I want to share something about me; something I have not told many people. There was a time when I used to go back to bed every morning.
Every morning, when Sophie was in elementary school here in Indiana, I woke up at 6:45 a.m. and got her ready for school. I packed her lunchbox and sat at the kitchen table with her as she ate breakfast. At 7:25 a.m., we walked outside to greet the school bus from our driveway. I smiled and waved goodbye, and Sophie would be on her way.
I work from home as a freelance writer, which means I have the ability to create a schedule with hours I want to work. Every morning after Sophie went to school, I had the intention to make my breakfast and coffee, and settle myself at the computer to start my work day. And I did that for quite some time.
But then, I stopped. And I don’t quite know why or when. What I do remember, however, is in fall 2018, after the bus pulled away, I turned out the kitchen lights, dragged my body (that felt like a ton a bricks) up the stairs, and found myself back in my bedroom. With my two dogs by my side, I crawled under the covers of my bed and went back to sleep.
I’d wake up — sometimes 30 minutes later, sometimes over an hour later — and I felt horrible about myself. I felt groggy, heavy and guilty that I’d wasted those morning hours.
My ex-husband would either be starting an early shift at work, or he had already made his way back to the spare bedroom where he would fall back asleep and stay there for hours (mainly due to his late night work schedule). He never knew I went back to sleep; or if he did, he never said anything. And I didn’t want to tell him either.
Sophie didn’t know her mom went back to bed after the bus picked her up. I didn’t tell friends because they went to work in an office and didn’t have the “luxury” to go back to sleep. Nobody knew. And honestly, I was ashamed I went back to bed every day.
This pattern was a vicious cycle. Every day I told myself, “All you need to do is not go back to bed! You’ll feel better and more productive if you just start working.” Every day, I swore that would be the last time and tomorrow would be different. It never was.
I justified my behavior by telling myself I was not a morning person; I was simply tired because of my Night Owl tendencies and I needed more sleep. Or since I worked for myself, what did it matter if the work started at 8 a.m. or Noon? I wasn’t running with much regularity that early fall because my left leg was in a boot, repairing itself from a stress fracture. As a result, I lost a lot of motivation to leave the house or start the day.
But the truth is — the truth I didn’t even know at the time — it was much deeper than a stress fracture or being a Night Owl. The truth is I was depressed.
During that fall and in the midst of those lonely mornings, I started talking regularly to a friend. We talked about pop culture, life, books and traded songs or articles of interest with each other. These were not earth-shattering conversations or deep confessionals. They were just occasional check-ins, exchanges of words and text messages, sometimes only once or twice a week.
And then one day in late November, I realized something. I wasn’t going back to bed in the morning. I don’t even remember when this happened. I just remember it not happening anymore.
But what I do remember is I looked forward to getting my friend’s messages. Or I wanted to make sure I passed along an article. My friend never knew I went back to bed or asked if I needed help. … I never said, “I need help.” It was only friendship and a few words, but it was that human connection that helped me find some meaning and a reason to look forward to the mornings. And in turn, that meaning helped me not go back to bed.
When it comes to mental health — depression specifically — there are a few phrases that I hear often and are meant to spur action on the part of the suffering soul. Phrases like “Just reach out” or “Just ask for help.”
I know the people saying “Just reach out” only have the best of intentions. But what bothers me about those phrases is life isn’t as “simple” as a phrase or asking for help. Because when you’re depressed and down a dark hole, you’re not always in a place to ask for help or to reach out. Sometimes, people don’t see an “out.” Some people don’t even think they’re worthy of the out. Most people know they’re not “alone.” Nearly every person I know who suffers from depression (including myself at times) has a loving community of family and friends.
Those days when I went back to bed every morning, I needed help. I didn’t know it then, but I did. I was depressed, lonely and sad. It wasn’t until I felt better that I realized I was in a hole.
It took those brief text message exchanges to help me feel like someone cared that I was there; that someone was waiting for me. And if I went back to bed, I wouldn’t get the messages right away. Eventually, I felt stronger and was able to stay awake and get myself help, because I was out from that lonely hole.
So instead of waiting for someone to reach out when they’re feeling alone, send a text to check in. Pick up the phone and call. Talk about television, books, music, sports. … Just show the person that you’re there and you will be there; and that you care to know they exist.
I guess my point is this: It’s not as simple as “just ask for help.” And it’s not easy to just reach out. Because those mornings I went back to bed every day, I didn’t even know I needed help.
Originally published in May 2021