For in that sleep: what depression feels like

what dreams


Sixteen years ago my brother sat in a cozy chair in front of a picture window that allowed him a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ended his life.  He used a gun. The bullet tore through his brain and his family’s hearts.  We stopped breathing for years.  We told ourselves that he chose this because he was in constant pain. His spine was beginning to stiffen; he could not raise his head.  He went sock-less, because it was too difficult to pull them on.

It wasn’t just physical pain.  My brother suffered from depression long before the arthritis that immobilized his spine set in.  Like the color of our eyes or the set of our jaws, depression, anxiety, and addiction are characteristics that run in my family on both sides.

And, for the most part, we don’t talk about it.

I was a teenager the first time I thought about dying.  I took a fist full of aspirin, hoping it would — while also hoping it wouldn’t — be enough to send me to sleep for good.  My ears rang for days and my stomach burned.  Sometimes I felt so inexplicably sad and so utterly weary that I would simply start to cry.  If someone asked me why, I couldn’t give them a reason.  I didn’t sleep well.  Especially on nights when my father was particularly restless and drinking a lot.  I knew there were times when he thought of dying as an escape.  In the dark I stayed awake to listen, fearful that if he went, he’d try take the rest of us with him.

After high school I moved half-way across the country.  I made friends.  I drank too much, I still cried, but only when I was alone.  I laughed like hell with my friends; I was charming and fun.  My eyes darted around the room as I wondered whether anyone would guess how miserable I really was.  I felt like my feet were encased in cement — if I fell in a river, I’d drown.

I wanted just to be happy, to be normal.  I wanted to know what was wrong with me.  I kept those wants to myself.  I thought that in thinking about my unhappiness, I was wallowing in self-pity.  People wouldn’t want to be around me, if they knew.

Eventually, stress and the struggle drove me to the third story edge of an open floor on the house my husband and I were building.  I was alone there that afternoon.  I knew that if I let myself go, my family would assume I’d fallen accidentally.  I was afraid of heights.  There would be no shame.

I chose therapy instead.

Today, I am an ongoing work-in-progress.  I don’t know that depression ever completely goes away.  Even after years of therapy, and many more years of taking antidepressants, I sometimes still get blindsided by a cavity of despair so dark and deep, it seems never-ending.  Other times depression hits me with a flip-flop of emotions, wildly fluctuating from bleak despair to . . . Okay, I’m coping . . . wait . . . nope . . . going dark again.  Often, in the space of 30 minutes or so.  I have to talk to myself a lot.

Sometimes, I just want to hide.  I want to go into my room and not answer the phone or answer emails.  Mostly, I don’t want to tell anyone when I’m depressed. Generally, they don’t understand.  People seem to want an explanation as to why.

I’ve learned when I need to ride out the storm.  I know that when I’m tired and overwhelmed by things my husband and others take in stride; when I get so busy I don’t eat well (or enough), or when the damn world is just too much with me, I have to retreat for a bit and simply be quiet.

A great deal of the time I am happy with where I’m at, content with how I got here.  I laugh a lot and mean it now.  Managing depression is work, but so is living, even in the best of times.  We all struggle with something.

Several months after my brother’s suicide, my family got together, still raw and hurting from our loss.  We went to see What Dreams May Come.  I think we must have thought it would be cathartic.  It wasn’t.  The vision of Hell reserved for the woman who took her life horrified me.

Robin Williams’ suicide makes me crushingly sad.  It’s the kind of heavy sorrow that weighs me down.  He was the brother/son/father/friend we all wished we knew.  A rapid-fire wit with a thousand different characters, the genius of which we are unlikely to see again.  We all knew about his problems with alcohol and cocaine.  Addiction is flashy and loud and calls attention to itself.  Depression is a quiet little liar and a sneak.  It whispers in your ear and tells you lies that no one hears but you.  Robin joked openly about his battle with addiction.  He said little publicly about depression.

I hope that we start talking more openly about depression.  About how quiet, but debilitating it can be.  It won’t be easy.  I have a difficult time talking to anyone other than my husband and a few friends about it.  When I do, I feel awkward and whiny and I end up changing the subject.

For my brother, for a sweet prince of laughter, and for all the other voices stilled, please keep talking about depression.  Keep listening.  Listening without judgement, without asking why.  Be kind.  And if you or someone you know feels worthless and depressed, you can find someone to talk to here.



28 thoughts on “For in that sleep: what depression feels like

  1. Mary, there is a proverb that has always meant a lot to me. It is something like: “Sorrow is like a precious treasure shown only to friends.” I feel honored beyond measure that you have shared your, your brother’s, and your family’s story. You are so spot-on. There should be no stigma to depression or mental illness, and kudos to you for getting the word out (for which I have liked this post, not for the sad reality of depression). I wish I had your resolve to open oneself up to pain, but also to the possibility of helping others and self-healing. I wish you all the best, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mary, I’m deeply moved by your post and your courage to share so personally. I am so sorry about your brother. If anything good has come from Robin Williams’ death it is that people do appear to be talking more openly about depression, and as you eloquently wrote, about how quiet, but debilitating it can be. Thank you for talking more openly — thank you for your healing contribution to humanity.


    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh Mary-I love you. You are such a gifted writer and are able to tell your story so elequently, yet so real. I’m so
    Sorry for the loss of your brother. It was always my fear that I would lose my mom that way. Keep at it lady, we love you so and brighten our day more than you could imagine💕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary, “It whispers in your ear and tells you lies that no one hears but you.” You put it into words so beautifully. It is my experience that depression seems to walk hand in hand with creatives. Your words described it to a tee and I applaud your courage at speaking publicly. I know all to well the stigma attached by our society. I pray we can bring this to light, to some level of understanding and compassion. I pray that you, myself, and all those battling this monster will find strength and courage to keep fighting the demons and reach out for help. PS, I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary,
    I think it takes a brave heart to share one’s experiences with depression. Your always eloquent writing has helped me to understand it more in this post. I also think that the fortunate ones for whom depression has skipped them over, really don’t understand how challenging it can be. Thank you for doing this. You are truly a blessing in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so, so much for sharing your experiences here. Depression touches us all in some way, whether personally or through people we love or both, but it’s still so hard to talk about for so many. Thank you for your bravery and openness and kindness in your words here. (((hugs)))

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t imagine the pain your brother or your family experienced, and still do. I’ve read and re-read you post searching for the right words and I haven’t found them. It’s a lovely post and wonderful tribute to your brother. I’ve been thinking of how depression is not easy to talk about and then Monday comes and I learned of Robin Williams and your post brought it all back – thank you for reminding me to reach out and pay attention to the world around me… have a wonderful weekend and enjoy the last few days of summer, sand, sunshine, and breezes…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have helped many today, Mary. You’ve validated what some feel and then feel badly for feeling it; you’ve helped the loved ones of those with depression understand perhaps just a little more; and you are so right about Robin Williams.
    It is far easier to talk about addiction than it is depression (although often the first is used to treat the second).
    Your frankness is powerful, you have put yourself out there even though it can make a person vulnerable.
    You are incredible, truly.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, Laurie. Thanks for thinking of me. It’s been a challenging last couple of months, but I hope to be back blogging and reading other blogs soon! Even when I don’t comment, I always love seeing what you’ve been up to in your photos. So glad you’re having fun with the new bike and your camera!


      • Mary, so good to hear from you. Thoughts are with you as you process through these days and weeks (and hopefully no more months). Take good care of yourself!!


  9. Depression is a liar and a sneak. Thank you for that quote and this post. Four suicides in the last three years in our community. So many unanswered questions. Honesty like yours helps.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s