In the first quarter of 2020, the COVID-19 virus hit the US. While New York, California, and Washington were the earliest hard-hit areas, Michigan wasn’t far behind, probably thanks in part to our Metro Detroit airport being a national and international hub for travelers. Following science stories around the world, I saw the information coming out of China by mid or late January and was having conversations with friends about the rapid spread in Italy in February. I was worried about what would happen when it reached the states and had no illusions that it wouldn’t sweep through the US as it had done in those countries. By the beginning of March, I fully expected the country to be in dire straits by summer and I said as much to my closest friends and family. I suggested that they should start buying extra supplies on each of their trips to the stores... an extra package of toilet paper or bleach wipes each time they went. There were no surprises for me because I was following international stories in the science realm.
Well, there was one surprise actually, and it came in the form of self-discovery.
I am not a person who typically has bouts of depression. I had an awful case of postpartum depression for around a year after the birth of my first son. There were days I considered harming myself and I got through it with the mantra of “This is a temporary condition and normal to feel this way and it will go away if I can make it through this minute, this hour, and this day.” Barring that one experience, I don’t remember ever feeling depressed. Oh, there were times when I was sad here and there, usually centered around the loss of a beloved family member, but there has never been a time when I would have said, “Those feelings I was having? Yeah, that was depression.” Until the pandemic.
And, even while it was happening, I didn’t recognize it as depression. That lack of recognition probably has its roots in how my communities (family, friends, jobs, social media groups) define and manage mental illness, but I don’t want to digress too far down that rabbit hole. Suffice it to say, I only recognized that I had suffered some depression after I was down the road and looking back. My normal behavior had changed dramatically, and not just because I had started working from home. After all, I was still putting in a normal 8-hour workday. It was my after-work and weekend behaviors that had made a dramatic shift. An avid reader and someone who had started writing on a regular schedule, I had stopped reading and writing. Completely. Stone cold stopped. Research into my craft and for my stories...gone. I wasn’t moping (not exactly – I was still happy and engaged with my family who were home with me) and I used the excuse that it was a change affected by sitting at home in front of a computer for eight hours straight. I didn’t want to sit there another two or three hours writing or researching. I’d had enough by the end of the work day.
I retreated. I made dinner for the family and then crawled into bed and streamed series after series, non-stop. Whole weekends disappeared while I hibernated under a heated blanket. I actually lost weight while hearing that others had gained. I stopped interacting with family, little by little, until they only had my attention during my workday or in the hour I spent making dinner. I got really good at doom scrolling. Really good. So good that I stopped watching movies and television series. I no longer jumped on the treadmill for my 60-minute walk. The basement is too cold, I opined. (A lie.) There is no part of doom scrolling that is a healthy lifestyle. It’s an addiction and I am still taking steps to change that behavior.
In the meantime, I moved passed the depression. Somehow. It was like waking up from a long nap. I wanted to write again. I was eager to finish editing a book that had been sitting for four years. My movie-watching time switched back to researching my craft. Most recently, I jumped into an advertising challenge hosted by Bryan Cohen (strong recommend!) and participated in some zooms with a favorite Facebook Group. I finished editing that book! (It’s tentatively named Key of F.) I had some beta reads done, edited a little more, and am now querying it. I started plotting a sequel to my first novel and scribbled some notes for a third book in that series, thinking it will make a good trilogy. Meanwhile my Golden Meadows novel is still poking me in the back of the brain and I’m taking notes. I decided to rename a bunch of characters to make it more memorable and marketable. Things feel... normal. It’s nice to be back. I’m looking forward to worldwide vaccination and watching planet Earth wake up. I hope the great pause has shown us that we need to and are able to work together to be better stewards.
One last note. If you suspect you are depressed, please don't be afraid to talk about it or to seek help. Mental illness should never be a thing to be ashamed of and help is out there. In the US, you can reach out to SAMHSA’s National Helpline. It is a "free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders." Dial 1-800-662-HELP to find a resource in your area.