Eating the Elephant

For a long time now, I’ve likened writing to therapy. It’s a cheap way to get my thoughts in a row, to temper the negativity of my life with the positivity. Through writing, I’ve learned new things about myself that I otherwise might not have ever uncovered. I’ve analyzed problems and worked through complicated, conflicted emotions. Writing has helped me take ownership of my many imperfections and to cultivate self esteem not only in spite of those imperfections but because of them.

Indeed, this very blog has at times been my virtual chaise lounge where I’ve spilled my guts, trying to figure just who I am. I’ve served as my own therapist, relying entirely on myself to unravel the knotted twine of my life, my feelings, and the problems I face.

But I’ve learned something over the past six or seven months that I’ve just recently become comfortable enough to admit and actually address: writing is therapy, except when it’s not anymore.

Sometimes, therapy is therapy.

{This is the part where I virtually strip myself down. These are scary words to write but they are oh-so-freeing, and the older I get the more I value freedom over fear.}

Eating the Elephant

I have known something was really off since November. Maybe you could tell, too, but couldn’t put your finger on it just like I couldn’t. Starting last fall, I started feeling listless and tired. The things that once made me happy just didn’t anymore, and I felt like I had nothing to look forward to. During the week I was completely overwhelmed at work, like no matter how hard I tried I could never, ever be ahead of the curve. I’d look forward to the weekends when I could give my family my undivided attention, but it was around this same time that C started throwing tantrums that B and I were ill-equipped to handle. I have joked before about toddlers having tantrums (or if we’re really being honest, tantrums having toddlers), but tantrums can be the most terrifying moments of your parenting life. You’re in fear that your child will hurt herself, that there is something seriously wrong, that you might accidentally hurt her because you cannot handle your own emotions. Birthing facilities arm new parents with videos and pamphlets with tactics to avoid shaking their colicky babies, but no one warns you that during your older child’s tantrums you can be equally undone. Sometimes she would scream and shake so aggressively that I feared for my own reaction.

So during the week, I looked forward to coming home. By Sunday night, I couldn’t get back to work quick enough just to escape. I was constantly longing for something else that I knew full well wouldn’t make me feel better, and the kernel of depression started to grow. I knew in my heart that I loved my husband, my daughter, and my family, and I knew that my work was gratifying and that the relationships I had with others weren’t completely self-serving, that I was a good friend. However, all these things depleted me of energy because I felt like no matter how hard I tried to do them well, I was failing. There was literally no corner of my life that didn’t completely overwhelm me to the point of manic tears when I considered it. I often feel like a human raw nerve. This wasn’t just an issue of perfectionism – I have never been a perfectionist. All I wanted to be was kinda-sorta OK, and I convinced myself that I was incapable of that. Anything good that had ever happened to me was accidental. My relationships, my motherhood, my job, my writing: I didn’t deserve them at all.

I convinced myself that I could do nothing right, that I would never be a good enough spouse, mother, employee, daughter, and human. I walked through life in a perpetual, debilitating state of doubt and self-loathing, and the littlest things would trigger within me a sense of doom. If I was having a particularly raw day, all someone would have to do is speak to me briskly and I’d break down. Full disclosure: it is nothing short of miraculous that I didn’t completely crumble onstage at Press Publish last month. When I got onstage to talk about myself and my blog, I spoke from the heart, but there was one incredibly important detail that I omitted that day: I hated myself and placed zero confidence in my own capabilities.

I have written all this in the past tense like it was something that was happening last winter or last month, but these are things that I still experience. This is what depression is. It isn’t something that just goes away if you ignore it long enough. It is an elephant that you’re locked in a room with. It eats and it defecates in your space. Even if you put your back to it, you can smell it. You know it’s there even if it’s sleeping. You eventually step in its squallier.

You try to get the elephant out. One time, you helped your friend move a four-seater sofa out of their apartment, so you think that maybe you are equipped with the skills to move the elephant out of the room. But an elephant is not a piece of furniture, and you fail. One night when the elephant is sleeping, you realize that maybe you just need to focus on getting yourself out of the room. You are smaller than the elephant and more predictable. The next morning when you have a little daylight, you jiggle the doorknob and try to pick its lock with a piece of straw. Your plan is unsuccessful not because you haven’t picked a lock before but because you’re so tired from staying up all night thinking about escaping from the elephant room that you only try for a few minutes before you are completely overwhelmed and you give up, exasperated and despondent.

