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  • Erika Nichols-Frazer

Depression is always lurking



Depression and mania are two sides of the bipolar coin, always lurking below the surface. I didn't know that's what those moods that enveloped me like a heavy curtain or propelled me skyward were for a long time. "You're talking too fast again," my dad might say as I sailed away on a kite of mania, or, when I sulked in my closet and cried, "What's wrong?" And I didn't have explanations for either end of the extreme. Now, with a diagnosis, a psychiatrist, and medications, I know to be on the lookout for these predators. And yet, they still subsume me sometimes, if less frequently than pre-diagnosis. I have tools to combat them. And yet, they come.


Every med check-in every two months or so my psychiatrist asks if I've experienced depressive episodes or manic episodes since we last spoke and I was proud that, for four years, I'd been able to say no, or not serious ones. This latest 'episode' had been a long time brewing. It culminated in a negative social media loop, a dog with a UTI/struvite crystals, a distant war, a still-raging pandemic, an emotional conversation with a woman whose 16-year-old daughter had been killed, fucking up the soup. Suddenly, it all felt like too much. Everything weighed down on me. I couldn't breathe. For the first time in years, I cried at my desk at work over nothing specific, just a general overwhelm. One minor mistake led to another and I became convinced I was worthless, a terrible person, and everything felt like a reminder of my failure.


Deep breaths, I thought. I know how to fight this. Now I know depressive episodes aren't a failure of mine; they're a part of my make-up, a disorder I live with. But they're hard to get out of in the moment and it feels like it will always be that way. That's one of the problems with depression; it feels interminable, impossible that you'll ever feel good again. This time, I swore I knew better. There would be light at the end of this tunnel. The only thing was to get through it. I wrote down all my feelings. I told my husband I was having a hard time, to go gentle on me. He listened. He hugged me.


And then, small joys came. An old friend visiting, skiing and snowboarding (some of my favorite things to do), new books, my birthday, sunshine, pink tulips from a friend, chocolate cake. And, like lifting a veil, things shifted and I began to see clearly again. Sometimes it's like that: on, then off, or, rather, the other way around: dark, then light, despair then joy.


I found myself turning to the mental health recovery anthology I edited last year, which was exactly what I hoped readers might do in difficult times. These writers shared their vulnerable moments in service of helping someone else get through it. I opened the book to the first poem, which I'd deliberately selected to offer hope to readers, "Panic Attack Protocol" by David Icenogle. The whole poem's worth checking out, but I'll briefly excerpt it here:


Breathe out. Through your mouth.

Drop your jaw like a drawbridge.

Release that train of fog through the tunnel of your lips.

Breathe in. This has happened before. You have done this before.

Breathe out. You will make it. You always do.

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