I know my depression has returned full-force when I start to triage my life.
The simplest tasks overwhelm me, so I begin to make silent, irrational deals with myself.
“If you can get out of bed and make it to work on time, you don’t have to check the mail. (And obviously you never have to make the bed.)”
“If you show up for your friend’s birthday dinner, you don’t have to go to the work happy hour.”
“If you shower Monday through Friday, you can stay in bed all weekend.”
My mind goes into fight or flight mode, and any outside stimulus seems to be a threat. That text from a friend? They might need energy from me. The call from Mom? She might have bad news. The email from someone I haven’t seen in months? They might be able to tell I’m not doing well. The meeting with a client? Fine, of course I’ll go to that — but that’s all I’m doing today.
When my depression returns, I live by a spoon theory of effort, keeping most of them locked away. Just in case. I’ll do what’s required to stay employed, but once I leave the office, my energy leaves, too. At that point, I make no promises that I’ll be responsive to the outside world.
I search for tasks I can postpone or eliminate to conserve energy and simply make it through the day. I don’t share my plan with my loved ones, making life harder on myself. And them.
When they follow up after the third, fourth, fifth unanswered text or email, I get upset that they need anything from me. But really, I’m mad at myself because I know their frustration and hurt is my own doing. I want to let them in, but I need to stay closed off to make it through the week.
Avoidance becomes my preferred method of communication.
I disappear into a world of my own making that’s safe, contained and predictable. New information is overwhelming, so I turn to what I know. I re-watch episodes of “The West Wing” that inspire me. I listen to my favorite albums. I crave one-on-one interactions and avoid overwhelming crowds.
Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of the canary in the mine, sent ahead of the miners because canaries are delicate enough to detect the poisons humans don’t even notice. The canaries save the miners, but they pay the price. They are the first to absorb the poisons of this world.
What I want my friends and family to know when I’m in triage:
I love you with a depth that’s hard for me to even process, much less explain. I feel in extremes, so when I disappoint you, I devastate myself, too.
I’m not sitting at home crying and ignoring you. I’m at home healing, trying to regain the energy to interact with the world again with compassion and authenticity. And light. To me, the world is a toxic mine, and I’m a canary who’s afraid she’ll be poisoned.
I’ve read all the articles suggesting we should forgive people with depression for disappearing for a while, excusing the flakiness that accompanies minds at war. I ask for grace when I’m at my worst, but I also demand you feel your feelings. I ask you to hold me accountable. Tell me when I’ve hurt you. Tell me how my non-responsiveness made you feel. I’m locked in a chamber of torment inside my mind, and the worse and darker it gets, the more selfish I feel I become, for self-preservation. Help me remember who I used to be, and please remind me that you need my time, too.
Help me remember I’m not a canary on a dangerous mission. I’m a canary who was put here to fly free.
This post first appeared on The Mighty.