I could go on with this whole elephant metaphor but I think you get the point: depression is not something that I can just will away. It’s not something I can write away, either. Trust me, I’ve tried. There have been so many times that I have wanted nothing more than to regain the necessary grain of confidence I need to just get the ball rolling and to feel like the words I write are worth saying, that they are worth me, only to edit myself down to nothing.

When it comes to being locked in a room with an elephant, you need someone and/or something to help you get out.

I started going to therapy about two weeks ago. I have a long way to go toward being well, but I’m eating the elephant piece by piece.

Bon appetit.

70 comments

  1. Such a brave, honest, raw post. Thank you for writing about something that so many of us (myself included) have struggled with. I hope that you’ll feel better soon. xx

    1. Thank YOU, Meredith. Your blog has actually been on my mind a lot lately; in a way, these steps I’m taking right now are me finally giving up on being “perfect” and taking up the mantel of “happily flawed.”

      1. It’s a daily battle. I went to therapy for a short time myself, but am still constantly battling insecurity and the feeling that I’m constantly not measuring up. I’ve actually been considering going back. I have a lot of work to do still myself. Big hug to you. Xx

  2. Thanks so much for being so honest. Your post will help people and your words matter! God bless.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Natasha. It means a lot.

  3. Oh, Em. Just like always, your words matter in the most beautiful way possible. Let me know if you need some help eating that elephant. I’ll bring a side of Pop Tarts. Hugs and lover and all the “you’re awesomes” in the world.

    1. Thanks, Kels. One of the most isolating things about all this is that I have been wanting to tell you for awhile, but I never did because I didn’t know where to begin. One of the things I hate the most about my own particular brand of self-loathing depression is that it convinces me that if I let anyone in and tell them I’m struggling, I’m totally selfish and self-serving. That’s not only a disservice to myself for denying myself support but also to my friends who, y’know, ACTUALLY WANT TO HELP ME because they care about me. That said, I will take your “you’re awesome”s and raise you few “you’re the cat’s meow”s. Thank you for understanding, not only of me but my complete reliance on Pop-Tarts during times of hardship ;)

      1. So, there’s this stuff in my eyes. It’s all wet and watery. Anyway, I TOTALLY GET IT!! You have no idea how much of myself I see in this. Talking about this kind of stuff is never easy, even with people you love and care about. Sometimes, those are actually the hardest people to talk to. Just know I am here if and when you need an ear. Selfish-smellfish.

  4. I relate to this post so much. SOOOOOO much. I feel the same things so often. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with it, but of all the lies depression tells, the biggest one is that you’re alone. HUGS TO INFINITY AND BEYOND.

    1. The lies are brutal. I’m really lucky to have a counselor who calls them like she sees them and is helping me to stop listening to the lie that I am completely isolated and that my problems are 100% unique to me and therefore unsolvable by anyone but my own flawed self.

  5. I truly hope that you get the support you need from therapy and other necessary people in your life. Depression is such an intangible lonely vicious cycle. No one can get an elephant out of the room on their own. You really have to have a network of zoo keepers, animal control specialists and skilled circus trainers to keep Dumbo in a good place.

    1. I could not have said it better myself, sweet friend! Want to put those culinary skillz of yours to use and make Dumbo a big ol’ vat of peanut butter to bribe him out? ;) Love you.

  6. Such beautiful honestly! Hugs to you. Stay strong and continue to stare down that elephant.

    1. Thanks, Shoes! I intend to!

  7. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to admit to yourself when something is wrong and that you need help, and I can relate to so much of what you said. It is such a beautifully written and honest post… Wishing you all the best!

    1. Thank you, Suzie. In a way, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because for most of my life, whenever I’ve had periods of depression, I just denied my feelings and slapped a virtual bandaid over the problem. Now that I’m older and a parent, I am having to address deep-seated problems I’ve had for a long time and probably should have started to nourish a long, long time ago. So it’s hard, but there’s a lot at stake. I want to be my best me not only for my family but also for myself. Thank you for your encouragement!

  8. Well, I admire you. I have always admired your writing, you draw people in to be your friend. I hope by writing this post, it brings out more internet friends hiding in corners to speak out. I hope you are uplifted by us, even for a moment. ….I know what it’s like.

