Sad on Sunday, Still Sad on Thursday
by Liz Flaherty
Depression wasn’t something I gave a whole lot of thought to. It was something that happened to other people. Young mothers who’d just had babies and were overwhelmed by the endless and huge responsibility of it all; middle-aged men who’d lost their jobs and didn’t know where to find new ones; people who’d suffered emotional losses of such magnitude I couldn’t begin to imagine how they felt. Being on the self-righteous side, I also thought you only really suffered from depression if you gave into it, if you didn’t outrun it with a healthy sense of humor, or if you just wanted people to feel sorry for you. Average people, people like me, didn’t get depressed.
A little over four years ago, I stopped smoking. Aside from being self-righteous, I’m also an unmitigated coward, so I did it with medication. I didn’t care; it worked, and the side-effects of the medication were minimal. I’d always said that if I didn’t smoke, I’d weigh 200 pounds — not a good thing if you’re short and small-boned, which I am — and I’d suck down antidepressants like they were candy. I was joking, okay? Just kidding. Really.
I don’t weigh 200 pounds, but I did gain 35 in the year after I stopped smoking, and it’s still there — I’ve discovered that chocolate chip cookies are a great replacement for nicotine. But the other thing that happened in that year was that I found out depression really does strike average people. To borrow a term I’ve heard often in the past three years, I hit the wall.
Since I’m one of those people who always have the symptoms described in articles about diseases (it’s amazing I’ve lived this long!), it was no surprise that I had several of the indicators of clinical depression. You know what they are. You’ve read them in the doctor’s office while you’re waiting or at Wal-Mart or Kroger’s while you’re taking your blood pressure. You’ve read them and thought, “Hmm...” because you had a couple of them. Sometimes. But then they went away, so you were okay.
But what happens when they don’t go away? What do you do when you were sad on Sunday afternoon and you’re still sad at bedtime on Thursday? When you’re so tired you can barely get through the day but you’re sleeping way too much? Or you can’t get through it because you’re hardly sleeping at all? When nothing’s fun anymore? When you can’t see an end to feeling hopeless? When, even though you’d never consider suicide yourself — oh, of course, you wouldn’t — you understand people who do?
When I hit that wall, I was one of the lucky ones in that I never for one moment thought suicide was an answer. I was seldom sleepless, never slept too much, still had fun. Sometimes. But working an eight-hour day wore me out to the point that I never really wanted to get off the couch after I got home. I looked around at my husband and kids and grandkids — even them and was bewildered because, Good Lord have mercy, how could I possibly be unhappy?
But I was. Oh, I was.
I didn’t really want to start smoking again, but I knew I’d be happier if I did. What was worse--to die of lung cancer or of depression? “I don’t know what to do,” I told my doctor. “Maybe I need to smoke again. Just some, you know, not a lot.”
“No,” he said. “No. I know what to do.”
So he gave me a prescription and talked to me a long time about clinical depression. “You’ll be fine,” he promised. “Maybe six months, maybe longer. But you’ll be fine.”
I hated taking Zoloft. Zoloft was for weak people, people who gave in to being sorry for themselves, people who wanted others to feel sorry for them. I’d try it for a little while, but it wasn’t going to work, not on me, Mrs. Average. I hated it.
But it wasn’t really so bad. Maybe six months. That should get me over the hump, and maybe I wouldn’t start smoking again. I could always blame the 35 pounds on it. You know, I couldn’t lose weight because I was “on medication.” No one had to know I was a spineless wuss who was taking antidepressants.
Six months became two years. Not that it took me that long to feel better — that’s how long it was before I got the courage up to stop taking the Zoloft. I was so afraid to stop. What if I feel that way again? I thought. I would surely die from it. But stopping was painless, and the depression is only a memory. But it’s a memory that can make me miserable in a heartbeat, make me question myself if, just once, I happen to be sad on Sunday afternoon.
But I am all right, I remind myself, because by Thursday night at bedtime, I have forgotten the sadness. I feel good. No, better than good; I feel wonderful. I haven’t smoked for four years and one month. And I will never, ever take any of it for granted again. It is a gift.
Married for thirty-some years to Duane, her own personal hero, and mother of three and grandmother of six, Liz Flaherty has written a column from her Window Over the Sink off and on for over ten years. She hopes you enjoy her essays. You can email her at email@example.com