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Casseroles for Depression

October 1, 2015


Anxiety and depression. I’ve written about them before. Here. And here. And there. It’s kinda a bummer, isn’t it? DEPRESSION. ANXIETY. Not uplifting fodder.

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.

20151001_104417-1

Several years ago, I some powerful essays on this topic by The Bloggess:

The Fight Goes On

No one makes cards for this. But they should.

Thank you, Jenny Lawson, for paving the way. I am grateful.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2015 11:05 am

    Gorgeous, honest writing. I am here is one of the best things anyone can hear. Ever. I’m glad you’re hearing it. And I bless so often the women who showed up with casseroles, lemon drop martinis and prayer blankets when I went through a few rough years. We feel it isn’t enough but sometimes it is. Wishing you better days . . .

    • October 1, 2015 2:20 pm

      I am so glad you’re here, and so appreciate your comment. Prayer blankets…what a lovely idea.

  2. Suzanne Enck permalink
    October 1, 2015 11:16 am

    Beautiful, poignant, and far too familiar commentary on a struggle I know too well. Thank you for sharing.
    I am here.

    • October 2, 2015 8:47 am

      And I am here for you. I’m sorry you understand. Thanks for your wonderful comment–means a lot to me that you were and are here. xo

  3. October 1, 2015 11:30 am

    I love you Denise. I understand every word of this as well as the frustration to irk hard to be happy and STILL be depressed/anxious. You write so beautifully about this topic which I also know too well … I am here. I’m so grateful you are here for me. Thank you.

    PS how much do I LOVE casseroles for depression? it’s genius. You should trademark the name and buy the domain.

  4. October 1, 2015 11:35 am

    I remember the first time I saw you, even before meeting in person, I imagined you had no troubles. So beautiful, so incredibly smart, enviously funny, and a gifted writer. As I got to know you more, of course I came to understand that you were, you know, human. Still, you surprise me, not with your revelations, but with how much more there is of you to love, just when I think I’ve got you, BOOM. More beauty, more honesty. Thank you, dear friend, for your defiantly generous and honest nature. I love you.

    • October 2, 2015 8:53 am

      I am basking in your words, like rays of late-afternoon, fall sun. I adore and love you. So glad you are in my world, and I am so fucking glad you are my friend.

  5. Martie Sands permalink
    October 1, 2015 12:04 pm

    I. AM. HERE.

    Perhaps the running, yoga, meds are kicking in, too. The moon is huge and close to the earth. It is fall. I was very teary a few weeks ago, then finally realized these seasonal things. And… My Iceberg ice cream is in New Jersey! 😁

    Our doggy is coming tomorrow! We are more than excited!

    Love you, Martie Sent from my iPad

    >

    • October 2, 2015 8:54 am

      I love you. I know that you are here. The image of the huge moon hugging the earth stayed with me all day yesterday. xo

  6. Anne permalink
    October 1, 2015 3:22 pm

    As a born depressive, I thank you. And thank my daughter for sending the link. It’s a fight, and no, we don’t talk about it, do we. I call it remission when it abates. I am here. Particularly enjoyed the photo btw. Made me smile.

    • October 2, 2015 8:55 am

      I thank your daughter for sending the link, too! I am always humbled that people share and read. I love the idea of remission–so spot on! We will journey on, all of us together.

  7. October 1, 2015 5:21 pm

    As I said over text, I am here. That is all. xox

  8. October 1, 2015 5:26 pm

    Oh, Denise. I am sighing out loud and swiping a tear because this is gorgeous and honest. “I am here” – such light and power in these words.

    Your post today reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Leonard Cohen :

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in

    xoxo

    • October 2, 2015 9:11 am

      You and I have both been exploring the dark and the light, the cracks and unfurling, the joy and the pain, with our words. I am so grateful for you. xoxo

  9. October 1, 2015 6:59 pm

    Even though we’ve never met, even though you feel too far away, please know that I am here. I adore you without ever having been in the same room as you, and I’m endlessly awed by your honesty, your truth, your grit. And yes, if only we could all be real with one another–always, but especially when it hurts. Thank you for pushing us all to join you in being open and raw about how we really feel, who we really are. For you, for always, I am here…xox

    • October 2, 2015 9:15 am

      A port in the storm, a warmth with your way, your words like a balm. I adore you, too, and had to think twice about the fact that we’ve never met in person, because, I *feel* like we have. Grateful for you. xoxo

  10. Graeme Ellzey permalink
    October 1, 2015 9:27 pm

    Denise,
    A friend shared this on her FB page and soon realized it was YOUR incredible blog!

    Beautiful words…beautiful message. I can so identify as this school year seems to come with many tough realizations. Having a senior in high school isn’t easy. Abnormally weepy and sensitive, I have to believe I’m going to make it but probably with the help of Xanax! Sure do miss you. ❤️

    • October 2, 2015 9:24 am

      Come on, really!?! That’s so cool. Such a small world. Big hugs to you (and I can’t believe she’s a senior) and I miss you, too, friend. Thanks for being here. xo

  11. Gail permalink
    October 1, 2015 9:48 pm

    I think I have a new favorite photo of you. LOVE YOU! xxxxxxxxxxxx

  12. October 3, 2015 1:29 pm

    Beautiful and poignant. It resonates with me. I just went through a medical scare and it’s not over. The fear and depression follow. Hang in there. xox

  13. October 19, 2015 7:09 pm

    Just coming over with a hug.

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