    1. Julie, your support means more than you know. These are the kinds of things you can’t really bring up at the lunch table at work or at a networking meeting or booksigning or a playgroup. (I mean, maybe you can? Maybe I need to find a new ennui-centered playgroup? LOL). The Internet is very anonymous in some aspects but in moments like these I’m so grateful for your support because it makes me know that these lies of isolation depression tells me are just that: lies.

  9. As someone who got the honor of watching you speak at Press Publish last month, I can say that I’m not at all surprised that you didn’t crumble. I could sense that you thought you might but I saw a woman who cared very much about the people she was speaking to and connecting with. I saw a woman who wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and say she was afraid. I saw a woman who cherished her family and was humble in her gifts and successes. In short, I saw the same woman I see right now.

    In my experience, staring down the elephant is about looking in her eyes and seeing that the elephant has something to say and not ignoring her anymore. She’s persistent for a reason, she wants your attention and when you can finally say, “OK! Enough already. I’ll listen,” that’s when she thanks you and tells you her story. You’ll want to hear that story because it’s going to rock your world. It’s going to be the story that you tell your precious daughter when you want her to understand that you’re human. It’s going to be the story that you tell her when her heart is broken and she thinks that it’s going to hurt forever. It’s going to be the story that you tell your husband and he says, “Thank you for trusting me.” That elephant is terrifying but it’s not the enemy. She is your teacher and all good teachers challenge us.

    I honor you for your honesty and vulnerability and for sharing your elephant. My elephant is giving your elephant a trunk tap (kind of like a high five). xxoo

    1. Karen, you and your words are so precious and I value you so much more than I can adequately describe in a blog comment box. Thank you for understanding in a very real way that while this is an issue of me getting better, it’s also a long lesson in me learning to love myself again and accepting my own narrative. I am so grateful to call you a friend.

  10. The hardest part is realizing you need help and then seeking it. You still have a ways to go, but it’s uphill from here. Thank you for writing this, Em.

    1. That is so true. The things that had to happen in my life for me to know that enough was enough were incredibly painful, both to myself and others who I care about. I said a lot of things to the people I loved that I can’t take back. They’ve forgiven me and realize that I spoke out of sadness and desperation, but I still regret that I acted the way I did and didn’t seek help sooner. I can’t change the past, though. I’m just grateful that I *am* surrounded by people who love me despite my flaws.

      1. I can relate to every bit of this, and I’m sorry you went through it.

  11. anita ibeakanma · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Anita.com.

  12. Thank you for saying everything I’ve refused to say to myself.

    1. They are hard words, but they are good for the soul.

  13. Love you SO MUCH.

  14. TheTragicWhale · · Reply

    Sending love, thoughts, and good vibes your way!

    1. Thank you! That means a lot. xo

  15. Brilliant post that speaks to the hearts and minds of everyone. Rather than eat the elephant, learn to ride it to greener pastures. Use its strength and tenacity for your own purposes. Think of it as your totem animal ready to assist you, and it will. Sending you streams of white light to show the way.

    1. Thank you! We can learn a lot from elephants, can’t we? They are big and often unwieldy, but there’s a reason for them. They can teach us a lot about ourselves.

  16. Reblogged this on Elena's Musings.

    1. Thank you for reblogging.

  17. Major props for writing this post.
    The stigma that goes with therapy is oddly strong and pervasive and I am so glad that you’re breaking through it in a way that other people can see.
    As a therapist myself, I find the stigma to be doubly strong at times because, if I’m supposed to be the one strong enough to help others, will people see me as weak for needing my own help? On the good days, though, I remind myself that everyone needs help from time to time.
    Everyone.

    I sincerely hope your time in therapy is helpful, productive, uplifting, and that it makes you feel more at peace.

    1. Thank you. Honestly, when I got to the point where I knew this post (and inevitable follow-up posts) needed to be written, I thought about setting up a whole new blog that I knew no one – not my family, not my friends, not my random acquaintances, not my coworkers – would read. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of people who are supportive and understanding, but the truth is that mental health has more of a stigma attached to it than a bum knee. That’s just not fair. Although I don’t pretend to have it all together – and anyone who actually knows me can attest to the fact that I *don’t* – I owe it to myself and to anyone else struggling to just be honest and admit that I cannot carry this load unassisted anymore. And that’s OK.

