Dear Friends and Readers,
It has been easier for me to admit to have been a crack addict than to tell people I suffer from depression. There is nothing exciting or interesting about depression. Most people who don’t suffer this emotionally painful mental disorder, have no idea what it feels like to feel nothing, to be afraid and anxious and stuck at the same time. I have heard from other people who suffer from depression that they would rather have cancer than depression. I can’t say the same, but a woman who suffers from depression told me that she had had both. The difference she said, was that she got sympathy and love and care because she had cancer, but nobody gave a damn that she was depressed.
I never tell anyone that I am depressed. I can always put on a happy face in public no matter how sad and anxious I am. I was formally diagnosed with depression 20+ years ago. I was in law school, it was December and I was supposed to be studying for finals. My sister called to ask me about finals and I told her that I was reading a novel- my first form of escape before drugs and alcohol which were soon to become my forms of escape. She asked if finals were over and I told her that they were not and that I just didn’t have the energy to study and I didn’t care anyway. “Isn’t everybody expecting me to fail anyway?” I gruffly asked her. In her calm quiet voice she said “No. I’m not.”
I broke into tears and told her how terribly I was doing in law school. In fact, I had left over Thanksgiving break and I had no intention of returning. “I can’t do it.” I said to her. At that moment, I truly felt that I could not do it. I did not know then what I was experiencing was depression. She convinced me to go to the health center and I did. I was prescribed my first anti-depressants. It was Prozac.
Back then Prozac was a scary drug in that it was supposed to create “Prozac Personalities.” I didn’t know any of this when I started the drug, but what I did notice was how anxious I was. The odd thing was that I was finally became present to the real extent of my anxiousness as well as the continuous negative thoughts that were running through my head. Most of those negative thoughts were about myself. I was shocked to become aware of them.
I continued taking the drug partially because I quickly lost ten pounds and had more energy. I passed my finals but by January I was still feeling depressed, although I was less anxious. I returned to the health center and told them I still felt depressed and was told that “Some level of uncomfortableness was to be expected while in law school.” I left the clinic that day feeling lower than ever.
Over the past 20+ years, I have studied and taken notes on my depression. While I take medication through out the year, in the winter time my depression worsens. It begins in October when the clocks are turned backwards and there seems never to be enough light. I’m ok in November and I could usually make it through Thanksgiving, but by December a black curtain falls in my brain. I always feel cold. I feel like I’m sloshing through mud. I lose my sense of taste and my desire for food-except for sugar. I eat too much sugar and end up feeling worse. Then there is Christmas.
One of the things that makes me feel bad about Christmas was all the horrible Christmas’s past. There were years when we didn’t get a tree until Christmas day. They would give the tree away to my mother and she would drag it through the snow. There were times when there was no Christmas at all and I returned to school and lied about the gifts that I did not receive. Often times our house which was heated with oil was cold. Either we couldn’t afford it or someone didn’t buy it. I never knew why. I grew up knowing that I would be disappointed by Christmas.
When I went to college, there was never a home to go home to. No one from my family sent me gifts or cards or wished me a Merry Christmas. By my Junior year in college I started having an “Orphan Party.” This party was for anyone who didn’t have a place to go for Christmas. I would provide whatever food and drink I could afford and anyone was welcome. One year, my entire family came to my little apartment in Los Angeles and we celebrated Christmas. It was one of the nicest Christmases that I can remember. That was decades ago.
Over the years, Christmas didn’t get much better. My first marriage was to a man who had no idea what would make me happy. He tried his very best including a 520 BMW one Christmas and trips to warm places. At some point, I realized it was me.
When I met the man who became my third husband, he loved Christmas. Over the years, his joy brightened my Grinch mood. He never forced me to be happy or buy or wrap presents. He did all of that and loved it. Every year despite my protest of killing trees he always bought me a tiny Christmas tree and put one beautiful ornament on it. He did that for six years and by the time he died I had begun to almost like Christmas.
My current beau celebrates no holidays. I wish it wasn’t so, but he cannot be convinced. He especially dislikes Christmas and has publicly and through his work decried Christmas and Santa Claus. He hates the thought that we lie to our children about a jolly old white guy who gives us presents. I once wondered whether it would have made a difference if Santa were some other race, but he said no. He thinks the Santa thing is the first lie we tell our children and he’s not going to lie.
This year, I decided that I would ignore Christmas. I would stay home and do nothing or whatever I wanted to do, but it would not be opening presents. This is sad for me, because I love presents and I love surprises and I love giving gifts all the time, but especially at Christmas. I came about my love of Christmas from my grandmother who’s birthday happened to be Christmas. My grandmother was one of the nicest persons anyone could ever meet and she gave me her joy of Christmas.
But back to my depression. I went to therapy today. My therapist came in to work, even though she was under the weather. I had assured her that I was perfectly fine and that she should stay home and get better. She came to work and I would like to think that she came especially to see me. However, I think that she is just dedicated. Within minutes while in her office, I began crying. Suddenly, I was telling her about my late husband and my sister who had a terrible Christmas when she was eight and had never gotten over it. I was crying for my sister and myself and for everyone else who doesn’t have a post card or television Christmas. Make a tradition for yourself she offered. Find one of those tiny ornaments and put it somewhere.
I haven’t done that yet, but I know that I will have to create anew Christmas and every other holiday for myself. For all of you, who don’t celebrate Christmas, I guess it must seem odd to be surrounded by this Christmas mania or to even hear about. For those of you who are alone and don’t have means or money or even worse food or shelter my heart goes out to you. I know as I sit and write this on my computer that I am privileged and have no reason to be depressed, but that’s the thing about depression- you don’t need a reason to be depressed, you just are.
Brianna S. Clark
The Addict Writes