Like the reds (anger), the greens (nausea), the pinks (embarrassment), or the grays (don’t we all, after we turn 50?), the Blues take us to that unpleasant corner in our brains that is full of thickly padded couches with squooshy pillows and dim lighting. It’s safe to throw things in there. Or give a good holler.
Or crawl down, down, into the cushions until only our nose sticks out, and maybe one hand, so we can reach the Mountain Dew laced with maraschino cherry juice, iced, with a curly straw.
In this room, nothing is black and white. The walls and decor are monochromatic gray, ashen, leaden, a murky place with no edges. We bring the color with us.
Depression is a tricky package. Sometimes we don’t realize when it was delivered or that it’s moved in with us until one day it occurs to you that the butterflies are blue, the flowers are blue, your kids are blue, and your favorite shoes are blue. Puzzled, you continue on with your life, but for inexplicable reasons, you are moving slower. Your legs feel encased in a layer of mud. Your mind is fuzzy. Maybe you need a nap? Maybe you missed your vitamin?
The Blues get interesting. You move lethargically, doing everything you were always doing, but now you are crying in the shower. You are closing the office door so you can focus. You are reaching for a third cup of coffee or a fifth donut in an attempt to perk up, feel better, get some pep in your step. And it’s not working.
“Doctor,” you say, “I have no idea why I feel like a slug trying to cross a line of Gorilla Glue.”
“And also, like it might feel really good to just lie down in the Glue for a nap.”
Always begin with a complete medical exam. Self-care, exercise, diet improvement, and good sleep might tip you back upright if what you are experiencing is a small imbalance in circumstances or chemistry. This is where to begin.
But eventually, you will need to be able to tell the difference between the Blues and Depression. The way I will define it here is: Blues are due to external circumstances and Depression is the medical result of an internal chemical imbalance.
Your gray matter is a neutral palette, and a psychologist will be able to help you tell whether the Blues are carried in with you or were already tinting the walls when you arrived.
You will get the Blues after something in your world blows up. The Blues are when you are in a situation where there is no hope that it will change and no one else can help you. In a divorce, for example, you don’t have a hope that it won’t be exactly what it is and no one else can change it for you, either. If enough time and space from the circumstance goes by, eventually, the Blues will soften and allow you to see the other colors again.
Depression is what happens when you are taking that rollercoaster ride that feels like you don’t know how you got here and you don’t know where you’re going, and without a seatbelt or a parachute or even a crossbar to hold on to. The Blues make you cry. Depression makes you scream and go numb by turns. The Blues lighten when you are with people who are comforting and cheering you up. Depression hates company, and that includes yourself.
The phone will ring, and “Self,” you will think from your wedge in the blue-gray sofa, “We just don’t have that kind of energy.” You will let it go to a voicemail that you won’t retrieve.
Your family, friends, and fur-babies will know when you are Blue. They will not know you are Depressed. Not for a long time. Because you will hide it from them the way you hid it from yourself, and what everyone will notice is that you don’t leave the house any more. You have excuses for missing the PTA meetings you used to organize and the fridge gets emptier and emptier because grabbing your keys and going to the grocery store feels absolutely impossible.
You feel guilty and insecure for feeling the way you feel, getting angry at everyone telling you to ‘snap out of it’ and ‘stop being selfish’ and ‘just shake it off’ and asking “What’s wrong with you? You look fine.” And this is how Anxiety enters the rollercoaster ride.
Things people would never say to someone experiencing a heart attack or a migraine.
And because your logical self knows none of this makes sense, you eventually stop arguing about it, talking about it, whining about it, waiting for it to go away. You settle in with an alone-ness that drops the Blue down into a Gray and then into a vacuum-sealed void.
Hours of watching TV from your blue-gray sofa later, you know you need help. But what if they prescribe medication? What if you’re not you once you take it? Are you, you now? What if you become dependent on it and then there’s an earthquake and you can’t get more and you run out and suddenly you are even WORSE than you started out today? What if your therapist tells you – and this is the lie Depression tells you – it’s all in my head and to snap out of it?!
This is only one flavor of Depression and those of you who know what I’m talking about are nodding your head and filling in with your own particular version. Hormones, genetics, medications, situations…we are such delicately balanced organisms.
When someone you love has Depression, they need – here it comes – a safe space. A safe head space. They need that place a psychologist uses. Or a mom uses. Or your bestie uses. Or God uses. My sister needs to know that I am educated and understand the disease, that I will not overreact when she reaches out to me, that I will advocate for her health if she cannot, in a way that she needs. That when she sends me a little text, “I’m Blue. But I don’t want to talk about it”…we won’t.
But she trusts that I got her message and stopped my planet to shoot a lightning bolt of love and support in her specific direction. She knows that I am standing by. And I trust her to let me know if she needs more.
In the meantime, here’s my video of the week: a gentle, breezy April moment with the flowers. I hope that you can see all of the colors.