on Breaking the Depression Cycle
Book Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

An Ax to the Ice: on Action and Choice and Black Clothes

On Tuesday when I went to work, my boss (who is also one of my best friends) said “You aren’t wearing black today!” and I dug her in the rib with my elbow because she was right: I had on my kitten sweater, which is the softest thing I own (it’s not really a cardigan made out of kittens, but it feels like it) and happens to be bone white. And I wore light grey. It’s the first time I haven’t worn black in…I don’t remember how long.

Wearing black has long been code for depression for me. It’s also the color I feel the most comfortable in, so it doesn’t always mean “I’m stuck under the ice” but, when it’s literally the only thing I’m wearing…that’s a sign. When I was a teenager and black clothes were literally all I owned, my mom used to say “If you’d just wear some color you’d feel better,” which naturally made me want to go out and buy something new—and black. Because, yes, mother, wearing yellow or pink would totally fix everything, my snarky teenage self might’ve said. Except, I didn’t because I didn’t understand yet (and I don’t think she did either) that black wasn’t the sickness but a symptom of it.

But it’s also a choice. Wearing something non-black on Tuesday didn’t exactly help anything. The elephant is still sitting in the room (it would be so much easier to write about this if I could also write about what is happening, but I can’t), I am still down in it, and I don’t really feel better for having worn something non-black (does bone white and grey count as color anyway?)

Except, choosing to not wear black, even just for a day, does give me a small lift. Not the clothes themselves, but the choice. The control, the fighting back.

“Thank you for acknowledging my actions,” I didn’t say to my boss, because that would be weird, but it is what I thought.



It’s hard to do those things when you’re stuck inside depression, but they are the things that are required to get you out.

So today I’m just writing a list of things I’ve done, choices and actions that will help me to start moving up out of the darkness. A sort of self-acknowledgement, a marker so I know I did some things once so I can continue doing some other things.

  1. I signed up for a ballet barre class. I didn’t just go to the first free class, but I actually got out my credit card and paid so I could keep going. This was hard for me not because I thought the class would be physically too difficult (it’s actually perfect; it’s making me sore) but because I thought it would be filled with fabulous women. You know what I mean…wealthy, skinny, successful women who aren’t super friendly because they don’t need any friends because they already have a bajillion, equally wealthy, skinny, and successful. Fabulous! But, I found literally no fabulous women there. Just friendly ones, who introduced themselves to me and told me where to buy their cool non-skid socks and asked me about myself. The combination of social and physical was a balm to me. I have six weeks left and I intend to go as often as I can.
  2. I saw my sister. Back in November Becky asked if I would want to go see Mamma Mia! at the new Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake with her, and I said yes, having no idea how awful I’d feel in February. If I could’ve not gone, I would’ve backed out (she doesn’t know that I actually thought about not going). But burrowing into my house and avoiding people is part of the problem. So I went. Just before the play started I told her a story that ends with Kendell saying “the damn lions are just so frustrating” and we started laughing and as I laughed I thought I don’t remember when I laughed last. Watching a play, wandering around a city, finding a restaurant and eating there on a whim just to see if it was good (it was): just not being inside my house. Laughing. Enjoying a story. Those are things I need but don’t give myself enough in the first place, but doing them with the woman I trust the most was a gift I didn’t know I needed.
  3. I think that there is a perception that depression is the same as sadness over something happening. That is true, of course: I am devastated by what is happening. But not all difficult or devastating things lead to depression. I think this place I am in is a culmination of too many devastating things: so many surgeries, and the almost-dying in April, and the election and my sprained ankles and then this current experience; it was the last thing, the one that finally made all my coping mechanisms stop helping me cope. So, here is what I am feeling inside my depression: Grief. No one has died, but something has. I think I will feel this grief for a long time, even if the situation improves. There is something empowering about labeling what I am feeling. I am grieving because this experience is difficult (one of the hardest things I’ve experienced), and because it is the end of something, and because it is changing things in irrevocable ways. Grief, though. It is different than depression; it will last longer than the darkness. You cope with it in different ways, and to be grieving without being depressed is the closest thing to a goal I have. But just being able to say it, to understand it: it is a sort of a light.
  4. I am pondering an ah-ha moment. A friend of my is working on a research project about mental health, and I answered her survey questions. One absolutely dropped me, or at least, my response did. “How do mental health issues influence your normal life?” she asked. As I thought about what I do to avoid or cope with depression—running, writing, making sure I go outside, trying to be cognizant of my thought patterns—I realized that who I am is so tightly connected with how I cope that they are the same. Who would I be if I weren’t trying to cope? Where could I put my emotional energy? This was a revelation to me. Perhaps I have been wrong in thinking that coping is the way to deal. What if I could actually heal instead of cope? What could I do then?
  5. I am eating better. OK, not entirely healthy; I haven’t managed to eliminate sugar entirely. But I’m not stressing about 100% of anything. I’m just trying to do better, to listen to my body’s cues and eat only when I am hungry, to stop when I’m full, to put healthy stuff in my mouth as often as I can.
  6. I went outside. It has been warm here in Utah; yesterday was 69 degrees. So I put on my running shoes and my favorite running skirt and I went to the mountains to walk on the river trail. It is still winter, colorless and drab, and the snow in piles by the trail is dingy and exhausted. But still. Moving outside: this is what I need the most.

Thank you for all of your comments on my last post. They mean the world to me. They mean light can still be found in dark places. They weren’t actions I took, but actions brought to me that were, to distort Kafka’s idea, an ax to the ice. My movements are small, there is still so much to break through…but I am moving.



Your words make me cry. Your words heal me. Your words comfort me. I don't even know you and you help me. Thank you.


I think I am going to have to think about the idea of coping vs. healing, too. I find myself sandwiched between an aging, grieving mother and an anxious junior in high school. (It's amazing how many of their choices and lots of their verbiage are similar.) I find myself coping with the stress of where I am in my life now. Your statement about healing rather than coping made me pause. I look at this time as a transition time, but part of me struggles with the point that time is still passing- precious time- and I don't want to just tolerate my life, I want to live it. Lots to think about here.

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