I’m more an anxiety person, so it took a long time to notice I was depressed. Waking up in the middle of the night to ponder Big Social Problems had exposed me to much tossing, turning, and occasional doses of antacid. But waking up in the middle of the night to sob over a deep sense of inadequacy and hopelessness in the face of those problems – well, that was new.
I’m usually content with the humble busy-ness that fuels my more buoyant self. When not overcome with existential malaise, I get lots of stuff done. I raise a child. Work retail. Write. Organize Medicare for All canvasses. Cook. Clean. Walk. Occasionally run, lift weights, and sing karaoke. I’m not extraordinarily good at any of those things but sometimes impress even myself with proficiency. Creating and producing brings its own joy, no matter how limited my impact. And as for the Big Social Problems – I was doing my bit to chip away at this capitalist system that’s ruining our planet and feeding the other major maladies. A little something is better than the nothing most people do. In my small way, I was helping.
But between wintry weather that just wouldn’t go away, and the increasingly bleak state of our crumbling planet, I lost my motivation to do many of those things. The self-preserving tasks were easiest to abandon. Oven-ready frozen comfort foods and take-out required less effort than cooking healthy and washing dishes. In turn, exercise became more dreadful. So why not just quit that altogether? In fact, why bother with a lot of things? The planet’s temperature could rise 14° Fahrenheit in 100 years. Perhaps I’m alive just in time to witness the beginning of the end. In which case, did it really matter if I got bloated and lazy?
I didn’t lose motivation to the point of shirking my responsibilities to others (child, spouse, work, comrades), so then I just began questioning the value I actually held to those groups and entities. As a person who earns well below a living wage, what is my value in a capitalist society? If this is the system going down with us during this mass extinction, am I not ultimately defined by those measures of success or failure? If I actually saved money for my family by ceasing to exist (because the loss of income represented by my dead body’s inability to sell its labor would be outweighed by lower health insurance premiums + a cheaper grocery bill), then what’s the big loss? Sure, my kid would be sad and so would my husband. But he is a likable guy — definitely more popular than me — and way better than most men. He actually likes women. He could find another one. Maybe she’d make more money than I do.
So that was my general state of mind a couple weeks ago! Some of you already know this because I tweeted many of these thoughts, though I waited to do so until after I’d scheduled a visit with my therapist (whom I’d last seen when I had a rare panic attack during the Kavanaugh confirmation). I figured at that point I was free to lay my demons out for display on social media, because if anyone said, “Jesus, Tara! GET SOME HELP,” I could be like, “Duh, I know, I’m working on it.”
So during that week between texting my shrink and seeing her, I shared a lot of dark thoughts I’d never before considered posting on such a public platform. And you know what? The release felt great. I’m so used to bottling my saddest, most vulnerable feelings based on the assumption that someone else in the vicinity has it worse than me. As my therapist later noted, that’s some classic Adult Child of an Alcoholic nonsense, and it’s actually pretty rad that I broke through my “suck it up” martyr reflex. Because you know what’s SUPER rad? In 2019, I can go on social media and tell people I’m depressed… and they get it! Not only do a lot of people get it, they relate. And they share kind, generous observations like, “I take medication for that,” or, “I also question the value I bring to my marriage.” Or they say things they appreciate about me, like, “I know I don’t know you, but you seem like such a nice mom!” I’m paraphrasing a lot for the sake of other people’s privacy, but hopefully you catch my drift. I found deep wells of compassion when all I expected was a nonjudgmental void.
The therapy appointment went well. We talked about how my atheism feels weirder when I contemplate mass extinction, and we talked about “The Good Place” (my favorite TV show). She encouraged my practice of taking long walks, and recommended a full spectrum lamp for next winter. Because this is cognitive behavioral therapy, we focus a lot on habits, and since seeing her I notice that the self-preserving habits I’d shed during winter are the very ones that keep my humble busy motor buzzing. My goals for April are pretty simple – at least two blood-pumping fitness routines per week (in addition to my retail workout) and five fruits/vegetables per day. It’s been fun cooking again – I missed the creativity sparked by a well-stocked fridge. The process of exercising might be less enjoyable, but I’m definitely breathing and sleeping better.
I still feel shaky, as one does after a nasty illness. It’s like my soul had a puking virus. I’m not so quick to volunteer my time beyond Medicare for All and basic officer duties for our Democratic Socialists of America branch. I spend many evenings lately coloring pictures of flowers and half-watching “Murder She Wrote” reruns on Amazon Prime. I have a feeling I’ll look back on this practice with some fondness, like the spring when I read a bunch of Jane Austen, or the summer when I was 12 and became obsessed with 1960s “Batman” TV show reruns. So I’m savoring it, as all pleasant present moments should be savored.
I’m still very worried about the future. But there’s much to love about the present. I turn 42 on Sunday and can definitely say it looks more than twice as good as age 21 was. I don’t know if I would have expected that then. I certainly couldn’t have visualized the sorts of communities and relationships that bring me joy and comfort now.