I lay on the dining room floor, the cool wood pressed against my cheek. I had been there for hours, though it could have been days, even weeks. I had lost track of time, trapped beneath an omnipresent veil of heavy darkness.
This involuntary response required all my energy. I looked at the ceiling. The room seemed too tall and I too small. I felt like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, reality slipping further and further out of reach.
On that day, at that moment, I believed that recovery, that happiness, that everything that could bring me hope and joy, had slipped far beyond my grasp.
Days before, my life had stretched before me: neat, orderly, precise. A goal setter and an overachiever, I tackle problems with zest, then move to the next challenge. I’ve always had a “bring it on” attitude about the world, a genuine joie de vivre.
And then, in the space of less than a day it all changed. One summer morning, my husband, my co-worker, my best friend, very suddenly and unexpectedly walked out of my life. The details were tawdry and painful—the stuff of tabloid magazine covers and late night cable movies.
At that moment, I began a steady downward spiral into a place of demons and darkness and despair.
Everyone gets the blues. Everyone experiences sadness, but up until this point in my life, I looked at depression as a malady of the weak. In my limited, narrow-minded scope, its sister-sickness, anxiety, was yet another illness fabricated by psychiatrists in order to sell therapy and prescriptions to feeble-minded people who just needed to take control of their lives.
Then there I was, on the floor, immobilized, and thinking about the simple act of moving air in and out of my lungs. When I moved, my feet felt heavy, my muscles weak. I could not focus to read a newspaper or to follow the plot of a book, my house went uncleaned, my dogs unwalked, phone messages and emails unanswered. In public, I would do my best to appear “normal,” but it sapped my strength. In private, I would scream into my pillow, rail against God and the universe, cry until I was nauseous, and often, too often…lay motionless on the floor for hours on end.
I cannot remember the day, but I do remember the moment when I realized that I needed help. I stood in the bathroom, midday, still in my pajamas, an image in my mirror staring back at me. I did not recognize her—a gaunt face with empty blue eyes framed by deep, dark circles filled the frame. Who was this person? The woman in the glass reminded me of the mug shots of criminals and crack addicts—lost, withdrawn, without hope. Empty.
Soon after, I was diagnosed with mild depression and an anxiety disorder. It is possible that some of my problems began long ago, but the trauma of my personal life brought something that may have been simmering for many years to a roiling boil.
Admitting that there are problems bigger than ourselves is not a weakness. It takes courage and conviction; for me, it was the bravest thing I’d ever done. Medication was not a cure, but it got me off the floor.
My friend uses a metaphor of climbing a rope to describe recovery. At first, we cling to the rope, just trying to hold on. Somedays, we dare to push ourselves just an inch or two upward, but in the beginning, we often slide downward instead. It burns our hands, but we hang on until we feel safe enough to try to climb another inch or two.
The rope I cling to is long. I’m no longer at the bottom, but I am still far from the top. Most days, though, I move upward—sometimes just a little, sometimes quite a bit, but I no longer feel as if I am just trying to hold on.
This journey that has taught me more in five months than I’ve learned over the course of my life: I am a better daughter, a better friend, a better sister, a better teacher, a better person, because I have struggled, because I have seen both the dark and the light.
I am resilient and I am compassionate and someday—maybe sooner than I even I can imagine–I will recover.
This I believe.
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