Once upon a time, a girl sat in a high school library.
The library had windows looking onto a sunny courtyard. It had big tables where kids studied and swapped what passed for gossip in the 1970s. The girl sat alone at a desk facing a wall.
She tried to read, but couldn’t concentrate. She heard her classmates’ cheerful banter, but it seemed filtered, as if she was listening from under water.
The girl was thriving, by outward appearances. She had friends. She was close to graduation, ready to move on to college. Inside, she felt dead.
Once upon a time, a woman slouched on a sofa.
In an upstairs bedroom, her newborn angel of a son slept the morning away. Her older children, the pride of her life, were at school. She sat alone, clicking through TV channels. Hearings on the impeachment of President Clinton droned on through the day.
The woman was doing well, her friends and family figured. After her husband died, she hadn’t missed a beat. She had kept working. She had figured out the lawn mower, had taken the kids on vacation, had gotten the Christmas tree up. Inside, she felt dead.
I was that girl, that woman.
I get a little blue every winter. The two episodes I just described weren’t blue periods. They were black holes, black as night. They passed, like sinister storm clouds blown away by fresh winds.
I gutted out my depression. I don’t recommend it.
Today is National Depression Screening Day. I mark the day with this timeworn thought: Do as I say, not as I do. If you’re in a black hole, get help.
Healthy Communities for Snohomish County, a coalition of health providers, today is offering a way back out of the fog. There are free programs at four sites:
The programs include information sessions and brief private interviews. No diagnosis will be made, but referrals will be provided. To sign up, call Stevens Health Source at 425-640-4066, then press 2.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 17 million Americans develop depression every year. If you’re in a black hole, numbers mean nothing.
You’ll recognize yourself on the list of depression’s symptoms: a lack of joy in life; sleeping more than usual or the inability to sleep; changes in eating habits; difficulty concentrating; unusual sadness; feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness; and thoughts of death or suicide.
Sufferers of major depression have at least five symptoms. Dysthymia is a milder, low-grade depression. Bipolar depression is a phase of manic-depressive illness; sufferers have extreme highs and lows. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder come in winter, when lack of sun triggers a biochemical reaction that brings loss of energy and excessive eating and sleeping.
I never stayed in bed all day or quit taking showers. I smiled through the blasted blues, preferring to keep my mental state a secret.
I’m here to say it now. I was depressed. There is no shame in saying it. Just look who has.
Last year, Tipper Gore revealed that she received counseling and medication for depression she experienced after a 1989 car accident that injured her son. The wife of the vice president and Democratic presidential nominee said she hoped her story would spur others to seek treatment.
In a 1994 memoir, former first lady Barbara Bush wrote that in the 1970s she was overcome by depression so severe that she feared she might end her life by crashing her car. The mother of the GOP presidential nominee also wrote that she muddled through on her own.
I muddled through. Don’t do it. Depression kills. In my case, it wasted precious time.
If the black cloud returns, will I take my own advice? I’d like to think so.