This isn’t my first depression rodeo.
I had that thought this morning while trying to convince myself that yes, I could and should get out of bed, and yes, I could and should go to work, but mostly that yes, this too shall pass in time. It was a fortunate thought, because it made me giggle, and a good giggle can work momentary wonders when I’m still in the opening act of a depressive episode. Further down the line giggling gets harder, but while it’s still possible, I highly recommend it.
The thought of a depression rodeo elicited this response because I immediately pictured a rodeo made up entirely of terribly sad clowns, some slowly trying and failing to pull themselves up onto bored horses, some simply leaning against a fencepost while singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” in a slow, moribund baritone. I hate clowns; the giggle may or may not have been mostly schadenfreude at the delightful thought of a clown having a miserable day. I can’t be a nice person all the time, you know.
Seasonal Affective Disorder largely hits people through the winter, but having been a dedicated non-conformist from a very early age, I fall into the 10% of SAD sufferers whose depression develops or peaks in the summer months. My best mental health generally starts when the leaves begin to fall and everything withers and dies - did I ever mention I was a goth in high school? - and drops back when the heat begins to climb in the spring. And while the very deepest darkest days of December do indeed take their toll on me, it’s really the relentless summer heat that does me in; my dreary Montreal winters can mostly be mitigated by basic Vitamin D supplements. (*I actually take Vitamin D year-round, as my skin is the of the variety kindly described as “porcelain” and not-so-kindly described as “possessing a sort of deathly pallor”, so the most natural source of vitamin D mostly just causes me to turn a bright cooked lobster red. We can’t all tan, you know. Ask your doctor if sunshine is right for you.)
There are some bright sides to my annual depression rodeo. I write more, for one thing, taking the therapeutic approach of documenting my crushing sadness for posterity, and in my humble opinion, my writing actually becomes funnier. It’s sardonic humour, gallows humour, but it’s there. Given that my usual approach to humour is a mix of bad puns and an inability to understand other people’s jokes, this can only be seen as an improvement.
My social life is also enriched by depression, if only because I go from having very few conversations in my introverted daily life to having multiple chats with the mean girl who lives in my head. “You’re disgusting and worthless and will never amount to anything” I hear immediately upon awakening, and after checking to make sure it’s not just a voicemail from my oft-disappointed-in-me-Father, I realize I’m in for another full day fielding such constructive criticisms from somewhere in the depths of my crooked brain. Depression is the friend I can take everywhere, from sobbing in the shower to barely containing my sobs on the metro. Who needs to seek out healthy companionship and love when you’re never actually alone?!
My ability to find new flaws in my body, a body that fluctuates throughout the year but usually reaches peak squishiness in my happy dark winter days, is heightened during this period as well. My capacity for uncovering new modes of self-hatred becomes almost a sixth sense; I spent yesterday dreading every time I needed to leave my desk for fear that the swish of my legs rubbing together as I walked was making me “sound fat.” Did you know fat had a sound? You would if you had my Depression Superpowers.
Keep in mind, this depression is not yet full-blown. Oh no, not by a long shot. I am merely melancholy on the cusp of despondent. Historically speaking we are still weeks, or even months away from the point where there is nowhere to go but up. And yet –
Up is nevertheless still an option.
I forget that, usually, around this time. “Here we go again” I comment morosely to my inner voice. “Here we do indeed, you unlovable cunt” she gleefully agrees, before enumerating my many flaws with staggering thoroughness and accuracy.
Giggling at my sad clowns this morning, though, I found myself thinking of my mom, who is one of those remarkable people who can find the light in almost anything. And not in that obnoxious, “everything happens for a reason, always look on the bright side” way. She just somehow sees the quiet thread of humour running through even the darkest night. “Well, you have to laugh” she often tells me, sympathetically, after I’ve recounted my latest anxiety or defeat. And she’s usually right. Depression is horrible and monstrous and debilitating, but it is also often, at its core, a bit ridiculous.
Maybe the idea that my own personal depression rodeo is an annual, inevitable summer-long event that will happen rain or shine and despite my every precaution is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not because you can will away depression – oh Lord, if only – but because here, before the tipping point, there is still time and space for me to laugh in its face. To communicate my fears and needs with loved ones, to seek support where I can, and to face the various absurdities of my thought patterns head-on.
There is still time hang a sign that says “Depression Rodeo Cut Short Due to Unforeseen Circumstances; Come Back Next Year. Or Don’t.”
It might put some clowns out of work, but hey, isn’t that just an added bonus?
With great love,