      1. More than ok.

  18. I found you through Karen’s most recent post, Emily, and might I just say Bravo for this. There is much that each of us can do to bolster our own (mental, physical, spiritual) health, but sometimes we need a trained wingman, in your case (and mine) a therapist who can help us process through what we do (and often don’t) see.

    I hope you’ll be feeling more like yourself soon.

    Under the same sky,
    Dani

    1. Thank you so much, Dani. I am feeling better, and it has a lot to do with writing this post and hearing from you and others who have dealt with these demons. One of the biggest lies depression tells us is that we are all alone and that no one could possibly relate.

  19. First, you absolutely know that this is going up on Crazy Good Parent, right? Yes, indeed, this is a beautiful, honest post. So many mothers feel the way you do. I have found that there is so much darkness in parenthood that no one wants to talk about. We hear “parenting is hard…blah, blah, blah.” Platitudes, I say. A child, a marriage, a job–all things you love–but all things you feel responsible to nurture. I constantly feel that I can’t choose what to do because no matter what I do, I am neglecting something else. And much of it, I feel barely capable of handling. You are handling it by getting help with the elephant. It’s great that you have a therapist you can trust.

    I am very sorry that your depression is harming you so deeply now. It is a beast. I believe, though, from my writing about this stuff and reaching out to others, that we are far from alone. I wish I could give you the hugs you deserve and that I very much want to share with you right now.

    1. Thank you. I got caught up in the platitudes myself and for awhile just chalked up the profound sadness I was feeling to the fact that I was parenting a toddler, working outside the home again, growing up, etc. But then when it started being an impediment to my work and my relationships, I knew I likely had a nervous breakdown, a divorce, or a combination of the two in my future. The unfortunate thing is that I hurt others in the process of realizing I needed help. I’ve said extremely hurtful things to people I love (that includes myself), and I wish I could have sought help earlier. Bright side is that I’m on the right road now and I feel confident that there is a light, although I may not necessarily see it from time to time. Thank you so much for your constant love and support, Janice. It really means the world.

  20. […] Eating the Elephant. […]

  21. Bon appetit, indeed. I’m so glad you are seeking help. I love the way you write. You are an inspiration in so many ways. This is only one more reason.

    1. Thank you, Jean. I take a lot of comfort in your kindness.

  22. That was such a beautiful and honest post – thank you! I also have struggled with depression in the past and it is such a scary and overwhelming monster. For some reason, your ‘Elephant’ story reminded me of the little girl in the Beast of the Southern Wild movie a few years back standing down the Aurochs which look to be 10 times her size. … when she does face them, they bow down to her and are not so scary. That scene always moved me deeply and makes me cry to this day (in a good way). Wish I had a way to attach a scene or clip of that movie but I am technically challenged. Thanks again!

    1. That’s quite alright! I will have to YouTube it! Thank you for reaching out a leaving a comment, Amy. We’re all in this together. The biggest lie depression tells us is that we are alone, and it really isn’t true.

  23. I’m glad you’re getting “real” therapy (although I agree that writing can be therapeutic, too). My roommate found herself struggling with depression this past semester, which made traces of that old elephant come back for me, too. I’m mostly over it, but you’re right that it never does truly seem to go away once and for all.

    1. Truth. I don’t think it ever goes away completely either. Now that I’m facing this head-on, I am learning that I’ve struggled with it in trace amounts throughout my life but never identified it as depression. I’ve always just assumed it was normal to have existential crises from time to time that make you want to stay in bed for weeks on end. I’m just grateful now to be developing the tools to cope.

  24. So much truth here. Thank you for your honesty and bravery. I’m sorry you’ve been in this low place… I’m there with you in a lot of ways. It’s exhausting.

    1. Thank YOU, friend. I think we, specifically, live in a place and in a culture where if you go to church and believe a certain thing and do x,y, and z, you are guarded against these things. And it’s just not true.

  25. Hands down one of the honest post I have read. And even though the post is great I wish that you didn’t have to write it. No one should stand in your place and face a situation like this.
    I hope the therapy goes well. Good luck!

    1. Thank you. I’m glad to have written this post if for no other reason that it’s teaching me that I am not the only person who’s ever endured this. Not by a long shot. Thank you for reaching out; it really means the world to me.

  26. All the best with your therapy and eating the elephant.

  27. Depression can be pretty sticky, sneaky stuff. In my experience, I’ve never been able to fully rid myself of the elephant, but over time I’ve learned a few commands to give it when I feel it getting pushy. Sometimes it works, and other times it just takes time. I wish you the very best of luck in breaking through that door.

