This year has been intensely challenging so far. I always believed the grief over becoming chronically ill/disabled would slowly lessen over time, that I would learn to live with it, and learn to find new sources of joy, connection, and purpose within my physical and mental limitations. These things may still happen eventually, I am only three years into my grieving process, and I don’t know what the future might hold. However, the reality for now is that grief has settled into my brain and taken root as major depressive disorder. I am working with my doctor and my family to find solutions, and while that has, unfortunately, been a deeply discouraging journey so far, I do have safe, caring people who are supporting me through it. Regardless of this support, my depression has become increasingly greedy over the past few months and seems to relish sticking its sharp fingers into every aspect of my life, including my writing and creativity.
I have struggled with knowing how much to share about this journey publicly. I am a great believer in vulnerability and authenticity, but I am also learning to embrace healthy boundaries and to recognize when public vulnerability is not helpful in the way that private, interpersonal vulnerability is. I don’t want to share things just for the sake of sharing them; I want my writing to offer comfort, understanding and belonging to those who need a reminder that they are not alone in their struggles. But that is difficult to do when I feel particularly lonely and isolated in this season.
It’s more difficult for me to write about depression from the midst of it than it is to write about pain or fatigue. Maybe that’s because there’s even more stigma around mental illness than around physical illness (which in my experience is also very stigmatized, especially when it’s invisible). Maybe it’s because depression tells me that writing about it will only make other people feel sad or sorry for me. Maybe because I feel like I have no answers these days and no helpful observations to share about mental health. Maybe it’s because it hurts enough to live with my depression without trying to make sense of it for anyone else. Maybe it’s just because I am too tired.
For now I can’t see the story I am in well enough to tell one that makes others feel seen in their stories. So, I am just going to share a poem I wrote during an intense wave of grief a few years ago, because that feels like the most honest thing I can do.
Lately my heart breaks at least once a week.
The tiredness in my bones catches up with my straining, wanting chest
and suddenly everything, everything is too heavy.
Day after day of isolation builds brick walls on my ribcage
and pulls the light feathers from beneath my shoulder blades
until I have only bones to lie on.
Blank grey uncertainty piles on my knees in thick blankets
that refuse to be kicked off
and hold me far behind my running fears,
somehow escaped from their hiding place in my locked shoulders.
I see the world through windows and screens,
and still its too full of sharp broken pieces I can’t touch
and open wounds I can’t heal,
and still I get covered in all of the dark red pain.
“Help” always sounds like a childish plea
as it dances frantically through my head to aortic drum beats.
Fraying breaths begin like distant thunder
but the storm follows like a shadow
and I am caught in choking darkness.
The half-gallon of six-year-old in me still thinks summer storms are magical,
but June will teach my fragments new ways to be torn apart.
There are gasping shards of me everywhere
and I don’t trust them not to lace both of our hands in scarlet.
Please pretend that the tracks on my cheeks are a map you know how to follow,
I need to believe that someone can still find my true North
when I’ve crumpled under the weight of a magnet.
I think if I were made of silk and wool
I could stitch my chest closed after every tear,
reinforcing the seams until they become numb with thread.
But I am seventy percent water
and my sea salt eyes know that oceans break,
on every shore.