To defeat me. But every day, when I drag myself from my bed, I tell myself: “They can’t. They won’t. Not today.”
This is what it feels like to be a mom with high-functioning depression.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety from the time I could walk, and talk. Mental illness runs rampant in my family, affecting both male and female—it’s power and affliction knows no discriminatory bounds. From my brother to my grandmother, we’ve all endured similar struggles. I’ve been taught to live with, infinitely surrounded by therapies and medications; any and everything my loved ones have done, to help them and myself come to terms with their/my/our mental illnesses. Because of this, I’m proactive seeking treatment and yet, I’ve somehow settled into my adult life as a mother and wife, with a dull, lingering, invisible cloak of depression. You might not see it, but it’s there.
Some days, I’m emotionally swept away by depression’s undertow, lying in that sea of silken sheets, until I’m able to muster the courage to ask for help. Other days, when I feel more defiant, I push through the discomfort, and do whatever I have to. To be the wife my partner deserves, the mother my children need, and the woman I know I am—outside of this disease.
My exterior says I’m strong. Confident. Determined. Brave. Fearless. Resilient.
Inside, I’m weak. Insecure. Dark. Broken.
I’ve seen the top of the antidepressant mountain, and I’ve sunken into the murky pits of it. Through childhood traumas, and severe postpartum depression that nearly ended my life after the birth of my oldest, there’s little I haven’t tried to better my mental health. I want to be here; I want to live, to feel. When I think of my kids, I hope they don’t remember that early morning version of me, forever. I work hard through my day to ignore the pangs of sadness, so they remember the good times. The laughter. The endless hugs. The nose kisses. And the words I sing to them every night before they close their eyes: “You make me happy, when skies are grey.”
I’ve come a long way in managing my depression and anxiety. I’ve heard the voices of suicide, and took the steps to stay instead. It’ll never feel easy, and I have a long way to go, forever really, but I want to. Need to.
High-functioning depression is a slow-burn, invisible but powerful. I can be all the things everyone expects me to be. At the same time, the fire inside will eventually consume me, if left to its own volition. These kind of fires—unhealed wounds—will never die without the acceptance that I’m not capable on my own. It’s a battle to be fought with an army. Through our typical days here, when I find a moment of solitude within, I see the acceptance of the real version of me—the one not buried by the depression—in my children’s eyes and I think, if they can love and accept me the way I am, maybe I can, too.
You can, too.
And so, tomorrow, when I open my eyes, I’ll try to start the new day differently. I’ll aim to embrace the beginning as the gift it is—even if I don’t feel it. And maybe, if I say it, eventually, I’ll believe it. I’ll continue doing all the things that alleviate the darkest symptoms, with the hope that the laughter bellowing through the house can be real and the depression will someday fade completely. For now, I’ll hug my kids and sing. No matter what I feel, or what the day might bring, they are the sunshine, and they’ve chosen me to beam their light upon. A light that I may be undeserving of, but one I’ll work to earn.
With that belief, maybe someday, I’ll be their light. And together we’ll shine.
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