One Fourth of July, our family went to the Siltanen Park in Scotts Valley, California, to watch the fireworks. Scotts Valley in July is favored with just about perfect weather. The skies are blue, the poison oak is a lovely dark green, and kids with soccer cleats are eager to get out onto the fields and kick one another. They had games and food, and a dunk tank with a hated local politician. There was a bounce house for the kids, and face painting. There was a cover band doing 80s music. Lots of people with flags. A typical small town celebration. And then, a few hours before dark, the inevitable always happened.
The fog rolls in. Slowly at first, you can see it coming between the hills. Then, when you’re not watching, mist covers the distant redwoods. Before you know it, a layer of marine fog blankets everything and you have trouble seeing your neighbors five blankets away. And then it’s dark. We are shivering in our spot, and trying to keep the rambunctious kids still. They go on with the fireworks. You hear explosions. Puffs of pink, or green or red. Some of the colors are brighter than others, but everything is indefinable, washing out the lights. Eventually the show ended, and we corralled our grumpy sunburnt kids to the car. We were all cold and damp, slightly miserable, and stuck in a line of about 2000 other citizens who are also trying to exit the parking lot. It would take about 45 minutes to navigate the 3 miles home.
And this, my friends, is what depression is like.
You start out with a perfectly fine day. Toward evening, you lose the ability to see the edge of things. The colors of daily life become distorted. You become irritable over the parts of life that you used to adore, and you aren’t even sure why. Finally, you simply want to go home and build a pillow fort big enough for one person.
I spoke with a couple friends about depression yesterday. It’s funny sometimes how themes keep popping up.
Now, I first noticed my depression my final year of employment at Bethany; maybe even before then. Dragging myself out of bed was difficult. Cultivating a mood decent enough to be around people became a daily trial. At the end of the year (2006) began taking antidepressants. Until last September took them faithfully. In other words, I had Prozac and Wellbutrin to level me out, for 1/5 of my life.
They did their job. They kept my moods leveled so I wouldn’t intentionally snap at work. I could ease into many social situations I couldn’t before. I wouldn’t go home in such a sorry state I couldn’t even say hello to my family before crawling under the covers.
They had their drawbacks of course. The first one allowed me to sustain Mister Willy for about ten whole seconds before my stamina got bored and wandered off in search of a sandwich. My appetite and weight gain both increased as well. It’s like substituting one vice for another. I’m glad I never took up smoking. Coming off them gave me about two months of flu-like symptoms. I would get that zappy feeling, like when you have a fever and you move too quickly.
On the whole, though, antidepressants were a good addition to my daily routine. They buffered my weak points. They made me want to be a social creature. But I guess the important thing I learned is I had a fallback. If there is, at any point, a time when I can’t cope, now I know what the signs of depression feel like. I don’t need to just suffer silently and watch my life slip by, like fireworks in the fog.