Ask me about my sexy depression

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

(ed. note - I have wanted to take this down ever since it went up. I've felt relieved and unburdened but also raw and exposed.  But taking it down would complete defeat the whole point. What I do want to clarify is that this was posted in response to a Facebook post making the rounds, a woman writing how she felt like she could never live up to the life she sees day in and day out on social media, everyone's perfectly curated, photoshopped life. I'm in a really great place now, but not long ago, I was not. I've heard the argument that because it was in the past, perhaps it should stay there. But I wanted to honor the ugly, the messy, just as much as I share the wonderful, the glossy, the good. One simply doesn't exist without the other to balance it out.)

I have approximately 46 unpublished posts that I have started over the past 24 months, with titles like, How Zumba Saved My Life, The One Where I Shit All Over White Privilege, and Remember When I Used to Write? Each title summed up the same post I had tried - and failed - to write over and over and over.

But this time was going to be different. I sat down, jerryrigged the computer to keep the internet at bay, and starting writing about the past year of my life. A life undocumented here because I increasingly didn't know how to talk about it, how I should talk about it, or if I needed to talk about it all. It was embarrassing. It was messy. The thought of posting about it made me afraid. But this past year was so much about fear, and I was tired of being afraid. I wanted to write about it because that is what I do. Or namely, it's what I used to do. I wanted to talk about it, because if a life falls in the forest and no one is around to blog about it, did it make a sound?

So I wrote. And I shared. I talked about how I felt I had lost a year of my life to depression, self-loathing, and overwhelming failure. Our financial situation had gone from comfortable to precarious. I wasn't writing, and everyday I didn't, I felt a tiny part of me crumbling. My son would rather scream and hit me, so I shrank from him. And wrote The Baby Psychopath Quiz. And talking about all of it made me feel icky and overshare-y and all the things that are supposed to happen when you strike a nerve, and then I took a break and went on Facebook and clicked a link and found myself reading one of the funniest, most clever, moving pieces of depression I had ever read.

Now even my depression felt mediocre.

There was no freakin way I was going to hit publish and talk about my little brush with depression now. I was miserable, but clearly not miserable enough.

The truly shitty thing? This wasn't the first time it happened. I felt moved to share my story and found myself reading about a woman's nervous breakdown and how she ended up in a hospital. There was the glamorous blogger who once was a mess of alcohol abuse and eating disorders and a book deal. That other divorced writer who ended up in a hospital. The mother with searing prose and pain who was driven over the edge after the death of her son.

Here I was with my marriage intact, my two children healthy, and my nightly two glasses of wine and vague notions of wanting to end it all at the height of my post partum depression just seemed...embarrassing. Like not so bad it's good but genuinely bad Lifetime movie embarrassing.

So I didn't click publish.

And I didn't write much.

And a lot of life happened in between that I was too busy and lazy and scared to write about.

I'd pop up on Facebook here and there with a quip or two and then scurry back into the dark. I was guilty of curating my life just like everyone else. I experienced some fantastic personal triumph, and I was moved and pleased from my core to share it.

But I didn't share the rest.

How my husband took on three jobs to support my writing and film makings dreams at the expense of his own. How we were working harder and harder and making less and less money as my day job business struggled.

How I withdrew from friends because of social anxiety.

How I was supposed to be way more at ease as a mom the second time around but feeling like a big fat fraud with a kid I couldn't even begin to understand.

And as constant as a heartbeat, my mother was always offering support and encouragement  and articles and self help books as only mothers can.

And one of these books was about shame. About how most of our misery can be summed up by the age-old dick measuring contest.

See, I was supposed to be Something by now. My peers had gotten their shit together. What was wrong with me?

I was supposed to be Someone. I had the degree and the hair and the button-cute blonde children. But my Someone was a miserable, failing, self-loathing mess. Here I was at the rest of my life, having hit all the major milestones, done with having kids, ready to truly live my dreams, and here. I go.

And then I would hit a creative wall and

emerge unfinished
hating myself

and find myself back at square one, wanting so desperately to have finished, to have achieved, but completely blocked as to how.

If I had gathered the village around me that I so desperately needed, had I had the courage to share more about these failings, I would have been asked this most important question:

How old is your son?

I would have said almost two.

And then there would have been sage nods, and a "yup," and a hang in there, sister. It'll get better.

And it did.

Because he is now almost three*, I have a son who tells me he loves me and snuggles...when not screaming and hitting things. Zumba did indeed save my life, when I stopped judging long enough to fall head over heels for the moves and the women who made up those classes.

Because my mom found the courage to send me a book I would most surely scoff at, I found myself moved by the author's struggle to combat her own shame, and I'm starting my own experiment battling shame by hitting "publish."

My depression might not be as sexy as some other lady's, but it's mine. It's just not all mine anymore, because I'm not scared to share it anymore. Not *as* scared. Okay, still scared. But doing it anyway.


*My daughter at age three was proof that there was something much, much nastier and fearsome than the terrible twos. I'm holding out hope his three is a gentler, kinder version.


  1. Bravo. And I know you're not that young, but I hear in my head the words of Ethan Hawke (no judgement) in Reality Bites..."The only thing you have to be at 23 is yourself." No one told me a liberal arts degree was good for the soul but not good for the pocketbook. Twelve years, financial rollercoaster and two kids later, I'm with you.

  2. Thanks, Mandy. I'm thinking that advice works for this 38 year old, too. And so does Ethan Hawke.

  3. So honest and true, Melissa. Thank you for this. We are too often our own worst enemies.

  4. Katie and Katrina - love you both!

  5. i did a search for your blog just now so i could see what blog site you use b/c i have something that i want to share that i might share via blog. i did not expect to receive the precious gift of your honesty when i logged on. i've always admired your grace, kindness, and talent, and now i get to admire your honesty and courage. thank you for this gift. what i've written that i want to share is about overcoming shame & being honest, so, wow, the timing is really profound. the last line of what i wrote is from a line i wrote that i hope to use in a song: "there is nothing more brilliant than an honest life." you are truly brilliant, melissa.

  6. I just stumbled upon this wonderful post while cleaning up old browser bookmarks and remembering that I started a blog once. I just wasn't my thing. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this. You articulated so well (without letting it ALL hang out) what I think most women have gone through. I identified very strongly with everything you said about parenting being hard and struggling with your own identity and self-worth. We all make choices to try to balance that, and right now in our society parenting is held to a ridiculously high standard. Keep posting for those of us who are too private do to so. I'm not ashamed that I have been depressed numerous times in my life, but I'm more comfortable sharing my stories face-to-face with someone. We have to keep broadcasting the message that parenting and life is hard, and that we can't have it all. I don't think we should even be happy all the time. But we shouldn't keep it to ourselves. We need each other to make it through the storms.

  7. “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain,but it is more common and also more hard to bear.The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”― C.S. Lewis.