“I feel… better. I feel like… myself.” I wasn’t sure what I meant by “better” or even what I meant by “myself.” I only knew that what I said was true — something was different about how I was feeling, in a good way.
“Yeah,” my friend said with a knowing nod. “The light is back in your eyes. I was worried about you there for a little while.”
That stopped me in my tracks. “Worried”? Why worried? I thought back over the past few weeks and months, trying to pinpoint a specific event or behavior that would warrant my friend’s concern. Had my behavior really been so different than usual that it would be noticeable enough to cause a friend to worry?
Granted, I’d been through a lot in the last few months. The last year, really. I’d come out as gay and separated from my spouse — that’s a lot by anyone’s standards. But coming out is supposed to be a relief, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it “free” me, make me feel all honest and authentic and stuff? Finally living an authentic life should be enough to comfort me when the stress of divorce overwhelms me or when I miss my kids so much I want to curl into the fetal position and never uncurl. I’d found a cute little house. No one (that I know of) disowned me when I came out. I’d even found someone special, someone who sees me for exactly who I am. All of that should be enough to lift me up, right? Wasn’t I happy?
But, I had to admit, I’d been sleeping more than usual, napping in the afternoons or desperately wanting to nap, never wanting to wake up. But I always did wake up. It’s not like I was staying in bed all day long crying into my pillow. I was getting stuff done, dammit!
But… slowly. Far slower than usual. My productivity had taken a hit, there was no denying that. I’d complained about it often, how it felt like I was working nonstop but my output was less than when I worked half as much.
I’d been anxious a lot too, I suddenly remembered, always tight in the chest. But isn’t everyone anxious when they’re getting a divorce? Even in the most amicable of separations, which mine was, divorce still fucking sucks. I was worried about my kids. Of course I was. Any loving parent going through a separation worries about their kids. I was also worried about my own future. Could I handle this new independence? Was I strong enough?
But that tight feeling in my chest was present daily. Minute to minute, for months, it stayed with me. Sometimes it was bigger than just a tightness in the chest — sometimes it was more like a wet wool blanket had been draped over me. The littlest things would make me cry. My eating habits were weird — I was skipping my usual healthy, nutritious fare and diving straight for the bread bin. My memory, especially short-term, was absolute shit. I wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere or see anyone. I’d take my kids to the skate park with their new skateboards and feel a fuzzy disconnect while they rolled down the beginner’s ramps, squealing and laughing. I knew it was wonderful for them, but I felt like I was waiting for some switch to flip inside me that would allow me to vicariously feel their joy the way I knew a mother should.
That was my defining feeling during that period — waiting for a switch to flip. I thought my malaise was related to life stress, and I assumed it would lift once the dust settled. But one thing I never considered during those months was that I may be legitimately depressed. I was depressed before coming out. I didn’t consider it possible to be depressed after.
But that day when I was talking to my friend, it hit me. I had indeed been experiencing a depressive episode. No, I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t crying all day long or refusing to leave my bed. But I was most definitely depressed. And the way I could tell was by comparing how I felt that day — the day my friend told me the light was back in my eyes — with the previous several months of being trapped in an ongoing state of fuzzy apathy.
Because the way I felt in my moment of “me-ness” wasn’t anything remarkable. I wasn’t blissed out, elated, or euphoric; I was just… myself. Though, to be fair, the comparison between my apathetic state and the “light in my eyes” state was so great that I did wonder for a brief moment if I’d slipped into mania. I’d been stuck in a disconnected state for so long that it had begun to feel normal, to the point that ordinary contentment, by contrast, felt like mania. But the truth was, I’d simply begun to feel better.
Feeling better didn’t happen by magic. A few critical pieces fell into place at the same time, some deliberate and some by coincidence. My divorce was nearly finalized. I’d had an allergic reaction that appeared to be gluten-related so I cut out wheat products (i.e., carbs) and added in more fruits and veggies (i.e., nutrients). I went to the doctor with complaints of exhaustion and “fuzzy brain,” and she suggested I exercise more regularly, remember to take the vitamins I hadn’t been taking, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. She ordered blood tests too, just in case there was something physiological going on.
Between that first appointment and the second appointment a few weeks later to discuss my lab results, the changes I’d made had already brought about a huge turnaround. That’s when I had the conversation with my friend about feeling like myself. My labs revealed nothing out of the ordinary, but I’m convinced there was something off with my brain chemistry during those sad, sluggish months. I was fortunate that the lifestyle changes I was capable of making were enough to help me feel better.
So, what I want to tell anyone who is in that place I was, waiting for a switch to flip — you don’t have to be bed-ridden or engaging in suicidal ideation or “feeling depressed for no reason” to warrant seeking help. I saw my doctor because I thought something was physically wrong with me. I didn’t see the depression until I was on the other side of it, comparing contentment to apathy. If the nutrition and exercise and sleep hadn’t helped, antidepressants would have been my next step, and that would have been okay too.
The point is, you don’t have to “hit bottom” before you ask for help. Don’t wait for that switch to flip. Talk to a friend, call your doctor, reach out for help. You deserve to feel like yourself.