I am prone to depression of the Lemony Snicket kind. Most of the time I am fine and high-functioning, if I may say so myself, but it only takes a short series of unfortunate events to bring me to my knees.
Hormones play a significant role in this. My first major depressive episode happened right after I had my second child and my body was getting rid of all the wonderful pregnancy hormones. I would probably have been able to deal with that if it had been the only thing on my mind, but it coincided with my parents hitting rock bottom in their alcohol abuse and the combo of an infant, a toddler, sleep deprivation, hormone drain, and providing all sorts of help — over the phone and in person — on another continent was less than great. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. My children were and are wonderful and the greatest loves of my life, and I have always, always stepped up when my parents were in need — if anything too often for my own good. It was just the perfect storm and it took me down.
Now, twelve years later, I have landed in a similar vortex. At 47 my hormones are having a bit of a Clash moment. They are trying to decide if they should stay or they should go. And again, if that was the only thing I’d be able to manage just fine, but that is not how life (and death) is, is it? In late summer 2017, my mother was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and five months later she passed away. As it was happening I kept it together because I had to be there for others, but since then not so much. As far as I can tell there is a nasty demon in my brain that comes out when my estrogen level is low. It has one of those camping tripod chairs that it pitches right next to my ear and then it settles in to tell me scary stories.
The brothers Grimm have nothing on this guy. He serves up tales from the darkest, coldest places corners of my mind. That I am worth shit or less, that there is no point in doing anything about it because it’s not going to work anyway, that my whole identity was so wrapped up in my complex relationship with my mother that there is nothing left of it now that she is gone. Awful, bilious stuff that I have to focus all my energy on not letting it leak out into the world. I am pretty sure that J. K. Rowling was going through something like this when she came up with the dementors.
When it happens to me I retreat from the world. Everything I have to give goes inward. I cannot talk, I cannot write, I cannot smile, I cannot interact or engage with other people. All I can do is battle with this foul fella in my inner Thunderdome. And I have to be honest; most of the time he wins. I’m his bitch.
But as I mentioned, I am high-functioning. Unless you know me well you wouldn’t know when this is underway. You might just notice that I fall a bit off the grid, get a little distant and behind, seem busier than usual, but it is not like I am in a fetal position on the floor on the outside. Those closest to me — my hubby and kids — take the brunt of the spillover; piles of undone laundry, grumpiness, missed appointments, crappy junk food, lots of TV binging, general abandonment of a healthy lifestyle, and thank God, they haven’t left me yet. The fact of the matter is that depression is a solo act and my shameful, perfectionist brain will do everything it can to make it stay that way which is counterproductive, to say the least.
I have however gotten better at recognizing when my wheels start to squeak. I have built habits that are both preventative and remedial. I sleep, I meditate, I work out, I have sex, I get therapy, I breathe, I get over myself and speak out. I cling onto the temporariness of these episodes like a raft. I curb my estrogen lows with bio-identical hormones, knowing full well that it is not without risk. I put my faith in my grief softening, my coping skills improving, and in the monsters under my mental bed scurrying, perhaps even dissolving, when I look them straight in the eye. I have to believe that all of the hard work will pay off.
Because I don’t want to be depression’s bitch forever.
Regitze Ladekarl has re-emerged as a raconteur after a long, successful career elsewhere. She crafts universal tales from everyday lives with an honest, sharp and witty pen. Besides working on a forthcoming novel, she flexes her voice with personal essays, flash fiction, and method writing here on Medium.