Casseroles for Depression
I really wish, sometimes, that I couldn’t write with personal authority on the topics.
But since I can (and shit howdy can I), I feel I must. Each time someone who suffers from mental illness talks about it, I believe it breathes air into further conversation, understanding and leads to a general softening.
We’ve made a lot of progress. When I reflect upon those that suffered in past decades, I am grateful for the medical (I’m looking at you, Zoloft and Xanax) and societal advances. While I am grateful for those, I still see oodles of room for change and progress.
Last week, depression nudged its way in. I was low. The sun shone brightly. The temperatures soared in the high 70s. I was otherwise healthy and strong. Except that I wasn’t. I was depressed. It pounded through my veins. It weighted decisions, even the smallest that seemed like they should be so easy to lift. My ToDo list loomed. It took my patience and my sense of humor hostage. I did yoga. I ran. I did yoga. I ran. I stretched. I breathed. I took my meds. And I was still depressed.
My usual arsenal of Feel Goods didn’t. Not at all. Like a superbug, my depression and anxiety were outsmarting my most ardent (and vetted!) attempts to keep it at bay.*
Hey, how are you?
My gosh how I both yearn to answer this question honestly and yearn to have a different answer. Do I respond with, Shitty, actually. I’m depressed with a heaping side of anxiety and it totally sucks. ??? And I could then sing my famous rendition of Every party has a pooper that’s why you invited me, Party Pooper, Party Pooper!
It’s a fast way to suck the air right out of a conversation. (I feel it important for me to note here that I have dear family and friends with whom I can and do discuss my challenges, just as they discuss theirs with me.) But what if, just like one may share prognosis and diagnosis of other, more socially acceptable health ailments, what if those that are depressed could do the same?
I’d like to try.
We’ve made a lot of progress as a society and that’s good, but we’ve a far way to go. We don’t have a social construct for discussing mental illness. We, the depressed/anxious/MentalIllnessSuffering people, don’t have experience saying it and we, the people, don’t have experience responding to such disclosures. I don’t blame Us, I just want to find a gentler way, one that involves heart-felt listening. A hug. A check-in.
It’s never easy, is it? I think of all the times throughout my life when I would like to rescript my responses to assorted disclosures from friends. The taste of leather still lingers in my memories from my own foot-in-mouth experiences. But the only way I’ve gotten better at responding is through practice. I still mess up. I still keep trying.
Many don’t know what to say and when the fear of Saying the Wrong Thing sluices through our thoughts, many say nothing. My friend, Lisa Adams, wrote about this on her blog, during her illness with metastatic breast cancer. While each of us is an individual and we all need varying forms of support, I believe the macro level take-away is this: love.
One summer, three years ago, I had a call-back on my mammogram (and have been called back three times since). The scrub-clad nurses assured me when I was in for my initial screening that many times, women are called back in for additional imaging. So when I got the call-back, I tried to be calm. I breathed my way through the days leading to the second appointment, through the second mammogram, and furiously flipped through the pages of People as I waited while they read my new films.
Then, the calm nurse came and said that I needed to have even more imaging. An ultrasound. In the soft-lit room, I laid back and the paper crinkled and I remembered the last time I had an ultrasound, under much more cheerful circumstances. I remembered hearing Abby’s rapid heart beat, and then Henry’s. I tried to remember that sub-aquatic sound of in utero heart beats. I tried to not think I had cancer. It wasn’t working.
The nurse said she would review these images with the doctor and come back to let me know if I needed any more tests. I am an expert at going a long-way-down an imagined, rocky road. In my mind, I was scheduling biopsies, I was wondering how I would tell my husband and kids. I didn’t have ANY information yet I had packed my bags and traveled far.
I propped myself up on an elbow, scrounged for my phone in my purse and texted Lisa. My phone illuminated me in my cotton gown and my fingers flew as I explained to her what was happening. I told her I was scared. She responded with three words:
i am here.
I swiped a tear.
I recognized the absolute beauty, brilliance and love of those three little words. I. Am. Here.
(The nurse came back in, shortly after Lisa and I texted, and told me I was fine. I could go. That was it. They’d see me next year for my annual exam. Lisa’s outcome was different; her death left a hole in my world. I miss her so much.)
Casseroles for depression.
We (especially women) nourish each other when one of our own hurts. We circle our proverbial wagons and bake chocolate chip cookies, drop off lasagnas, chicken tetrazzini, baked ziti and more, with post-it note instructions, Bake for 25 minutes at 350. Thinking of you. xoxo . Broken legs, surgery, death, heart break, divorce. With our comfort foods, bouquets of flowers and reassuring texts, we attempt to soften the unimaginable, the hurt, the loss, the pain.
I am not good at telling others that I am depressed or anxious. I suck, actually. I’ve said to friends, You know, there are no casseroles for depression. I think we could change that. It must start with those that suffer. It starts with the brave utterance, I’m struggling. I’m having a rough time.
And the equally brave response, I am here.
My wish is that we could tip the conversational model. If someone is struggling with mental illness that they can say it. That someone they choose to tell can receive it. It won’t be easy. Some or many may not know what to say. But may I suggest,
I am here.
I am here.
I am here.
** This week is lighter, brighter and better. Clouds parted and I feel once again like myself. Now I’m flipping depression the bird.
Several years ago, I read some powerful essays on this topic by The Bloggess:
Thank you, Jenny Lawson, for paving the way. I am grateful.