Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Dark Cloud

During lunch with a former student this week, the conversation turned to depression. She shared some personal stuff and then apologized for going into such depth about her life, her family, and that Dark Cloud that's so good at creeping in to block the sun.

In a rare moment of candor I told her that I knew the Dark Cloud well. 

Everyone thinks I have the perfect life, I explained, and I do. I have a great marriage, two amazing sons, we live in a slice of heaven, I have over thirty books in print, two have been turned into movies, strangers tell me how much my work has helped them in their life, and I'm healthy.  

And compared to the way my life used to be? Wow. I know I've got it good.

So what could I possibly get depressed about?

But that's just it. Depression can defy logic. And trying to reason it away is usually futile.

Also, it's not the same for everyone who suffers from it (or bouts of it), so the remedy - or battle plan - to defeat it is going to be different for different people. The chemistry of the brain is way too complex to prescribe universal solutions.

I try to shake my Dark Cloud by running away. Literally. I know exercise is good for health and fitness, but my real motivation is mood elevation. Can I just say this? I don't love running. I love the result of running. I love the way it calms me down, lifts me up, makes me ready to tackle the things I have been putting off. 

It's all about the endorphins.

I also escape in my writing. 30 novels (8 chapter books) in less than 20 years is the output of a woman possessed; one preferring to create worlds where good can triumph than face off with her own demons. When I'm absorbed in the production of pages, the Dark Cloud stays a safe distance away.

Also of benefit is the simple act of "ditch digging" - the chores of life. If I can get myself up and moving when the Dark Cloud is hovering, I can bat it away. But getting yourself up and  moving when it's upon you is hard. Why bother with chores? I don't feel like going for a run. No, I don't want to answer the phone, the front door, my email. Nothing seems worth doing, and the less I do, the less I feel like doing. It is hard to break that cycle. 

I never, ever talk about this except with Mark, who helps me get up and get going on the things that will chase the Cloud away. I dodge and weave my way through life, and pretty much manage to keep the darkness at bay. And I don't want to acknowledge the Cloud to others because...well, everyone has things they're dealing with, and I have, you know, everything.

But there you have it:  Like many people, I struggle with a powerful and persistent Dark Cloud. And the reason I'm sharing this with you now is because that former student gaped at me when I shared it with her and said, "You have no idea how much better that makes me feel."

She seemed so...relieved. She laughed out loud. She shook her head. She smiled a warm, radiant smile. 

Her reaction made me realize how much we can help each other, just by admitting it. Twenty minutes in the weight room may not work for you the way it works for me, but maybe a hike through the woods will. Or maybe you've tried sweating it away, or writing it away, or scrubbing it away, and it's still there, dark and foreboding, and you just can't shake it. Maybe it's time to seek professional help.

I am not a doctor, and I don't claim to understand the intricacies of brain chemistry, depression, or even mood swings. 

I just want you to know that you're not alone. 


Unknown said...

Thank you. I know the dark cloud too well. I needed to read this today because sometimes I blame myself for this miserable circumstance at times, even though I know it's nothing I did that causes it to hover. Add to that the fact that I am a believer. Maybe if I had more faith, prayed more, read my bible more, focused on God more, instead of this circumstance...all remarks I have heard from folks who have sunshine. Depression doesn't show on the outside. I wish it did, and I wish the sun would come out.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing. After my last baby the postpartum depression was the worst ever. I felt inspired to sit and write out my history of battling depression, it was Very cathartic. One day I hope to share my story with others. After reading "The Running Dream" I knew you understood depression, and some ways to overcome it. Thank you, thank you.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Jan - I so relate to blaming yourself first. I'm always trying to puzzle out what I did wrong. I would tell you STOP THAT, but I know that doesn't work :-) I think prayer is good for creating a more positive state of mind, but I don't think you can pray depression away. Don't be afraid to explore other ways to get that sun to break through. Sending you hugs <3

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Kae - I'm glad writing helped, and I'm sure your experience would be a lifeline to other women experiencing PPD--especially since that kind of depression is sneaky in how it's counter-intuitive and unexpected. Thank you for sharing <3

BH Bart said...

Thank you for sharing. I think it's so important to know that you have a community of family and friends who are there for you when needed. Everyone has dark thoughts and sometimes it can be a struggle to see the light. This was an incredibly relatable and honest post (especially about the running!). Thank you for opening up so others don't feel so alone :)

Jessica said...

Mental illness affects every single family, and yet there's still such a stigma around it. Thank you for helping to open up the conversation. One of my professors in grad school (who was a psychologist) told our class that if you need help, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for it - especially since it was free under our student health plan. It was one of the scariest things I've ever done, but also one of the most helpful. The lessons I learned for coping with the stress of grad school have applied to so many other situations. I'm still working on treating myself with the kindness and forgiveness I show to others, but it gets easier everyday.

essay best said...

Depression is not a fully explained phenomenon. It can hit anyone regardless of class, gender, race or ethnicity. But it is truly something that needs to be addressed.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

I love this line from Jessica: "I'm still working on treating myself with the kindness and forgiveness I show to others." So many of us struggle with that. Thank you for putting it into words!