My birthday was mid-November. I hated it. Nothing worked, nothing I tried, nothing I planned, and I really tried not to hate it, to make a plan. My friend had died, and I went to his memorial and cried all through my actual birthday about it. I had an 8-hour hot flash, full sweat, during my birthday weekend celebrations. Someone hacked into my Twitter account and locked me out and I can’t get it back, so that’s 12 years gone. I woke up in the middle of one night holding a baby slug that was a stowaway on one of our dogs. I applied for something really cool that seemed like a dream come true only to be rejected – although it was the *fastest* rejection in recent memory. I got a new CPAP machine that’s “For Women Only” – I’m not kidding – and the only difference is that it “blows more gently.” Oh, it blows, all right, of ridiculous gender-specificity, and I am endlessly annoyed by its embossed flowers.
Not even a week after my birthday, I sit at the counter of my favorite coffee shop, sobbing into a half-caff iced Americano and trying to figure out what to write when I feel so terrible after 20 months into a worldwide pandemic. Trying to figure out what to say when all I feel is that I’m sinking. I’m sinking and doggy-paddling and barely holding my head above water some days. Today is one of those days in a string of depression days.
If you can relate, you are my people. You go along in your life, your depression manageable or even at bay for a while, under the surface. And then – bam – there comes a time when you can’t. You can’t move, or eat, or be around people because it’s all too much and what’s the point, anyway? You can’t verbalize what you’re feeling. You can barely concentrate or motivate yourself to do the simplest tasks. You can’t make anyone understand, nor do you have the energy to do so. Everything feels loud and raw and scratchy.
The attached shame is overwhelming, even if you could verbalize how you feel and what you think. The shame of wanting to share and not being able to, the shame of not feeling good enough, the shame of being “too sensitive.” The shame of not “getting over it” or “snapping out of it” or not “having good vibes,” which honestly having only good vibes all the time sounds both shallow and exhausting.
You feel like nobody loves you and what’s to love anyway? The old tapes in your head loop, about how our pain isn’t “that bad” and other people “have it a lot worse.” Messages swirl around and around in our heads about how we are “a mess” and we are “weak” and we “can’t handle anything and look at everyone else, they are fine,” even when we know the truth.
I see you. I get you. All of those messages aren’t true. They feel true. They are not true. We know the truth, and it both matters and doesn’t matter. We know that the world has gotten increasingly overwhelming and downright scary. Things that used to make sense don’t anymore. We know things that we didn’t realize before. Truths that chill us and make us rethink our roles in our homes and neighborhoods and cities and the world.
I know that you have done everything, you do everything you can. You sleep, you eat nutritious food and comfort food, you walk, you commune with nature. You go to counseling and support groups. You take your medication. You fight to remain present. You self-soothe. You reach out to friends. You practice decent boundaries.
You ask “what if?” and some days you are irritable and angry – sometimes that’s how depression presents – and some days the smallest thing makes you cry. And maybe this depression is part of a bigger process of grief because of the last 20 months and the immense losses we have suffered – individually and collectively – and how it never seems to stop.
Grief is a reasonable response to unreasonable circumstances.
My friend died and I didn’t know about it until two days before my birthday and what struck me most was the unfairness of it all. The cruelty of life and the world and our physiology, and I wondered that we aren’t all losing our minds. But perhaps we are, as a local school district closed down for three weeks so that they can regroup and prepare for students coming back, as the students were constantly fighting each other since September. The students were fighting so much all across the district that they simply shut it down.
Children lack emotional development and intelligence so they act out. That’s what they are supposed to do because they are learning how to relate and respond. By default, children are immature. And the school district wasn’t prepared for them to come to a larger community after losing an entire year in an uncertain environment that – for the last 20 months – has been deemed unsafe for close interaction.
Do you see? It’s not you. You are not the problem. I am not the problem. We are not the problem.
Do you see? There is plenty to grieve.
I’m sorry that we feel this way. The loss and shame and feeling alone. The waves of grief that we are not used to experiencing so close together, one after the other. The uncertainty that scrambles our brains. The days that start out with us crying into our coffee cups.
Know this, my love. We are not crazy. We are not alone. We are lovable and loved.
We are experiencing a reasonable response to unreasonable and unexpected circumstances.
To all my anxious and depressed and struggling and grieving humans out there, this letter is for you. I love you.