    1. Thank you. I’m willing to learn a little from the elephant; I think it has something to teach me.

  28. Bold post.
    Thankyou for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading.

  29. I’m so glad you’ve shared Em. I almost shared some very similar stuff when we were together last summer… somehow I sensed it might resonate. But, I’ve been digging out for a while, and yes that isolating element, that “I’m a loser, no one will get this, I don’t want to drive her/them away,” all of that ugly kept me forging ahead and pretending to feel competent. I’m here if you ever want to chat, or share… I get it, more than you probably know, though each of us has our own path. Sending hugs and support your way. xxo

    1. Dawn, thank you so much for your support. This depression stuff is messy business because of all those lies we tell ourselves. The irony is that we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve the very thing we need to thrive: connection and kindness. I’m glad I’m learning to see that lie for what it is. Xo

  30. *Me too.* Hugs.

    1. Thank you. For an inebriated bear, you understand a lot.

  31. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. I can imagine it was hard for you to do. Your words are so genuine, I’m sure they’ll help many of your readers.

    So many people can relate to this and it’s ridiculous that there’s still such a stigma attached to depression. I’ve suffered from it off and on my entire life, more so after I had my first baby (severe PPD). Funny, though, I never really thought of myself as being “depressed”. I thought everyone felt the way I do, I guess.

    Thankfully, over the years I’ve figured out ways to cope with my anxiety and depression that work for me. Those things happen to be writing humor, taking long walks, music, meditation, yoga. But for others that might mean therapy or medication. My hope is one day people realize there is no shame in mental illness, your brain is full of chemicals and sometimes it gets out of whack and needs to be treated, just like any other illness. Be good to yourself, Emily. You have lots of support.

  32. Of course a therapist would say this but shouldn’t therapy be like a requirement??? Thanks for another “cut right to the chase” post. Of course I feel terrible that you felt this way and I didn’t know. Lunch soon????

  33. Good luck with chomping down on that elephant. Knowing that it’s the big thing causing all the stink is the first step. I have no doubt it will take no time to digest it…one bite at a time:)

  34. beccak9767 · · Reply

    Your posts are genuine, honest, and relatable. Thank you for taking your time to write such posts.

  35. Ems,

    Thank you for opening your heart to us. This is one of the bravest posts I’ve ever read from anyone on WP. You continue to astound me as I follow your life through your writing. Although depression is not something I struggle with often, life does become overwhelmingly debilitating at times. I’m in one of those seasons right now, so thanks for reminding ME that I am not alone (as always, your timing is impeccable, for me, at any rate). I’m having a hard time seeing the road ‘out’, but I’ve been on this one enough to know that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnels we find ourselves in – no matter how dim it looks from a distance. I look forward to reading about your journey on this road – it will be as important (if not more-so) to your readers as what you write about parenting, cooking, etc., as I’m sure you have already guessed.

    Peace and Strength to you,
    C

  36. […] ♥ Emily at The Waiting: Eating the Elephant […]

  37. Hi. I can relate to the “writing is like therapy” part. It’s so cathartic sometimes. Good for you for putting the rest of your very real story out there. I’ve struggled in a different way with some of those issues in the past, but so far I have been unable to unveil it all. At this point, it’s in the past so why bother? But in other ways, I think it might be freeing. I wish you the best of luck finding the right kind of help that works for you. The fact that you are writing about your depression and have identified some of the problems speaks volumes. Dig in!

  38. I missed this post when it first came out. I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time, and applaud your courage in opening up about it, and doing something about it.

    As Darla said above, I guess I thought that everyone feels like that at times. Maybe they do. Maybe WE do. I’m not sure what’s “normal” because all I know is what I experience. I’ve never been to therapy, but I’m beginning to think that it might help. Are you finding that to be so? Does it help?

    Sending good thoughts and prayers your way, Emily.

  39. […] When we were in the thick of this summer when everything was tense and miserable and disappointing, there was an afternoon that I drove home from work and realized I was not wearing earrings. I remember exactly what intersection I was at. My ear itched, I reached up to scratch it, and nothing was there. And I wept because I felt like my whole life was falling apart. (It’s amazing how depression and anxiety find new ways to lie to us.) […]

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