I think one of the most consoling things a fellow manic depressive ever told me was that I (the person known as Therese) never disappeared during my severe depression. It felt like I did, of course. Because I could barely recognize myself. I would stare into a mirror and question the identity of the ugly chick staring back. People couldn’t recognize me … especially from the back, since I had dropped a few pant sizes.
But my friend reassured me that I was there all along.
In a letter dated around May of 2006, just as I was starting to ascend from the Black Hole, she wrote me this:
Once one walks in the door of a good psychiatrist, the scientist, and finds a good therapist as well as cognitive-thinking help, she realizes how alone she has been most of her life.
Your success is shown in your writing, activities, and care for your family. They have to be thanking God that you are back. You were always there, and the bad chemicals have nothing to do with your talents, inner beauty, and writing. You are on your way, and the time is right.
A person never disappears in a depression. Even though thinks she is lost forever, she lurks there, underneath the illness.
I now need to remind her of this very nugget of wisdom she shared with me because she has fallen into a very deep, painful depression. She is so depressed that she no longer wants to talk to anyone. Not me. Not anyone. Her husband told me to keep on trying, because she will go days without saying anything. When she does pick up the phone, she immediately wants to hang up.
I wish there was some way I could tell her what she told me: That she is there, and that the bad chemicals have nothing to do with her generosity, compassion, humor, and the wonderful person that she is.
The last few times I’ve been able to get her on the phone, I have hung up reminded of how powerful our illness can be, of how devastating, and painful, and brutal it often is to those most vulnerable–those recovering from physical illnesses or emotional stress or difficult life transitions.
I know that she will come out of this.
She has survived so much already: her father’s suicide, a son’s addiction and illness, a friend’s cancer, and recent surgery. She has been a partner in growing her husband’s ministry of establishing wells and clean water in small African towns, hosting and entertaining folks from all over the world, taking care of the babies of young moms at her church, and of course speaking out against the stigma of mental illness.
I could go on and on, but you know as well as I do what depressions does to a person. You understand the lies it whispers in your ear–that all is doom, that hope is gone, and that you’re a fool to believe in tomorrow.
But I urge you, my friend. Please, if just for a half-second today, believe that feeling better is possible. Because you kept telling me that very thing. And I believed you.
And you were right.