A guest post by reader Katrina Branch. Katrina is working hard on her professional writing, and I can’t wait to share a link to her newest book. (She’s shared a bit with me and it’s going to be a big success). Byronsheroes welcomes guest posts, and as editor I feel lucky that the site has so many talented writers (many of them professional, I admit to be an amateur). Thank you Katrina for sharing your insight and also your talent as expressing yourself with the readers of the blog!
Sometimes I envy people with a cane. If you are using a cane or have an arm in a sling, people look at you and think, “That’s unfortunate. I hope it’s not bad all the time.” They have sympathy; they can see that there is something medically wrong. If you are slow or late or have to back out of something, they think, “Oh, it’s probably that bum leg slowing her down,” and they are forgiving.
When your medical issue is invisible, people aren’t so kind. They wonder, “Why is she walking so slowly down the grocery aisle? Is she lazy?” They tell you that they are disappointed that you’re late to a meeting; they question whether you value them. Sometimes they don’t say anything, they just stop asking you to do things with them. Even if you say, “I’m so sorry, I’m having a bad day,” they think you mean that you’re lazy or in a bad mood and just need to suck it up.
I may very well be in a bad mood, but I can’t just ‘suck it up’ and be efficient. Some days it takes all I have to just get out of bed and get to the store at all—I’m cruising slowly down the aisle because if I make myself keep walking then I won’t just abandon my cart and go sit in the car and cry. Sometimes the only reason I make it to a scheduled event is that I want to convey that I *do* care, very much, about the person I’m meeting or the group whose activity I am attending. I’m late because I have to actually prod myself to do each little step: Brush teeth; brush hair; put on clean clothes. Eat something, or at least bring a protein bar along in case the blood sugar gets dangerously low. Drink some water. Put on shoes. Get the purse. Put on the coat. Go out to the car—Wait! Go back, get the keys, then go out to the car. Put the garage door up. Back down the driveway, close the garage door. Deep breaths, remember where you are driving to and plan a route. Every step, every piece needs to be thought about, because the auto-pilot most people rely on for daily living is offline for the day, the week, or—in really bad times—the month.
What I hate most about depression is that it’s so hard for normal people to grasp how damned hard it is to function at times. It’s not that I’m ‘not trying’ it’s that I can’t. I only have so much mental focus and energy, and I have a child and a husband. Maybe the dishes aren’t done every single day, but at least we have something to eat off of; my kid gets to school on time; most days I can get dinner made or reheated. I get the bills paid, the cats fed, the toilet paper restocked. Sometimes that’s a labor that Hercules would struggle to complete. When a well-meaning friend says, “Have you researched X?” as a possible mode of treatment, I feel like screaming, “Don’t you get it? I can barely read the comics! I can’t research anything. I can’t think that clearly, and I can’t make that plan and spend so much time struggling through that process. I’m barely able to make myself eat!”
If I developed a limp when my depression gets bad, I think people would look at my hesitant steps and my cane and realize that I’m not always *able* to do what I can do on a ‘good day’. And I have no ability to predict what makes a bad day or a good day happen. I can do certain things that increase the likelihood of a good day: Get enough sleep; get some exercise; eat healthily; take my meds. I can try to avoid things that make a bad day more likely: Avoid some kinds of situations and people that awaken ghosts of dreadful times past. But sometimes for no apparent reason the depression hits like a ninja, maiming my ability to function. I have to limp through the day (or days) until the unseen injury heals.
I hate knowing people think I’m ‘unreliable’ because that sounds like I’m busy playing Nintendo or watching junk TV instead of meeting commitments or helping out with things. I’m as reliable as I can be within the limits of my illness. I don’t want to ever postpone or cancel something we’ve planned; I don’t ever want to not complete something I said I’d do! I want to be on time, on cue, thorough, and helpful. I even want to be cheerful and fun. And sometimes, I can, I do, and I am. But other times—I just hobble along leaning on my invisible cane, distracted and disabled by my invisible injury. It’s not about you, and really, it’s not about me. It’s just depression, and I can’t toss my cane away and jog to the corner by ‘sucking it up.’ I can’t—not I won’t. It’s not a choice, it’s a condition. If I had a cane, you’d understand.