I took a shower today.
To most, that wouldn’t seem like a big deal, but when in the depths of a depression it is a Very Big Deal indeed. If you’re familiar with Spoon Theory, it took almost all of my allotted spoons for the day. If you’re not, it means that it took just about all the energy—physical, emotional, spiritual—that I had.
Because taking a shower is not a single step. No, there’s starting the water and undressing and getting used to the water (physical sensations on one’s skin can be draining and painful during a depression) and selecting shampoo and the actual scrubbing (holding one’s arms above one’s head during a depression is tiring and can exacerbate feelings of vulnerability and weakness) and the rinsing and (for me) the same round with conditioner and then washing of the body (also sometimes emotionally problematic) and rinsing and turning the water off and adjusting to the room temperature and getting out of the shower/tub and drying (multiple steps here too) and dressing again, and it’s SO MUCH. It’s exhausting.
I tried to think of the depression as a thick, sticky goo that coated me, something I could wash off in the shower. Under the water spray, that visualization didn’t seem to work. Some part of my brain went off in the direction of the thick, sticky goo (depression) being an oil slick and I was some sort of bird variant, covered in the stuff. And that kind of clicked. I was stuck here, at least temporarily, in the depression. I was grounded (not in a spiritual, good sort of way). I couldn’t FLY.
But even then the oil slick seemed too easy to get out of, as if all I needed to do was find that magic anti-depression version of blue Dawn dish soap and I’d be all better. But depression doesn’t work that way. Even with antidepressants. Or therapy. Or family and friends and loved ones.
In the dozens of depressions I’ve been through, most of them in the autumn, I’ve learned that it’s a process. And I do usually come out the other side stronger and wiser, as if the depression brought with it a gift, buried under the self-loathing and overwhelming sadness and fatigue. And as I combed through my hair, and gathered up the loose strands, the visualization took a different turn.
Joe Smith, in an article on bird molt, writes, “Bird owners know that the “mood” or “personality” of their bird — whether it be a chicken, parrot or darling starling — can change dramatically during molt. The birds often retreat to quiet spaces, reduce their activity and just want to be left alone.”
|Bald cardinal. Photo © John Benson/Flickr through a Creative Commons license|
Since I was very young, I’ve always had some affinity with winged creatures. To me they represented freedom, beauty, compassion, strength. To fly was to have a kind of freedom I’d only dreamed of at that time: freedom of thought, of creativity, of expression. Freedom to love and be loved.
I was so enamored with flight that I bought and asked for books on flying airplanes and, at the age of 16 (the minimum age requirement), took and passed flight ground school. The next step was coming up with the $15,000 or so I needed at the time to start flying lessons. (My progress derailed from there.)
Something about this metaphor gave me hope. That maybe this was a natural process, and my responsibility is to make sure I have a safe “molt.” That I eat enough to sustain my energy. That I rest as needed. That I take the time I need to be alone. That I accept I will be out of sorts and off my game. That I recognize that for this period of time, my freedom will be curtailed, my beauty in flux, my compassion needing to be more self-compassion, and my strength sorely tested. During this time, I’ll feel unable to fly, helplessly grounded, but appreciating that freedom even more when I get it back.
And when my new metaphorical feathers grow in, they’ll be even better than the old ones.
It’s just a metaphor. But it gives me hope.