Years ago I bought a poster of Rosie the Riveter, framed it and hung it above the desk where I write on my front porch. I love Rosie. She is the face of millions of women who rolled up their sleeves and headed to the steel mills, shipyards and factories during World War II.
Rosie nixed the notion that brawn and beauty were incompatible and that women weren't capable of handling a job and a home. Her nails are polished. Her mascara is perfect. Her right arm flexed as she rolls her work shirt over her bicep. A perfectly plucked left eyebrow is raised just enough to say We Can Do It!
Rosie is my hero. She is strong. She is beautiful. She is me.
I believed this until April 25, 2006.
On that day everything I thought I knew about myself shattered. The image of the capable woman so many people had of me - award-winning journalist, single mom, bread winner and baker - sat sobbing on a park bench at 5 a.m. as my puzzled dog watched. I had begun a journey into a hell I did not know existed. A hole so deep and black, I could only focus on ending it. A hell called depression.
I was scared. I was alone. I was human.
I was not Rosie.
I thought I knew about depression. I have friends who have been depressed. I would tell them how badly I felt for them and ask if I could help. Privately I thought, come on, get a grip. Eat some chocolate. Walk on the beach. Put peanut butter on your dog's nose. Go rent Caddyshack, for Chrissake. Lord knows I have known sadness and grief. Death, divorce, illness. But depression - a real major clinical depression - is much, much more than being really, really sad.
Although it is no consolation to those of us who have this disease, we are not alone. There are about 21 million Americans who suffer from depression every year. It is the leading cause of disability in the United States. The economic toll is $83 billion annually.
King David and Job had it. So did Goethe, Tolstoy and Florence Nightingale. Actor Drew Carey. Journalist Mike Wallace. Even the Beaver's brother, Wally Cleaver, had it. It killed Kurt Cobain. Winston Churchill named his depression his "black dog." I call mine my "black hole."
My depression is cunning and baffling. It tries to convince me that I am not sick. It tells me that I'm just not trying hard enough. I am a loser. I am a selfish ingrate. Depression tells me to pull myself up by my bootstraps. Keep trying. I can think my way out of this mess. Look at all I have. I should be happy.
And I should be happy. Hell, I should be ecstatic. I have a wonderful life. My 14-year-old daughter and I have traveled the world. She loves school, has great friends and gets good grades. Her college is already paid for. I have a beautiful home in a trendy neighborhood. I have wonderful friends. I have money in the bank. I can still wear a bikini.
So why was I sitting on a park bench at 5 a.m. on April 25, 2006 wondering how long it would take to kill myself - or if I even could - with a hose hooked up to the exhaust of my Toyota Prius, a hybrid that has almost no lethal emissions?
In hindsight, my depression makes perfect sense. On that day there was a perfect confluence of genetics, grief and chemical imbalance in my brain. I fell into a black hole. I could not get out. I could not hit bottom. I just fell deeper and deeper and deeper.
That day is a blur. I woke up crying. I finally made it to work and as I walked by the security desk I had a feeling that I was not in my body. Someone asked me a question. I couldn't answer. I left. I called a psychiatrist's office. They offered me an appointment the following week. I remember saying: "I need to see someone now."
The nurse asked a lot of questions. Yes, I had thought about suicide. Yes, I had tried to kill myself before, as a teenager. No, I wasn't going to do it. I love my daughter too much and could never leave her. They gave me medicine. I took it. I don't remember the rest of that day, or the next, or the next. They are all a blur.
I remember trying to watch television. It sounded tinny and hurt my ears. The story line of an episode of Law & Order seemed impossibly complex. The memory of an article I had read only moments ago vanished. I bounced between inconsolable and catatonic. I could not focus on the newspaper that had published my stories for nearly 20 years.