To Take a Shower; or Not

Should be a no-brainer, right?

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Seems a simple choice, does it not? Yet, when one is sunk down, buried under the weight and darkness that we label “Depression,” it is not simple.

It was with shame today that I realized just how many days it had been since last I bathed. A week? A week and change? Then, I began to reflect that that is actually one of the facets of depression, that shame. Depression seems to bring out the worst in us, and it’s usually forced inward, upon ourselves. So, the shame I felt as I stepped into the shower, that sense of “Wow, I’ve been so lazy, haven’t even taken a shower!” adds to the ennui that we struggle to escape from. The fact that I’ve also been struggling with a migraine? Yeah, that’s the icing on the cake. I ask myself, “Did the migraine cause this? Or did the depression cause the migraine?” Who know and, really, who cares? Double-whammy, here I come!

Then, there’s the current life. As you know, if you’ve read what I’ve written previously, I’ve a very good life. I love it. My husband adores me (and I adore him, in return); we have a new home we’ve settled in to, that gives us peace and safety and comfort; we have, between us, four daughters and three grandchildren whom we love and adore; we are, in short, very happy with our lives. So why, I must ask myself when I feel these dark clouds sneak up on me; why am I depressed?

I know that the first 40 years of my life were hell. I know that, I’ve accepted it, I’ve even moved beyond it, to a point where I can say “This is my life, and it’s a good life. This is who I am, and I like who I am.” So when those cloud-tendrils begin reaching out to grasp me, I feel myself shuddering, trying to slip from their grasp, to give them nothing to hold on to. Yet, those previous 40 years are no lightweights, and I find myself, from time to time, sinking back into that steeping mire. Under “normal” circumstances — that is, the circumstances that inform my most current past five years — I’ve learned well to ride these waves out. To myself, I’m able to say “This is ok. It’s a bump in the road. It won’t last forever, you’ve gotten through everything else, you can make it through this one.” That’s another gift I’ve been given, these last eight years or so. I know, now, that these periods don’t last. Somehow, that makes the act of slogging through them somewhat less difficult. That is yet another gift my beloved has offered to me, that knowledge.

But. And there is always a “but,” isn’t there, dear reader? But, I hate them. I hate the dark times. I still perceive them as a weakness of myself. I also know, very well, that sometimes, when the dark times hit, they bring with them thoughts or memories of that past life, and those thoughts and memories are rife with shame, with pain, with loss and longing. I hate, with a passion that seems well at-odds with the enfolding of nothing that is depression, these times. Which means, simply, that I castigate myself even more. I have everything! I shout to myself. I have everything I’ve ever wanted; why? Why must the past come back, drag me back under, have its way with me?

My beloved has made sure I’m always aware that these periods of darkness, these times of no-self, of emptiness and pain and loss and shame, are actually spreading themselves out. They happen less frequently, and they last shorter durations, now, than they used to. I know all this. And yet … they still happen.

This most recent one has been the worst I’ve experienced in a good, long while. I haven’t just stayed in bed for days on end; I’ve cooked, some. I’ve cleaned, some. I’ve done some things. But the doctor’s appointments I’ve needed to follow up on; the bills I’ve needed to pay; the work I’ve needed to do; all of it, fallen by the wayside for the past few weeks. My home, my lovely home? Neglected. I’ve not had the energy it takes to lovingly clean it, and care for it; that also shames me. And for the last week? The bathing I’ve so desperately needed, not done. The self-care that would help combat this, I haven’t even had the energy to do.

Depression is insidious. It sneaks up on you, and by the time you realize you can no longer escape its grasp, somehow it has wrapped itself firmly about you, and dragged you down into that stinking, sloppy pit of goo which defies your ability to drag yourself out of. I know this, I’ve lived it. But the bigger part of what it does is assists us in our own self-defeat, our own self-castigation. Our own losses, our own failures, our own missteps, all blown wildly out of proportion. Trust me, if you’ve lived it, you know of what I speak; if you haven’t, then you can’t understand how devastating it is. I wonder, somehow, if it’s even more devastating when you know you have an amazing life, that it still has the ability to sneak back up on you and take from you your day-to-day peace and enjoyment.

But. And yes, there is always a but. But it does not last. It cannot last, I don’t know that anything really can last. Good days, bad days … we know they come, and we know they go. We know that the sunlight brightens the day, following the gentle moon which makes our nights a little less lonely. We know that the seasons follow each other. We know that Nature wreaks havoc on our environment, as well as we know that new growth comes from that havoc. And as we know these things, I know that the depression cannot last. That knowledge sustains me.

My husband sustains me. My life sustains me. My hope sustains me. Depression … hurts. It is a soul-hurt. But life, life is joy! Life itself is myriad possibilities, unfolding and blooming all around us. Yes, life can also sustain us, even when we’re sunk so far down we wonder how we’ll be able to make it back up. And eventually, the pit dries and hardens, we’re able to force handholds back into the sides, and we begin to be able to climb back out.

Those of us fortunate to have someone standing there, on the edge of that pit, with their hands outstretched to us know a shining moment when we look up and see that hand. The one who stands there has waited with us, patiently, for the clouds to pass, for the gloom to lift, for us to come back to ourselves.

I’d love to say that I will never struggle with depression, again. I really would. But I know better; it is the legacy that is left to me. But I also know that today’s shower, small as that was, is a step back toward this life that I love, and that my life, and my appreciation of it, is all the sharper for having made it through yet another round. In a few days, or a week, or a couple of weeks, when I am back to myself, I will be able to look back on this period and say “You made it. Again. Welcome back!” I will be able to feel, even more richly, the joys and peace and comfort that are my life. I will confront my life with yet more gratitude toward everything.

So while I hate these periods, absolutely despise them, when they arrive, I must also be grateful to them, for allowing me to enjoy even more the richness that has come to be my life.

*Note* It may be confusing, the timeline I’ve given above, so I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify it.

Until I was 40 years old, I knew nothing of hope for myself. At 40, my second husband divorced me, setting me free; but I knew only the loss of failure in that part of my life.

I met my beloved during that time, and thus began the slog toward humanity. It took me a good solid three years to be able to embrace this new life. So, birth-40 was hell. 40-43 were my beginning of discovery of self. And 43-48 has been the last five years, the richest years in joy and celebration that I’ve ever known. I am now 48, and look forward to what the rest of my life can teach me.

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