I think I was thirteen when I realized, for the first time, that, like, emotions are, like, totally like a roller coaster. I think it took me a couple years to realize that my epiphany really wasn't one and that teenagers has been saying that for years.
Imagine my surprise when, ten years later, as I was sitting and rocking my second baby in my arms, a therapist (the one I didn't like) said to me "You know, I always like to tell people that emotions are like a roller coaster." She had pursed her lips in a thoughtful way and knitted her brows a bit as she said this so I could tell she was serious. I managed not to laugh. As she continued I was surprised to find she did have something to add to the cliche.
What she pointed out was that our emotions take us for a ride and, just like on an amusement park ride, you can't get off once they've really got going. One of the keys to understanding our emotions is to notice them when they are just revving up and get off the ride before we end up doing more loop-de-loops than we care to count. After all, the park attendant will probably let you off if the ride has only gone a few feet. But there's no getting off once you're to the top of that first big hill.
I ended up liking the roller coaster analogy and have spent a lot of time mulling it over--especially in relation to my depression. So here's my twist on the tired cliche: depression is like a slow motion roller coaster.
Take my last couple weeks as an example. There was a really interesting discussion going on at A Motley Vision and LDS Publisher about publishing LDS poetry. It got me all fired up and I started throwing together a business plan for getting LDS poetry back on the LDS literature map. But then the baby got an ear infection, the two year decided it was time to potty train, the four year old had three panic attacks in two days, I got asked to sub for Primary last minute, and it randomly snowed. I guess I was riding a bit high on my poetic excitement, but I assumed the momentum would carry me out to a great business proposal. Unfortunately, my ambitions got derailed and each setback knocked me further down from my high. The thing is, though, I didn't realize it until I found myself screaming at my two year old for asking to eat breakfast on the floor.
Looking back, that morning was classic depression for me. I had to pray for the strength to get out of bed. I had to pray for patience while nursing the baby. I didn't want to give the kids their good morning hugs and I had to keep shushing them because so many negative thoughts were flying around my head their little voices just made everything too loud. (According to my cacophonous depressed brain I am so stupid, fat, lazy, mean, and stiffnecked that there is no hope for me and I should just give up.) Given what was going on inside me it was no wonder that I lost it. But I was completely surprised because I hadn't noticed what was going on inside. I had known I was stressed and not sleeping enough, but I hadn't realized how each thing was adding up and pushing me further and further down the roller coaster track. And that is how depression is like a slow motion roller coaster. It is so sneaky that you don't realize you're about to be hanging upside down until you already are.
Of course, on a slow motion roller coaster it also takes a long time to get right side up again. The baby is still sick, the two year old is still potty training, the four year old is still brittle and I am still on edge. I think I have spent more time in "time out" for my poor behavior than the kids have! Which I think they secretly like because then they get to watch more TV. On the plus side, I have been able to bite my tongue a couple times and I even rallied to get some yard work done today. I'm still feeling a little lopsided, but I don't think I'm absolutely upside down anymore. (I have to give credit to my husband for a lot of this. He did the dishes and made sure I got a nap on Sunday!) I guess it really doesn't matter where I am though. I just have to keep repeating the mother's mantra: This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass. . .and before I know it I'll realize the ride is over. For this time anyway.