Week 10 Maple Embrace

The more people I meet, the more I realize how common depression is. It’s a sad truth and a comforting reminder that we’re not alone. Friends who understand have saved me more than once from slipping and burrowing myself away into a world of seclusion. Before I was out in the open with my own struggle with depression, before I even knew what to call what it was that sank so many of my loved ones into a place I couldn’t reach them, I was alone in it. The nature of depression is to make you feel alone, to make you feel that your life is the worst and your pain is the strongest. It’s a beast that rears its head and tries to coax you into believing that nothing good will come again and that the fog of numbness you’re lost in is your life.

When I vocalized my pain and realized I wasn’t alone there was a rush of freedom that directly led to my healing. I think that fear and shame keeps people from admitting to it, it kept me, and only adds to the weight that pulls them down.

There are many bloggers and writers who are actively making the depression conversation less taboo and because it’s something that’s close to my heart, it’s something I intend to write about more. I’ve watched those that I love most struggle with it all of my life and the battle beats on and continues to wreak havoc but I’ll wait knowing that words do so little against a beast so great and while I’m waiting I’ll hope and love and bleed words.



Maple Embrace

Every morning when she woke up she told herself to go through the motions, get dressed, brush your teeth, brush your hair, put on make up. She reminded herself to eat, to kiss her children and hug them and look them in the eyes when she told them that she loved them. Some days it proved to be too much. In between breakfast and good morning hugs she’d find herself pressed against the closed bathroom door, trying to sob without making a sound until small knuckles rapped on the other side.

“Can we have chocolate milk?”

She would lift her head and wipe her face before answering, she would breathe in and out and then say yes or no depending on what she’d given them for breakfast. That morning she was on the bathroom floor before daylight while pancake crumbs mixed with globs of syrup covered the breakfast table and her three children danced to Beyonce.

When the familiar knock came she wiped her eyes before her oldest, standing on the other side of the door half dressed and covered in syrup could ask his question. “Yes,” she said, “You can have chocolate milk. I’ll be right out to pour it for you.”

There was no answer. She heard eight year old feel shuffle then a voice that almost sounded like her husband’s said, “Oh, ok,” there was a long pause before he finished, “I was just wondering what you’re doing in there.”

When had Alex grown up, she wondered. Her husband had asked her the same question at least a thousand times in the 10 years since they’d been married.

“Just going to the bathroom” she tried to sound light.

“On the floor?”

She stood and unlocked the door, trying to smile and hoping that she looked tired and not like she’d been doing what she’d been doing.

“Sorry sugar.” She said then reminded him to put on a shirt when he ate.

Alex moved in for a hug and she wrapped her arms around him, wondering again when he’d gotten so old and how she’d ever be able to bear watching him become a man and leave home. She hugged him tight and marveled at the fact that she no longer had to will herself to hold him. When he was a baby, her first, she reminded herself to love on him. She had to tell herself to kiss his head and pull him onto her lap when he fell. She forced the feeling of annoyance away from her face and when she hadn’t noticed, it faded from her heart until he stood before her at 8 and she genuinely felt the desire to show him affection.

She’d loved him with all that she was from the moment the doctor put him in her arms and the world around had faded away, she cherished him above all others and herself but she wasn’t versed in the art of love.

Like a rabbit, caged but never touched, she felt so strongly what she couldn’t show.

She could love her husband at night, in the dark when dreams creeped in from loose slats in the floorboards, when life was more than an arms reach away and she was nearly someone else. She could do that, and had always been able to, but their hands were never entwined on long road trips, she couldn’t let him hold her when she was sad or kiss her at the end of a long day. When he tried her skin crawled and her lungs hurt from the effort of holding in screams of pain so he’d stopped trying and again she was a caged rabbit, untouched and loved from the other side of barbed wire.

When she was pregnant she feared the life that grew inside her, the rumble of flesh and bone that promised to change everything and feared it more because she knew it wouldn’t.

“I’ll love him.” She promised the emptiness of the air on nights she couldn’t sleep.

Wake up, get dressed, brush your teeth, love your children, she told her ceiling every morning, and she did and she had.

It didn’t fill the emptiness inside her, the love she learned because of a boy covered in syrup, the darkness that sank her to the dirty bathroom floor still lingered and would take her again but she felt power in that maple embrace and released Alex from it with a kiss on his head and a reminder about a shirt. He nodded and smiled and yelled into the other room that his brother had better leave his legos alone then ran down the hall. She shut the bathroom door behind her and followed him to wipe up syrup and pancakes and to kiss sticky faces good morning.


Callie Armstrong © 2014


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh well, I think this just about hits a nail squarely on the head. Your words are beautiful and a little too close to the bone at certain points. You are right: “I think that fear and shame keeps people from admitting to it, it kept me, and only adds to the weight that pulls them down.”

    I was asked by a family member the other day: “What made you depressed.?” It showed a lack of understanding of this illness. Not his fault. Just how it is. But I couldn’t articulate it to him. I couldn’t find the words to talk about it like I can when I write about it. Possibly because I’m feeling better at the moment after months of darkness and saying it out loud sounds ridiculous when you are well. I certainly could never articulate or tell my family how I do exactly the things you write here – Cry alone behind a closed door before painting the smile on and doing those little things which on those very dark days just prove too much.

    “The nature of depression is to make you feel alone, to make you feel that your life is the worst and your pain is the strongest. It’s a beast that rears its head and tries to coax you into believing that nothing good will come again and that the fog of numbness you’re lost in is your life.”
    And how do you explain that when it also has the power to make you feel so utterly useless? At times, when I’m well I can’t think how I ever get down to that place where I can’t see anything good again. Then just as it fogs me, when the fog lifts there is no reason.

    You just live with it, like the woman in your story. You just live knowing “the darkness that sank her to the dirty bathroom floor still lingered and would take her again”

    Bravo for writing so openly and honestly about this and through a beautiful piece of ‘fiction’.

  2. Kristen says:

    This is, as I’ve come to expect, beautifully written. And as I wipe tears away, because I can relate to much of it lately – especially the part about reminding myself to get up and live everyday – I am reminded of how powerful words can be in making us feel not so alone. Thanks, Callie!

  3. Loved this Callie, you paint an accurate representation of how depression affects an individual. Joanne made a good point. People who don’t understand depression always ask, what is it that made you depressed. There are things that make one depressed temporarily, but those with chronic depression will have prolonged episodes for no reason at all.

    Your story is beautiful as always.

  4. I really admire how open you were in your introduction to this story, and I think you’re so right that putting it out there can help others who suffer from depression by making them realize they’re not alone and it’s okay to talk about it. I’ve also seen what depression can do – it’s almost taken some people close to me away – but fortunately with a lot of help, they’ve come through the worst of it and have learned ways to cope and to take action right away when they start to feel themselves going back to that dark place. It’s a constant battle, though. Maple Embrace is truly moving and powerful – you convey what suffering with depression is like so vividly that those of us who haven’t experienced it are able to get a very clear picture of just how awful it feels. And your beautiful way with words made the mother’s struggle all the more poignant – it just breaks my heart to think how many people are suffering through what you’ve described. I liked that there was at least some hope at the end of the story, and I’m so glad you’ve been able to get help and healing. I think the lines you’ve written here, and what you plan to write about this topic in the future, will help others struggling with depression. Amazing just how powerful words can be.

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