I took some time to write on real paper instead of a keyboard this week. I don’t know why it makes such a difference to get thoughts out of my head this way. Maybe the physical act of putting pen to paper frees up mental energy or space or something. As a side bonus, it’s cheap therapy! Though I just emailed my counselor to go back for another session after a two month hiatus, so who am I kidding- I’ll take allll the therapy!
My first time in a counselor’s office was when my parents were divorcing. I don’t remember much except that my counselor asked a lot of questions and I didn’t feel comfortable to answer/share with her. I also remember feeling extremely jealous when I asked my brother what he and his counselor talked about and he said, “We play checkers.” What!? I wanted to play checkers and not have to talk! I felt like I was getting the raw end of the deal.
My next time with a counselor would be another fifteenish years later. It would be the first time I was diagnosed with depression. I liked this woman instantly. She took time to clarify the different types of depression. One kind is where the depression is brought on by a situation and with a good support system (fam/friends) and some counseling, you can get out of this little pit. Another kind of depression is a little deeper in the pit and someone could need some medicine for a while. And the third kind needs medicine on a long-term basis for a chemical imbalance. As she described these, I could think of family and friends who have been in each spot. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was depressed.
As we talked a little more, she put me squarely in the first one. Situational Depression. This type is usually brought on by some sort of life change that is typically unwanted and sometimes traumatic. Anything from a job loss, to death of a family member or close friend, to divorce, retirement, etc. Something that jolts you from your regular routine/daily life. In looking at that list, mine was far less traumatic. But there I was, in a funk.
The counselor had me write out all the losses I had experienced in my life. After I gave her the list she looked at me over the top of her glasses and said, “And this is the first time you’ve ever been depressed?” I told her I guessed so. She said that was amazing. (My husband says I have too much self-esteem, but when these are your true stories, can you even help it? ;))
Our conversation reminded me of the stress tests we had to take as teens in school. You would get points based on the life changes, points for changing houses, schools, for parents separating, divorcing, pet dying, etc. The year that all of those things happened at once? Justin and I scored off the charts and we still weren’t depressed. In our family we used denial and humor as coping mechanisms, and for the most part, it worked.
My counselor and I worked through stuff over the next few months and then she told me I had graduated and didn’t need to see her anymore. I was kind of sad, it was fun to work through things and test out what I was learning. I didn’t see another counselor again for years.
One morning I sent an email to a new counselor asking if she had any openings because I thought I might need to talk to someone soon. Later that night, my brother died.
Having been diagnosed with depression once, I can say I was probably depressed for some period of time after Justin died. Or maybe I still am? It’s hard to tell when there is a string of days that are really good and then a couple emotional ones and then good ones again that can last for weeks. Or maybe this is just grief? But this wondering is all hindsight in looking back nearly a year later. I didn’t notice depression symptoms this time around right away. For a long time I was in the shock and numb stage. Probably longer than I realized.
I saw this new counselor each week for a while, then every two weeks, then every three and in February I just didn’t make another appointment. But yesterday I did. With my brother’s deathiversary right around the corner, I figured it probably doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of ears and insight. Also, I’ve had a few extra emotions lately.
I’m sure most of it has to do with coming up on one year without my brother. I was trying to explain it to my mom the other day. I said, “I remember everything so clearly like it was yesterday.” She asked if I meant the day he died. I said, well, I’ll probably always remember that- but I meant him being alive, being here on this planet with us. My mom so simply pointed out that we had a lot more time with him than without him, so it is natural that we remember more the time he was with us. And honestly, I prefer it that way.
I’m grateful for the 33 years I got to have him as a brother. Now I get to grin and laugh as I read old messages from him. And I still talk to him on occasion, even if it’s as brief to say aloud, “Hi, Gus” when I think of him. Recently my dad asked me to imagine my brother’s reaction to something. When I did, I saw a clear picture of him laughing with his head in his hands, shaking his head back and forth and telling me, “I can’t believe you did that!” and maybe he called me stupid too. We laughed together and my dad said that sounded about right.
I think the next couple weeks will be tough, but if our family motto is anything- it can get us through this. “Always leave them laughing.” Always leave your audience wanting more.
(If my brother was here right now he’d wink and say, “See what I did there?”)