This is the story of my depression.
** This post is a missives from my past. As with most of my posts, this was written about 2 years ago, when the realities and circumstances of my life were quite different. In this post, I refer to my wife. We are no longer married. **
The time that elapsed from the time my wife became pregnant till the time of my daughter’s birth was a very strange time. When we decided to have a child, Barack Obama was the president. My wife was in better health than she had been in years. She had just run a triathlon. Things looked good, hopeful, possible. She got pregnant on the first try. It seems like Hillary Clinton would be our first female president. It felt like a sign of good things to come.
My wife’s pregnancy became complicated. Twice we ended up in the hospital thinking we might lose the baby. Both times, I left the hospital with a fear that I didn’t really know how to express, the fear of losing someone not yet born. We were so incredibly lucky we did not lose her.
As my wife’s pregnancy went on, it became clear that Jeb Bush would not carry the Republican ticket. It would go to Donald Trump. An undercurrent of unabashed hatred became impossible to ignore in our country. And it kept growing until it was no longer an undercurrent. It felt like a damning flood of seething hate.
All of this turmoil seemed to roil from thin air. My wife’s health suddenly seemed precarious. The country was ready to hate, ban, build walls, and plug its ears to sexual assault. I felt this need to be stable. I couldn’t get lost in the muck of it all. I was about to become a parent and I felt I had to be responsible. I threw myself into planning, reading the news, being informed, becoming politically active, researching infant development, building a diverse library for my daughter, and preparing. Preparing the nursery and preparing for whatever was happening to the country I thought I knew. It didn’t feel like there was room for any weakness. The country was on its way to hell and my wife was the one experiencing the challenging pregnancy. I had to hold it all together.
Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee for the Republican party on May 4th, 2016. The next morning, our daughter was born.
If I had been able to do the logical, brainy stuff while still giving myself an emotional outlet, I might have made it through unscathed. As it was, I buried everything that felt unpleasant. The hatred I witnessed that seemed to be growing to epic proportions in our country. The fear I felt for my safety and the safety of every black, brown, female, muslim, non-white immigrant, queer, and trans person. The fear I felt for my wife’s wellbeing and health through her pregnancy. The fear of losing our child. The uncertainty of becoming a parent. The dark truth that my daughter would come into this deeply damaged world and I could do little to fix it. An enormous shadow lurked around me and I didn’t speak its name. I didn’t look at it. I pushed it into the neglected corners of my mind and kept moving.
Over time, the wall I had constructed between the preparation, planning, and political organizing of my brain and the pain, fear, and uncertainty in my heart began to erode. I experienced a generalized and confused anxiety. I had buried the contents of my heart so deeply that I couldn’t decipher what it was saying. When my heart spoke, it sounded like panicked gibberish. I couldn’t translate its language anymore.
When my daughter was born, everything changed. My heart started speaking and it was a love that was loud and clear. I started listening to my heart. At first, my heart sang of the joy, deep love, and connection to my daughter. I enjoyed this song for the first few months of her life. I am fortunate that I could have this treasured experience bonding with my newborn. After a while, my heart had other stories to tell. The presidential election happened. Incredible pain, anger, loss, and fear began to surface. All of the emotions from the pregnancy, primaries, and election all rose at once in a flash flood.
During the months of burying my feelings before my daughter was born, I became accustomed to a rather numb existence. Once the feelings awoke it took months to be able to settle fully into the darkness. Depression took hold while I got my bearings in the shadowy places within me that I had neglected. It took another couple of months to understand how to carry it all, hold the depth, paradoxes, and intensity. After a while, I clambered my way out of the depression, but I chose not to abandon the dark parts of myself again.
It is all too easy to grab the shovel and begin burying the painful parts of ourselves. Glasses of wine, bowls of ice cream, superficial positivity, pseudo-spirituality, Netflix, perfectionism, and constant busyness all heap their own shovelfuls of dirt onto the discomfort of being real. The notched, knotted, snagged, barbed, and broken pieces of ourselves take the cruelest beating, often at our own hands. Once I refused to abandon these part of myself and sat with all their awfulness for a long time, they started integrating. I didn’t feel quite so distorted or off-kilter. I became comfortable watching shadows move across my interior landscape.
However, this integrated end took months, even years of struggle. At the worst of it, it was hard to smile. It was hard to sit still. I had no idea that what I was waiting for wasn’t light, but my own ability to sit and be easy with the dark. At the time of my depression, I kept looking for hope, change, or something to get better. I felt frustrated that the darkness persisted. Everything changed when I gave up hope and learned to sit in the dark. The months of uneasiness and pain were my path to settling in. This truth is harsh. It isn’t a feel-good message. For me, meaning has always been crafted in the dark. I have experienced the incredible richness of digging into my own dark earth, diving into the murky waters, and lowering into the pitch black caverns of myself. When I’m able to be still, the places where shadows settle become holy ground. Then, I can gather the findings of the dark and carry them with me into the dappled light.