Depression can hit us when we lease expect it and it can be incredibly difficult to accept its presence in one's life and determining a course of action. I approached Samantha about writing for Life is Sweet month after seeing some of her posts on Facebook and Twitter about how she navigated her journey with depression, and I'm glad she was willing to share her story.
I’ve always been pretty great at keeping my own mental health in a relatively happy place before I’ve ever reached what I’ve considered to be the tipping point of needing to see a therapist. Then in December 2012 as I was hanging up Christmas decorations, surrounded by the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and cloves with Mariah Carey on the radio, I started randomly going through the logistics of my own suicide while crying into the candy cane box.
I know that they say that everybody thinks about it. However, there is a distinct difference between considering the vast landscape of what suicide means in an existential sense vs. “Wow, Santa. How quickly can I get this mess over and done with?”
Then, as quickly as it arrived, the thought disappeared. I went back to my new life, having recently quit my jobs to take on the seemingly impossible task of finally publishing my guidebook on open relationships. I met a new boy who I was really into, it was the holidays and everything was sparkly and bright. Even our beautifully decorated Christmas tree, which understandably I felt a little wary of at first, made me smile.
2013 was ushered in with the promise of being a year to really carve out my own future. I held the reins of prosperity. I was in charge! That tiny split-second suicidal thought blip, was exactly that, just a blip. There was no reason to be sad.
Until there was. Until the new relationship started to sour, and suddenly I found myself working from home alone during the harsh winter months, trying to write a book about open relationships, while simultaneously watching my external relationships fall apart and my heart break. At first, I told myself that the sadness I was feeling was strictly circumstantial. It was obvious that I was experiencing the winter blues, combined with a messy breakup, the stress of finishing a massive five-year project, a cat who was dying of cancer, and a lack of daytime human contact.
The snow and ice finally melted. I self-published the book with the best community support a girl could ask for. I was invited to be a keynote speaker at a brand new poly conference in Vancouver. Minus the failed relationship and the sick kitty, everything was coming up Samantha, with the exception of one relatively massive problem. Circumstances had changed for the better and yet I still felt completely empty inside.
People would tell me how amazing it was that I had written a book, and I would smile and say “Thank you”, but inside I felt like a failure who made all of the wrong choices. The romantic in me assumed that it was because of my recently collapsed relationship, but the realist in me knew it was more than that. This was more than a broken heart. I was depressed. I felt defeated. I was developing agoraphobia. I was just so damn sad.
I hated myself. I hated my overweight body and found my self-worth once again wrapped up in my appearance, after years of working to create separation. I hated my relationship with food (and still do). I hated dating. I hated my work life being in limbo. I hated the fact that I would have days of feeling “normal and social” and then another day where I couldn’t bare to get off the couch. I hated not knowing what mood the morning would bring, and I hated that I couldn’t just articulate what was wrong and suddenly feel better, all on my own.
It took months before I would finally accept the fact that I had real-life, full on depression. Maybe it was circumstantial, maybe it was seasonal, maybe it was from a broken heart, the cause didn’t actually matter. The point was that it was real to me, and suddenly I found myself unequipped to deal with it on my own. Being unemployed, I still wasn’t able to afford therapy, so I forced myself to embrace the loving, thankfully non-judgmental, arms of my friends, and my husband – who I finally confessed the depths of my depression to.
Then I embraced one very important detail: I personally accepted the very real fact that I was depressed. I accepted the fact that there were things going on within my mind and my heart that I needed help with that were beyond my capabilities.
I accepted the fact that sometimes I was just going to have a bad day, and that I didn’t need to punish myself for it, or fix it, or have a tangible reason to offer somebody when they asked what was wrong. I accepted the fact that I felt like I wanted everything to suck sometimes and that if I felt angry, that it wasn’t required of me to know why. I was allowed to simply feel it.
I stopped forcing myself to cheer up, to make things better, or to be “on” all the time. I started to embrace the sadness in a way that wasn’t encouraging it to take over constantly, but allowed it to breathe, and to do what it needed to do. I allowed myself to just be.
When I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to fix everything at once, that it wasn’t possible to deal with my emotions all on my lonesome, and that I did in fact need outside help, I started to smile more. I still had a weight to carry, but suddenly I realized that the load could be shared, and that it was alright if I simply didn’t have the strength on my own sometimes. By allowing myself to feel the bottom, I found it within myself to slowly start pushing myself back up.
I don’t know how intense my depression is and whether or not it’s a thing that I always have to watch out for, or if 2013 was a lone black mark on my historical calendar. I can’t say with any certainty how much of it is based on a chemical unbalance in my brain vs. my tolerance for bad luck and sad situations finally reaching its boiling point. Nor would I ever think to suggest that what worked for me would also work for someone who requires medication to help regulate their brain’s chemicals. Everyone is different and the solutions that work for our mental health are as unique as we are.
It’s possible that I will never break as hard as I did in 2013. It’s also entirely possible that I will. But I’m not scared of it anymore. I refuse to be afraid of the dark moving forward because it’s only in the dark that we can really see what’s in the light.
Samantha Fraser is a poly advocate, speaker, nerd whisperer, and author of the book: Not Your Mother’sPlayground: A Realistic Guide to Honest, Happy, and Healthy Open Relationships. She live in the west end with her husband, and her (now) two cats. You can find her online at @nympsam or www.notyourmothersplayground.com.