Eight weeks ago, I woke up and sensed a heavy presence. Uninvitedn and unexpected, she must have crept in during the night. Not now, I thought, as if there was ever a good time for this horrible visitor? Nonetheless, as the day went on, it became apparent this was not a quick drop-in. I tried not to panic and hoped that she would get bored and leave in a few days if I ignored her. After a week, it was clear she wasn’t going away anytime soon. I was going to have to deal with the return of my enemy, depressed Leana.
Let’s go back a year, and talk about why depressed Leana had come back, sucking the joy from my life and taking away the essence if who I am.
I know some of you felt like I did and decided to use the quarantine to thrive. It was “go time,” time to separate the creative and self-sufficient from the weak. Time to see who could learn Mandarin, zoom, and finish 300 home projects, from those inferiors who would fall into an abyss of dirty, shrinking sweatpants, box wine, and binge-watching The Vampire Diaries.
Quarantine life, as weird as it was, simplified things for me. Making two bodies and a house presentable for the larger world is a daunting task. I was given a pass as the world shrunk down to our 1,600 sq. foot world. In a lot of ways life was easier for me.
Then Dennis got Covid. I managed ok. Then I got Covid and was very ill for a long time.
I don’t remember a lot about those hazy months. It was hour-by-hour survival mode. It took everything I had to manage Dennis’s care while suffering from long-term Covid. I put all emotions on hold.
In March, ten months later, I started to feel physically better, the horrible cough finally went away, and I got some energy back. I was back, 90% . It was time to burn the covid pajamas. I started to return to life and doing things. I came back to life like a daffodil in the spring and burst forth with joy and creativity.
Not so much.
This circles us back to the arrival of depressed Leana.
I thought I would be ready to join the land of the living; instead, I fell flat on my face with crushing sadness and anxiety.
It made no sense. After a year of real challenges, now that everything was much better, my old enemy depression shows up?
I was very annoyed with myself. I tried to slap back the feelings of being overwhelmed and sad. I have absolutely nothing to mourn about; we both made it through Covid, millions have not. At our house, things were looking up, time to buck up and shut up.
That didn’t work. I just could not grit my teeth through it.
Having wrestled with the demon depression before, I headed to my counselor. I told her there was no reason for depressed Leana to be here. Everything was getting better, and besides, no one, especially me, likes depressed Leana.
My counselor listened and thought. Then she said something I didn’t expect; she suggested I sit down beside depressed Leana and, with compassion, ask her what she is here to teach me.
NO, we are getting rid of depressed Leana. I want her gone yesterday; she is so painful. When I am depressed, I feel like a caged animal, but the prison is my brain, and my only relief is sleep. I can’t do this. People depend on me; Dennis depends on me for everything. I don’t have time for such narcissistic self-pity.
Nonetheless, I left my coach reluctantly, willing to try befriending my enemy, depressed Leana. I had never tried this before when dealing with depression; maybe I have been missing a lesson? Maybe?
Over the next week, when I heard her voice in my head, I tried to sit with depressed Leana, and instead of judging or resenting her, I offered her compassion. When dark feelings like, “My body can’t handle the physical work involved in taking care of Dennis, or I feel lonely.” popped up, I sat with those thoughts. No judgment, no attempts to cheer myself up. 100% compassion and acceptance.
Usually, I think to myself, stop whining; people have it far worse; you have tons of family, friends, and support. This time I listened like a friend. I found it was a huge relief not to have to rise to the occasion for a while.
I let the feelings exist because they are the truth—no sugar coating. I am scared I can’t handle watching Dennis get sicker. I love this man, and his pain hurts me. No “Too Blessed to be Stressed” needlepoint cushion makes that feel better!
I had not noticed what Covid had done to Dennis’s body until I was physically well; someone else was caring for him, and I could look at him from a distance. Dennis had lost 20 lbs. of muscle that wasn’t coming back. I needed to grieve.
Right now, all my fellow optimists are frantically making me “sunshine baskets,” buying me gratitude journals, and adding me to prayer lists because a “spirit of despair has overtaken me.” Don’t worry; I am still an optimist. However, I have realized, the more I deny pain and anger, the more I become a hollow version of myself. The pain I denied idn’t go anywhere; it just buried itself in my soul and waited for a time when there was nothing I could use as a distraction.
So, I just let depressed Leana make her pain known. I didn’t squash the feelings by painting them over with positivity, “This is your calling,” “You are so lucky to have found a love like this; it makes it all worthwhile.” “So many people are suffering so much worse!” Instead, when the painful feelings came, I stopped and felt them and acknowledged them. I finally admitted to myself how challenging the last 20 years have been.
Guess what, Dibbuns?
I was not cast into the sea of ungrateful souls. In fact I felt closer to my creator than I had in years
Days went by, then a week. I wasn’t feeling great, but better, calmer and lighter. I started to see depressed Leana wasn’t my problem as much as “happy Leana” was. Happy Leana was overbearing and imbalanced; she refused to express the dark emotions that were there. Happy Leana was a bit like Tammy Fay Baker on a Carnival Cruise, too freaking much. Happy Leana wouldn’t let sad or angry Leana say anything, so it seems they formed an alliance and, in this case, nominated depressed Leana to be their spokesperson.
Now sometimes I feel dark feelings, I get despondent, and I get angry. Yikes. I deleted and retyped that sentence several times. I am a Canadian, Mennonite, white girl; being angry seems the gravest of sins, right up there with not recycling and being rude. I read a great quote the other day, and it shook me, “If you avoid conflict, you start a war inside yourself.” That is the truth, and guess who wins the war? Nobody.
I haven’t felt inspired to write a blog post since Christmas. Every time I sat to write, as soon as I let a few words out, all the words threatened to come out. Words like broken, grieving, and rage slipped out with stories about other things; I erased them, stopped writing, and shut the computer. Too many words were tumbling out, and I was afraid of what I would read. I did not feel worthy of such intensely painful words. Once I stopped judging my emotions, the floodgates of my creativity opened up. I gave birth to this blog post like I had an epidural and a martini. I’m not sure if it will resonate with anyone, but this has all been an epiphany for me. I thank you, my Dibbuns (explanation post-July 2017), for allowing me to tell it.
Lately depressed, Leana hasn’t had as much to say. It seems the less afraid I am of her, the less power she has over me.
So, what is Depressed Leana trying to teach me?
It took being very physically sick for ten months to provide me with a mental health break from the constant worry and stress of 24/7 caregiving. There is a big red flag even I can’t miss. I need to remember no matter how much I love Dennis, we are on separate paths. I have become too focused on Dennis’s.
Me minimizing anger and sadness leaves behind an unrelatable exhausted person.
Not taking full credit for the hard work it takes to care for Dennis devalues the worth of all caregivers; we are a silent, generally uncompensated army that will never get proper recognition on this side of heaven.
Not being fully recognized for caregiving for someone is part of what makes caregiving magic, it’s like a secret bond between you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate myself. I made a mock-up of an imaginary magazine just for me. Sometimes, you have to be your own cheering squad.
Depression is a complicated and deadly serious business of which I know little. In this case, for me, this particular episode was a symptom of feelings I was not acknowledging.
This is what helped me in this situation and is not advice for anyone else.
As it turns out, sometimes, your enemy is your friend; if it teaches you something essential to your growth.
Cheers to our frienemies my Dibbuns,
Love Auntie Lee-Lee
P.S- Don’t worry, I don’t take depressed Leana to parties; I just stick a bag over her head, cut a hole for her wine and chocolates, and tell her the party is a different day.