You want to know why we’re going through the Walgreens drive thru, so I tell you, “Mama needs to pick up her medicine.”
But you’re FOUR now, so that’s not good enough anymore. You want to know why. You want to know what for. You want to know if Mom has a headache or a tummy ache. What medicine? You keep asking me. And Why?
My first instinct is to oversimplify. I consider telling you that they’re Mama’s “happy pills,” but dismiss it almost immediately. It may sound simple, but it’s not the truth. The pills don’t make me content. This is not a magic potion or a jolt of endorphins. We’re not talking about a hit of happiness here.
In the end, it’s much more complicated than all of that. This is about synapses and neurons, about a kind of short-circuiting in your brain that makes everything go a little bit dark for no good reason at all.
The first time the Depression came, I didn’t know what it was. I had no concept of it as an illness – at least not as one that could find its way into my soul. I thought it was a funk. I believed truly that with enough prayer, activity, and Bible-reading and friends, I could bat it away like a simple, buzzing annoyance.
I tried to pray it away and I tried to journal it away. I avoided it expertly, beiging out on Alias binges – one episode after another, late into the night. I plunged into service work at various churches and tried to work it away with my acts of selflessness.
Eventually I tried to drink it away, and that never ends well.
It never occurred to me that it might be something in my biology, some imbalance of neurochemicals creating a haze of shadow in my brain. The doctor I went to was a last resort. When he drew a picture of the neurotransmitters misfiring on the back of his prescription pad and signed his name in sloppy doctor cursive, I understood, finally, that there might be something more to all of this than my own moral failings.
Right now you are small. Four and two. Your emotional landscapes are simple – albeit tumultuous. You erupt in big, fiery bouts of anger and your happiness is as sudden and wild as lightning. You are in your pre-school years, and this is exactly as it should be.
And I can’t explain this to you when you ask me in the drive thru, “What medicine, Mom?” When you look at me, all curiosity and concern, I can’t tell you the whole, hard truth. But someday, you’re going to need to know it. Someday, your psyche will gel into something more solid – and listen: this darkness might be part of it.
You, after all, have my eyes.
Dane, you have my first-born’s trepidation and that same desperate hunger for physical touch. We have the same thick, blonde hair and propensity for hoarding. Liam – you have my stubbornness, my clumsiness, my introvertedness, my temper.
We are made out of the same stuff, weaved together by the spiraling strands of our shared DNA – and this might be in you. The bent toward melancholy. Those deep, cavernous spaces that no amount of positive self-talk or cookie dough or caffeine or friends can pull you up out of.
I want you to know so that you’ll be on the lookout. So that you won’t try to fill the empty with drugs or girls or booze. And also, I want you to know so that you won’t beat yourself up, trying to cram more Jesus into that emptiness, feeling like a failure in your faith if you can’t seem to feel Him there.
I want you to know that there’s medicine and that it’s okay to take it. It doesn’t always work. It’s no magic pill, after all. But maybe it can help. Maybe it will even you out enough so that you don’t have to keep hoisting yourself up, so that you don’t break down under the weight of your own darkness.
That’s what it does for me. And that’s why we’re at the drive thru, why I’m picking up another bag this month, why I keep taking them every night, one pill before bed.
I started taking the antidepressants again early this summer. For a while I thought it was just the blues, but then I found myself sleeping more, checking out from daily life, disappearing into the fog of my mind. I went to the doctor, and there’s a part of that process that always feels like failure to me. Like giving up. Like If I were stronger, I could overcome this.
Every time I end up in that exam room, I cry. I can’t explain why except that I hate this. I hate that I seem to need these pills to be okay. I hate that I can’t just take a nice, warm shower and shake out of it.
But then, every time, the doctor looks at me kindly and says, Listen. This is in your biology. It’s okay to get help. And suddenly, I remember that this is entirely and completely true. God did not create us to pull ourselves up on our own. We are given grace every moment of every day, and the trick is learning to receive it.
“What medicine?” You ask again. Liam, you say it too – “Med-sin!” – because you repeat everything your brother says.
And finally I tell you, “It’s a special vitamin,” I maneuver the car out of the Walgreens parking lot. “It makes Mommy healthy.”
“OH!” You say. “That’s GREAT!”
“It is, baby,” I say, smiling. “It’s great.”
The bag is light as I toss it next to me on the seat. Light like grace and peace and an unexpected part of my path toward wholeness.
I choose it again every night because it’s worth it to me. You’re worth it. I want to live these beautiful years healthy and alive and fully present to all of this beautiful light.