Saturday, March 23, 2024

Sad on Sunday... by Liz Flaherty

I don't remember when I wrote this, although the mention of when I stopped smoking makes it about 18 or so years ago. It was hard to write and hard to think about, but I thought it was important. I still think it is, and I've written about it a few times, a few places since I wrote this. Several of us talked and laughed today about what we take to keep ourselves...okay. I laid claim to my little green pill and others spoke of other pills, other methods, dark days and not-so-dark ones. 

       Depression wasn’t something I gave a whole lot of thought to.  It was something that happened to other people.  Young mothers who’d just had babies and were overwhelmed by the endless and huge responsibility of it all; middle-aged men who’d lost their jobs and didn’t know where to find new ones; people who’d suffered emotional losses of such magnitude I couldn’t begin to imagine how they felt.  Being on the self-righteous side, I also thought you only really suffered from depression if you gave into it, if you didn’t outrun it with a healthy sense of humor, or if you just wanted people to feel sorry for you.  Average people, people like me, didn’t get depressed.

          A little over four years ago, I stopped smoking.  Aside from being self-righteous, I’m also an unmitigated coward, so I did it with medication.  I didn’t care; it worked, and the side-effects of the medication were minimal.  I’d always said that if I didn’t smoke, I’d weigh 200 pounds--not a good thing if you’re short and small-boned, which I am--and I’d suck down antidepressants like they were candy.  I was joking, okay?  Just kidding.  Really.


          I don’t weigh 200 pounds, (2024--my weight goes up and down like a yoyo; this has never changed) but I did gain 35 in the year after I stopped smoking, and it’s still there--I’ve discovered that chocolate chip cookies are a great replacement for nicotine.  But the other thing that happened in that year was that I found out depression really does strike average people.  To borrow a term I’ve heard often in the past three years, I hit the wall.

          Since I’m one of those people who always have the symptoms described in articles about diseases (it’s amazing I’ve lived this long!), it was no surprise that I had several of the indicators of clinical depression.  You know what they are.  You’ve read them in the doctor’s office while you’re waiting or at Walmart or Kroger while you’re taking your blood pressure.  You’ve read them and thought, “Hmm...” because you had a couple of them.  Sometimes.  But then they went away, so you were okay.

          But what happens when they don’t go away?  What do you do when you were sad on Sunday afternoon and you’re still sad at bedtime on Thursday?  When you’re so tired you can barely get through the day but you’re sleeping way too much?  Or you can’t get through it because you’re hardly sleeping at all?  When nothing’s fun anymore?  When you can’t see an end to feeling hopeless?  When, even though you’d never consider suicide yourself--oh, of course, you wouldn’t--you understand people who do?

          When I hit that wall, I was one of the lucky ones in that I never for one moment thought suicide was an answer.  I was seldom sleepless, never slept too much, still had fun.  Sometimes.  But working an eight-hour day wore me out to the point that I never really wanted to get off the couch after I got home.  I looked around at my husband and kids and grandkids--even them--and was bewildered because, Good Lord have mercy, how could I possibly be unhappy?

          But I was.  Oh, I was.

          I didn’t really want to start smoking again, but I knew I’d be happier if I did.  What was worse--to die of lung cancer or of depression?  “I don’t know what to do,” I told my doctor.  “Maybe I need to smoke again.  Just some, you know, not a lot.”

          “No,” he said.  “No.  I know what to do.”

          So he gave me a prescription and talked to me a long time about clinical depression.  “You’ll be fine,” he promised.  “Maybe six months, maybe longer.  But you’ll be fine.”

          I hated taking Zoloft.  Zoloft was for weak people, people who gave in to being sorry for themselves, people who wanted others to feel sorry for them.  I’d try it for a little while, but it wasn’t going to work, not on me, Mrs. Average.  I hated it.  

          But it wasn’t really so bad.  Maybe six months.  That should get me over the hump, and maybe I wouldn’t start smoking again.  I could always blame the 35 pounds on it.  You know, I couldn’t lose weight because I was “on medication.”  No one had to know I was a spineless wuss who was taking antidepressants. 

          Six months became two years.  Not that it took me that long to feel better--that’s how long it was before I got the courage up to stop taking the Zoloft.  I was so afraid to stop.  What if I feel that way again? I thought.  I would surely die from it.  But stopping was painless, and the depression is only a memory.  But it’s a memory that can make me miserable in a heartbeat, make me question myself if, just once, I happen to be sad on Sunday afternoon.

          But I am all right, I remind myself, because by Thursday night at bedtime, I have forgotten the sadness.  I feel good.  No, better than good; I feel wonderful.  I haven’t smoked for four years and one month.  And I will never, ever take any of it for granted again.  It is a gift.


    It is indeed a gift. But several years into my time without Zoloft, things happened--or didn't--that I had trouble dealing with. I still never thought of suicide, still slept okay, still laughed and enjoyed life. Most of the time. But sometimes--too many times--I was sad on Sunday and still sad on Thursday. 

    "They call it the leveler," someone told me about my little green pill, and that's what it does for me. I know people who need more than I do, people who don't need any help at all, and others who are like me. 

    I thought of this last week when I was listening to the audio version of Kristin Hannah's The Women. She wrote about the pills that in the 1960s and beyond were called "mother's little helper" that drove countless women into addiction. 

    I'd forgotten all about them, but they were what I feared. Unlike hard drugs or the opioids of today, they were hidden under a cloak of innocence. I feared that pseudo-innocence and I looked down on people who'd gone down the rabbit hole of addiction because...well, I don't have an excuse, because I should know better than to look down on anyone. 

    Because had I needed help then, who's to say I wouldn't have been one of them? 

    I don't know what I should say here. I don't want anyone to take anything they don't have to, to keep taking it when they don't need it, to use it as an excuse for bad behavior instead of a crutch to help you. I know crutch isn't an acceptable term, but when you are broken, sometimes you need help with the healing. You need a crutch.

    Be blessed this week. If you need help, ask for it. If someone needs to talk, listen. Be nice to somebody. 



  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Liz. Depression is a health condition as valid as diabetes or GERD and should never be stigmatized. Many, many people struggle with it. Also, congratulations on having given up smoking! I've never smoked, but I'm aware of how difficult it is to quit. And you did it!

    1. Thanks, Kim. I learned a lot in the process of quitting. I doubt I'll ever forgive myself for raising my kids in smoke, but I'm grateful to have finally stopped when I did.

  2. I'm so happy that the stigma has been reduced when we speak of mental health. And I have long advocated for having a primary-care therapist similar to a primary-care physician. We all need one every once in a while.

    1. We do, don't we? Like you, I'm so glad the stigma has been reduced. Thanks, Roseann!

  3. The most important thing is to reach out for help whether it's depression, sadness, smoking, addiction or obesity. We don't have to face it alone. We aren't the first to be in this place, we aren't the last. Reach out. Don't worry. You are loved!

    1. You're right. The most important and one of the hardest! Thank you so much.

  4. Glad you got the help you needed when you needed it. It's hard to admit we need help, no matter what the problem is. At least, I know it's hard for me to admit I can't do it myself. But sometimes, no matter what we do, it's not enough. Glad you took action and moved forward.
    (Judi Lynn)

    1. I'm glad, too--I am one of the very lucky ones. Thanks Judy!

  5. You are correct, a person should never be made to felt less because of a chemical imbalance in their brain. And some of the strongest people I know are people with depression. They are constantly fighting a battle, and sometimes just getting out of bed is a tremendous victory for them.