As of this morning, I am officially 25 pounds lighter than I was 9 months ago. It was a shock and a relief to make that realization on the scale this morning, although this post is not actually about weight loss. This post is about depression.
Minutes after stepping off the scale, I settled in with a cup of coffee to read the news. Immediately I was confronted with the brutal headlines: Anthony Bourdain is dead at 61. I knew it was suicide before I even read the story. My stomach turned, and I sighed “oh, no” under my breath. Griffin, my now seven year old, perked up and asked me what was wrong. I told him that a famous chef and tv personality had passed away. “Did you know him?”, Griffin wanted to know. No, I didn’t know him, kiddo. Except for, in a small way, I did.
I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. It ebbs and flows, and the medication I currently take makes the flows far more manageable. I rarely have the same sharp panic and same depths of depression that I did as a teenager and young adult. But in a way, that makes what I do experience a bit more insidious. I am a person that struggles with mental health issues, that is intimately familiar with the symptoms and patterns, and yet even I sometimes can’t recognize when I am in the throes of it. Instead, it just feels like this numb new reality. This is just the world now, and this is the me in it. That is how people with access to mental health care, medication, loved ones, and the suicide hotline phone number still die. It is an illness that clouds everything.
I want to make clear that although I understand how this happens, I myself have never struggled with suicidal ideation. It is just not the way my brain works, or the way this illness manifests for me. For that, I am exceedingly LUCKY. I use the word luck purposefully, because that is simply all it is. It has nothing to do with who I am, my strength or lack of it, my love for myself or others, my willingness to deal with pain. Just like some people are born with blue eyes and some with brown, depression touches people in different ways. What I experience is not what others experience, the way I respond is not how others respond. It isn’t a choice.
What I do instead, is try to fill a hole. I eat, I drink, I sleep, I curl into a ball and try not to move. I spend hours on social media or engrossed in television trying not to think about anything for as long as possible. I stop cooking, yet crave comfort food, so I fill myself with whatever I can quickly pick up. I am hollow and I try to make myself whole. But none of that is conscious at the time. It isn’t a “case of the sads”. If you asked me what was wrong, I would say nothing and mean it. Or sometimes the depression and anxiety would dig its heels in just a little bit more, leaving me with a dull ache in my chest. I’d know then I was being haunted again, but even still would never be able to articulate why.
Most recently, I spent nearly a year- from fall of 2017 until fall of 2018 depressed. Although there were some external factors that I’m sure contributed to it (disappointment and stress at work, being overwhelmed by my doctoral program, the difficulties of raising two small kids, reverberations from the Trump administration), there was no actual “cause”, it just was. Of course I didn’t actually realize in the moment that I was depressed. I still joked with my coworkers, I still had high standards for myself at work, I still took care of my responsibilities at home and with the kids. In every way, I looked successful, and like I had everything together. I had recently been promoted, I was a doctoral student with passion in her research areas, I had a beautiful family, I had amazing friends. But I was hollow, and I spent a year trying to be whole.
It is important for me to note here before I go on that there is a horrible stigma against fat people that I refuse to take part in or condone. There are millions of people, like my hero Brittney Gibbons, that are heavy AND healthy, happy, and beautiful. I was just not one of those people. When I woke up one day in September and realized I was the heaviest I had ever been in my adult life, heavier than I was at 9 months pregnant, I was miserable. I had woken out of my depression and into the heartbreak of seeing what it had done to my body. I didn’t recognize my own face anymore, I felt painfully swollen, simple physical activity seemed REALLY hard because I had barely moved in a year. I started the slow process of healing. I found a great therapist, I rediscovered my love of cooking, I invested in myself and things that make me happy. I am awake, I am well, I am whole.
During my dark year, I spent a LOT of time with Anthony Bourdain. I loved No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and the places he would take me. Places that were so magical and mysterious, so unbelievably beautiful, so far away from the place I was hiding in. His humor, kindness to people of every culture and way of life, and of course the food and drink, spoke to me. Tony allowed me to escape my own struggles while giving me a new understanding of the world around me. This morning I realized I had finally lost 25 of the pounds I had gained while living with depression. On the same day I lost a hero who could just no longer live with his.