The painting above is called Fractured. It’s by a local artist named Lynn Cummings.
I took the picture a few years ago and I keep it where I can find it and look at it often. Because if ever a painting captured my feelings when I am fighting depression, this is it. The flashes of color are the good things that leak into life. The browns and darks are the disease, working hard to stifle the best of me. I like painting because, despite the preponderance of the dark monotones, for me, it’s the violets and yellows that I am drawn to, the reminders that those things are always there.
Last night, on the phone to someone dear to me, I was asked “so, I have been reading your blog. The depression is still there?”
Depression, I have learned, is misunderstood, or even not understood at all by most people. Ever since I began writing of my own battles, people have been thanking me for telling their story, of reminding them that they are not alone.
Because that is one of the elements of it. The shame of it. A shame that comes from not understanding. My ex-wife was fond of telling my kids that my depression made me weak. My father, who had, I believe, a lifetime of depression, felt it was shameful, a weakness and that was part (only part) of why he drank so badly.
In a way, of course, it is a weakness. It’s a disease. A chronic disease. You can treat it. You can manage it. But it rarely goes away. You just learn to push it back. Or you succumb. Some people have bad cases. It cripples them. I spent a year or two in that place. It’s dark. Black. Horrifying. Consuming.
Others of us, most of us in fact, have medium to mild cases. You don’t even see the disease. We function fine. We plow through each day. We do our work. We laugh. We love. We do good stuff. We create. We raise kids, cut our lawns and help our neighbors. We’re invisible (at least until some loudmouth like me pipes up.)
But it’s not easy. Even those of us with medium to mild cases are fighting a battle the rest of the world does not have to fight. We have to consciously battle lies our minds tell us about our value, our ability, our worthiness as people. We have to fight to get up and get going in the morning. We have to smile when we don’t feel like it. Function when what we want to do is crawl into a bed and hide from the world. We have to fight the stigma and shame that people put on us for our depression. We feel the bad stuff more and the good stuff less than most people. Stuff that is simple for others is hard for us.
But we do it. We live lives that, unless you know us well, are perfectly normal. It’s just a battle to live those lives. We take medication to help, but all that medication does is lighten the load we carry. (unless we are doped to the gills, in which case we don’t function well at all.).
The rest of it is on us. If we are smart, or if we have the courage, we get psychological help and that lets us develop ways to battle our own minds so that we can live relatively normal lives. Invisible lives. It’s work. And no one sees it.
I’ve said it before. People who fight their depression to live normal lives are not weak. They are the strongest people I know. They are courageous, fighting a battle for normalcy that they will never win, a day by day battle where they know there is no rest, only now, only this moment of victory. They cannot let their guard down. Not for a day. Not for an hour, or this thing will swallow us, push us back. We are always subject to having it take us down.
And on top of that, we have to fight the stigma. The people who think we can just snap out of it. That we are just having a case of the blues. That we are weak.
Sorry boys, we carry weight that blissfully, you don’t have to carry. I am not proud of my disease, but I’d damn proud of my battle, of each day I push through it and laugh and love and am, to most people, invisible. Put me down all you like. Put down those other people who fight the same fight. I know the truth. We are soldiers in civies. Your putdowns and insults are part of the battle, and honestly, they are the least part.
Depression has made me more compassionate. I have learned more about emotional trauma and disease than I ever thought I needed to know. I have become far better at listening to people’s stories. I have come to see how many of us are walking wounded. Anxiety. Abuse. Life
Anxiety. Abuse. Life trauma. Each of them literally leaves wounds on the brain, and the people battling them are my soldiers in arms. They fight their own wounded minds day in and day out, and for the most part, they do it. They function. They build lives. They do good work. It’s hard. They don’t do it easily. They have moments when it overwhelms them, but then they get up and start again.
I have never fought in a war. And I am glad of it. But I have listened to many soldiers talk about their time in battle.
In battle, there is no shame in being wounded. When one soldier is wounded, others gather around them, extract them, protect them. After the battle, they honor them.
Imagine that, honoring the wounded.
How did we miss that in regular life? How did we turn from honoring and helping and protecting those who battle on to stigmatizing them? To mocking them? To shaming them? I simply don’t have the answers, but I find it sad.
In my favorite diner this morning, I had a conversation with an elderly couple. The husband fights depression. The woman fights anxiety. They have been married 50 years. They have three kids who they raised and who are doing well in life. He had a long career as a chemist. She’s a freelance writer and has done that for 40 years. They were delightful, wounds and all.
Don’t tell me they’re weak. They are crazy strong. They have fought the battle all their lives and made a good life for themselves and others. And they still fight it. Every day. If we were in a bar instead of a breakfast diner, I would have bought a round of drinks in their name. They made me smile. Such a loving couple, wounds and all.
So here’s to the walking wounded. The world may put you down and push you aside, but not me. Not today. I honor your strength. I honor your courage. I honor the battles fought and the battles to come. You are my heros.
Be well. Travel wisely,