Today I was sitting in the third row, laughing my head off at my professor. He was wearing a purple shirt and had made some nerdy joke about the poetry we read for homework. I was eating a caramel from Becky’s wedding and laughed out loud with with my sticky fingers. I had prayed to feel happy that day and had that momentary feeling where you realize your hopes are coming true. Even small hopes feel great when they’re coming true.
Did you know that it’s hard for me to feel happiness sometimes? It is. Not because I’m a pessimist, but because they chemicals in my brain are sometimes unbalanced and it makes it very difficult for me to feel positive things. This is called clinical depression. It means you are sad, but not because of a situation. You are sad for no foreseeable reason, other than the chemicals in your brain that help you to feel happy aren’t really working right now. But it doesn’t feel like it’s just chemicals! It feels very real. And very lonely. And very personal. So sometimes you can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, you’re just tired and sad and alone. Or sometimes you’re having a hard time feeling anything. And so some days I am a bit of a robot, numb to things around me even though I am reaching out as hard as I can to be a part of them. And that’s rough, because I love to feel. I want adjectives and verbs and change and life. I want to feel it. For this reason, I’ve had lots of practice with what it takes to have a good day. Because for me, good days rarely happen by accident. I have to strive for them and look for them and choose them over and over, even if the chemicals in my brain aren’t reacting to those efforts. For this reason, a involuntary burst of laughter at an incredibly intelligent purple-shirted joke is especially appreciated.
The other night I was sitting on the porch with Ken. We had just come back from a walk by the stones in the river. We were talking about how hard it is for me to feel joy sometimes. How tired I get from trying. We were talking about our future and how some things might need to be different for us. Ken thinks some things might need to be different for us so we can make sure I’m getting what I need to have a happy life. I felt so defeated. Why should anything have to be different? Why can’t we do things like everyone else? Why should we have to take a step back, or take a step extra, or take a step away… for me? Doesn’t that mean I’m weak. Doesn’t that mean I’m doing something wrong. And I started to feel it again. I started to feel that I am less than other people because of the chemicals in my brain. I know this is a physical thing, like a broken leg or bad blood pressure. All the right choices in the world won’t heal it. All the poetry and scripture reading I can muster won’t heal it. At the end of the day, it’s just not my fault. It’s physical. But it feels like it’s my fault sometimes. Like I am to blame.
And then Ken got his serious voice on. His listen up, I mean this and I love you voice. He said that he knows I think depression holds us back sometimes, but he thinks this difficulty of mine is helping him. It is helping him learn to focus on something other than himself. It is helping him learn to take care of someone and sacrifice for them. For years he’s been striving to change his heart by learning how to do that. He is grateful to have the chance to do so, with me, for life. And after that I felt much less alone. Much less to blame.
The bottom line is that depression is real. There are books and theories and methods for coping. There is cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga and exercise and meditation and yes, there are pills. In the end it is a very physical problem that manifests itself emotionally and spiritually in me and many other people. I am not the numb girl who cannot respond to the dullness in her heart. I am not the dullness in my heart. That is serotonin and norepinephrine and neurons and synapses. That is chemical.
I am Lyndsi. I am the girl unwrapping caramels in the third row, laughing about poetry. I am the girl with a notebook of thoughts in her book bag and some peanut butter crackers for later. I am the girl who reads novels on the front porch and highlights the good lines with a green crayon. I am the girl riding my bike by the river and looking at trees upside down. I know joy. I know longing. And though the chemicals in my brain might change my mood from day to day, they do not change who I am. I know who I am. Identity Perpetual.
[Today’s post title comes from a poem called Ulysses by our friend Alfred Lord Tennyson.]