Just to be clear, I am not currently feeling any symptoms of depression. Stress, anxiety–these are my new norms. Not surprising, given our current circumstances–but there is no need to be concerned about the state of my mental health.
I started seeing a therapist the winter after Hubby and I got married. I had read all about brides suffering from post-wedding blues, and it makes sense. You spend every second of your free time and energy, for the better part of a year, planning the perfect day, but once it’s over, what are you supposed to do with yourself? For Hubby and me, getting married was a great way to bring our families together, celebrate our love and committment, dance, and drink champagne. But life afterward wasn’t much different than it had been in the almost-three years before we got married. Only now, I didn’t have a huge, life-altering event to look forward to.
Dr. B listened to my story, asked about my first memories*, analyzed my dreams (she was very Freudian), and told me that I was indeed suffering from anxiety–depression’s fidgety little sister–but I was not depressed. She said that if I were, I’d feel sad and hopeless for no reason at all. But, she insisted, I did have a reason for what I was feeling. And she called it grief.
What on earth did I have to grieve about? This was before my mother died, before infertility took over my life–although, of course, I already knew about it–when life seemed so much simpler. I was a newlywed. I was supposed to be happy.
Oh, did I mention that my two brothers and my supposed best friend all failed to show up for my wedding?
This may have been the grief-inducing thing Dr. B was talking about. All three of them used travel and expense as an excuse, but it’s not like they didn’t have 11 months’ notice. They could have saved a few bucks to pay for gas, or even carpooled. The clincher was my brother who said he couldn’t make the trip because his son had a basketball tournament that weekend. His son was 13 at the time. And has had more basketball tournaments than I could possibly count since then. How many times has his younger sister gotten married?
So I was definitely bitter. But grief-stricken? It didn’t make any sense to me. On one hand, I was relieved Dr. B didn’t want to prescribe medication**–but on the other? I was pretty sure this lady was nuts.
I didn’t last long with Dr. B. I found her methods and insights kind of annoying, and she talked me into joining group therapy with a bunch of other people she referred to as “introverted,” as though it were a disease. About the same time, I started taking the afore-mentioned journal-writing class. Perhaps the best therapy I could have received.
There were other things going on in my life at that time. Like seriously considering quitting my job (which I eventually did). Journaling helped me make that decision. And making new friends who were also writers. That was huge.
And even though I thought Dr. B was kind of a quack, to my surprise, I did go back to her original idea that I was somehow grieving. Because I expected my wedding day to go a certain way, and when it didn’t, it was kind of devastating.
I’m not saying this was anywhere near the grief people suffer after the loss of a loved one, a miscarriage, or serious illness. I work with families of children who have developmental delays. Some of them are caused by conditions that don’t ever go away, like Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy. Those parents grieve. I see it almost every day. They had a dream for their child, and anything from a language delay to a crippling disease can crush that dream in an instant. Their child isn’t dead, but the child they dreamed of is.
I read stories–your stories–of loss, whether it’s a failed IVF, a miscarriage, or an adoption that falls through at the last minute. They break my heart every single time, and for a moment–sometimes even days, I grieve right along with you. But there’s a different kind of loss, too. I’ve never been pregnant, and we haven’t yet had the opportunity to pursue IVF. But every day I grieve the loss of the person I thought I would be. And that includes my dream of being a mother.
Last December, my grief–or depression, or anxiety–reached its lowest depth. Even though we had finally started treatments, I felt further away from my dream than ever. So I came here. And just like the journal-writing class, this was its own kind of therapy–group therapy, even. And it dragged me out of the hole I was in.
I still confuse my feelings of depression and grief sometimes. It’s possible they’re one and the same, or at least dependent on each other. Sometimes I have to take a moment to consider what I’ve lost, whether a physical, emotional, familial, psychic, or spiritual loss, and just sit with my grief for a minute. Just to see if it feels any different from the anxiety or depression I’m so familiar with. Some days I don’t know what the answer is, but I believe–for me–that grief can’t be medicated away. At least, not for long. And that all of you are much better therapists than Dr. B ever was.
*The first memory I shared with Dr. B was me, standing in my crib–two, maybe three years old–having woken from a nap, in a soaked diaper, screaming my head off for someone to come and rescue me for what seemed like many, many minutes. In this memory, which may or may not be a figment of my imagination, I knew that my parents were not home and that one of my older brothers or sisters was supposed to tend to me in their absence. No wonder I have trust issues with my siblings. Well, that and they don’t show up for significant life events.
**I realize that millions of people rely on medication to battle their depression and anxiety. I know that many function very well while on such medications. My intention is not to offend anyone who legitimately needs these medications. Doesn’t change the fact that it scares the shit out of me.