By Susannah Lewis
My grandmother suffered with depression.
Thing is, she never looked depressed.
She wore a smile when she greeted her customers at the bank. The loud laugh that echoed throughout the First State lobby could also be heard at The Golden Age Center as she served prune juice and light snacks to her feeble friends. It was the same laugh that bounced off the kitchen walls as she ate popcorn and played Rook with her neighbors.
Depressed people weren’t supposed to laugh like that, were they?
And when her only child, my father, passed away, she still didn’t look depressed. She mourned him, of course, but she managed to hold it together.
“She’s so strong,” they all said.
If she hadn’t told me that she suffered with depression, I’d never have known.
I’ve learned to manage my depression episodes the same way. I smile. I laugh. I write a humor blog and crack jokes at every opportunity. I always appear to be a jolly ray of friggin’ sunshine.
But I’ve experienced private moments engulfed in emotion. I’ve sobbed into a makeup-stained hand towel behind the bathroom door as my entire family sleeps. I’ve sat alone in my car in a crowded parking lot and prayed for answers. I’ve escaped the light and the world by closing the drapes and hiding beneath the plush comforter.
I often think of my grandmother in those moments. She wore that smile and that loud laugh in public, but did she have those private moments? Did she cry in the car and pray in a parking lot
A few weeks ago, I parked as far as I could from the Macy’s entrance. Since I’ve started wearing a FitBit, my new goal in life is to walk 10,000 steps each day. I grabbed my purse and headed towards the store, mulling over the list of clothing “necessities,” as the FitBit went to work.
And I saw this lady, in her forties or fifties, sitting in her car, crying. Her head was resting on the steering wheel and she was weeping. I tried not to stare at her as I walked by, but I was so drawn to the raw display of emotion that I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
When I nearly face planted into a moving SUV, I removed my gaze from her sadness. I entered the store and looked at handbags.
But I couldn’t forget about her. What was her struggle?
Had a loved one just died? Was she sick? Had she just caught her husband in bed with his secretary? What was the cause of soaking her steering wheel in tears?
I tried on sunglasses and scarves and linen pants that made my butt look like a pancake, and she remained in my thoughts. I didn’t know her situation, but I prayed for her to be covered in comfort and peace.
I paid for the clothing that I didn’t need (retail therapy for whatever “struggle” I was enduring that day), and I left the store. I was eager to run across the scorching hot pavement to rack up some more steps and see if the lady was still there
Her car was gone.
But she remained in my thoughts.
Was she okay now? Laughing during a Rook game? Writing a humor blog? Smiling at her customers?
Or was she hiding beneath the covers? Crying quietly behind a closed bathroom door?
That’s depression. It’s different for everyone. It can be a constant, hovering cloud of sadness or it can come in scattered thunderstorms. It can linger quietly behind public smiles and explode in private closets and cars.
That stranger sitting in her car was my grandmother. She was me.
She was us all.