Jeannie was depressed. She walked into the little back room of the Methodist church. She was giving therapy a try.
She is a mother of four, works part-time, and somehow manages to scrape dinner together every night. She wonders how her mother did it when she was growing up. Her mother was single, overworked, and strong. She never showed a hint of depression.
Depression. That horrible word. How could Jeannie be such a wimp?
But then COVID-19 hit. Followed by unemployment. Followed by more bills. And fear.
She managed to get a new job working at a local hotel cleaning rooms for a pittance. But the world is not the same as it was. And neither is Jeannie. Depression is real.
The Methodist back room was dimly lit, with soft music playing. A little bookshelf. Scented candles. An older woman welcomed Jeannie into a little den she lovingly called the “upper room.”
Methodists call everything the upper room. Even the family dog.
Jeannie sat on a sofa, embarrassed to be there. Therapy does that to newcomers. It makes some feel ashamed.
But this was not “therapy” in the official sense. The woman was clear about this. This was not a professional consultation. This was just two ladies talking.
So Jeannie told her everything. She told her how difficult it was being a 44-year-old who should have her life together, but didn’t. She told her about the dark days. The thoughts of self harm.
The lady therapist offered no judgments. In fact, since this was not technically a consult the woman simply listened.
When Jeannie finished talking, the older lady took the opportunity to speak. She told Jeannie that depression doesn’t work the way most think. It’s not a devil cloud from the primordial underworld. It’s a medical thing. It’s situational. It’s complicated.
Depression can be just like breaking your foot, or spraining your ankle. So why be humiliated about it?
A doctor doesn’t tell a child who breaks his leg that he should be ashamed. The doc doesn’t tell the kid he’s a freak. Little Johnny’s friends don’t shun him when they find out he’s wearing a cast. Nobody teases him for being “imbalanced” even though he walks with a limp.
It’s just the opposite. When the fourth-grade class finds out Little Johnny is wearing a cast, everyone breaks out the Sharpies and starts WRITING THEIR NAMES ON THE CAST.
Now imagine that this same kid goes to the doctor because of a depressive disorder. Imagine this kid is 44 years old. Do his friends break out any Sharpies? Does anyone send get-well cards? How about balloons? Where are the flowers?
Depression hurts worse than a broken leg, but it’s not discussed the same way. We treat it like a filthy secret, like an egg on the face, like a dirty transgression.
Jeannie started crying. Because she knew she was depressed. Not only because of COVID, but because of everything.
The older woman gave her the tissues. Jeannie had to undo her face mask just to blow her nose. Which was a gymnastic feat.
“I’m embarrassed,” Jeannie kept saying.
The older woman smiled the way Methodists do. She told Jeannie about potential medications, and said that meds might be something worth looking into.
Jeannie was starting to feel like a total failure now. Her embarrassment tripled. Quadrupled.
“Meds?” she said. “You think I need MEDS?”
So the woman told Jeannie a story. It was a story about a young lady who once became so depressed after a divorce that she couldn’t leave her own house or tend her kids.
The young woman had grown suicidal. She had even tried, unsuccessfully, to do something terrible.
But in a brief moment of clarity, the young woman realized her children needed her. And she knew this depression business was serious.
So the girl saw a therapist the next morning. She was on meds by lunchtime. No, the meds weren’t a magic bullet, but the young woman’s moods lifted, and she felt human again. And a little stronger.
Meds helped her life resume its medium tempo. The young woman started hanging out with friends, taking her kids out for pizza, and exercising. After two years she was off her medication. After several more years she was still going strong.
Then someone suggested that this young woman should become a therapist. It seemed like a natural thing.
She went to school, blitzed through her credentials, and pretty soon she wasn’t a young woman anymore. She was a white-haired Methodist who talked with people in the upper room.
She doesn’t charge anything. She just wants to help.
“I was you, a long time ago,” said the older woman. “And the meds saved my life. I might have been dead without them.”
“Serious?” said Jeannie.
“As can be.”
Jeannie trusted this woman for some reason. So the next day the woman put Jeannie in touch with a doctor who could prescribe anti-depressant medication. Jeannie filled her script the next week. That was a month ago.
And here’s what Jeannie says about it:
“This COVID crisis about ruined me, but I’m getting healthier, and I’m glad I took my life seriously. Sean, I hope anyone hearing my story can feel less embarrassed about their depression, or whatever it is, and I hope they know it can get better, it really can. ”
Jeannie says she’s glad she made that informal therapy appointment. She’s doubly glad she listened to that older woman.
But of course, Jeannie had to hear the Methodist woman out.
Because that Methodist was her mother.