Chapter 4 - Depression

It was the Monday following the conference, as well as Joan's first day back at the office. After calling in sick on Friday and taking the weekend to get her shit together, Joan had finally felt ready to return to work.

She hadn't slept the night before, but she had used the time to go for a swim in the Bay. She was going to make the most of Charlie being gone. She was going to be better; not for Charlie but for herself. She owed it to herself not to wallow.

So she had spent her weekend of getting back on track working on a new regime with her personal trainer. She had met with her life coach over Zoom to discuss how she took her life forward without Charlie.

The solution was simple: More pilates. More cardio. More swimming in the Bay. More time on the treadmill. More energy into her work. More time doing online classes. More time spent manifesting her own dreams for the future. More travel. More protein. Less carbs. Less sleep. Less alcohol. Less thinking about things that didn't matter.

Less thinking about Charlie. Less wishing he would come home. Less thinking about all the years he made her feel like she was nothing. Less thinking about all the times they fought. Less wishing he would love her the way she wanted to be loved.

And she was trying, she really was.

So why was there such a dark cloud hanging over her head?

"Oh hey, Joan," Zoey greeted her, bringing her out of her thoughts. "How's it going?"

Joan's eyes were redirected from their loving gaze towards the baskets upon baskets of bread and croissants to her colleague's concerned blue eyes. She fought the urge to grab a cheese twist, instead taking a steady sip of her espresso. Coffee was great, but it wasn't bread. God, she really missed bread.

"Great, super great," she replied with the most sincere smile she could muster. Zoey looked impressed. Good, maybe pretending to be alright was working just fine for her.

"Does that mean you and Charlie..."

Back together? No. He'd made it very clear that wasn't an option.

On amicable terms? No. Separating after 20 years of marriage didn't leave much room for friendship.

And of course, there was the other woman.

The best she and Charlie could do was to pretend the other didn't exist. She was expecting a call from his lawyer any day now to get the divorce proceedings started, and she knew it wouldn't be long before Charlie came for the rest of his things. Admittedly, she struggled with the thought of Charlie sleeping with young woman and collecting his belongings from the home they had shared for a good chunk of their marriage. But she was helpless for the first time in her life. There was no line of code that was going to sort this out, no amount of makeup sex that could convince her husband to stay.

They were really finished this time, and it hurt more than she had expected.

Joan smiled at her young colleague, "Are basically dead to each other? Yeah."

"Uh, congratulations?"

"This new chapter of my life is all about making healthy choices, and I have never felt better," she continued, Zoey in tow. "I am focused and energised and fully in ketosis."

And also fighting tears most of the time, but Zoey didn't need to know about the dark cloud. Contrary to what the young woman believed, they were nothing more than colleagues. They weren't friends; Joan didn't have those. She was an island.

So, it was enough for Zoey to believe everything was okay. There really wasn't any need for her to know any differently.

Anyway, Zoey had enough going on in her own life without getting absorbed in Joan's shit. This was the worst the dark cloud had ever been, but she could cope on her own. She had done it before and she would do it again.

She had to.

It was only a day later and that dark cloud she noticed yesterday had only grown darker. She hadn't slept at all last night, haunted by a pain in her chest and an overwhelming feeling of dread which consumed her all through the night. The dogs had joined her on the couch (which she didn't normally allow) and had cuddled into her side as she let herself cry again after days of fighting it.

She really hated herself right about now, and she hated Charlie for doing this to her.

That day at work, she had hidden in her office. One night without sleeping too many and the comedown from a night of anxiety and emotions becoming more than she could cope with, she didn't feel like putting up with the team today. Tobin's laziness and cluttered desk, Max's lack of personality and pining over Zoey, Leif's unpleasant and obnoxious aura and Zoey's... concern was all just too much for her. It was bad enough at the best of times, but especially so when she was feeling this way.

It was after only after lunchtime when she started to feel like the walls of her office were closing in on her. In all honesty, she was so tired she didn't even know she had left her office until she found herself walking past the team she had worked so hard to avoid, a photo of her and Charlie in hand like some stupid, lovesick teenager.

One of the interns tried to speak to her about the watch interface, but she could only lift her hand in dismissal of the young man. He seemed pleasant enough, but she wasn't interested right now. She just had to keep moving. She needed so desperately to stop thinking. Work (usually her comfort from difficult thoughts) wasn't even making sense to her today her mind was so fried and for the first time since Charlie had asked for a separation, she wanted to call him and beg him to come back. She missed her husband, she hated sleeping on the couch and she couldn't care less about the watch, her work or her team.

She had to get a grip. This was pitiful, and she was better than this.

Slumping down at the bread bar, she rested her head in her arms for only a moment before she heard someone join her. Looking up, she wasn't surprised to see Zoey's eyes looking back at her. She grabbed the first vegetable that her hands could find in the spread and took a bite, hoping Zoey would have stopped watching her. Alas, her gaze remained fixed, dripping with the same concern she had noticed yesterday.

"Jicama?" she asked, wrapping the root plant in a napkin. She wasn't even hungry enough to pretend, she realised sadly. She used to love food. These days, she could manage little more than a cappuccino.

"Are you sure everything's okay with you? Because I feel like maybe it's not."

Nothing got passed Zoey, huh?

She couldn't even be bothered to fake a smile. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to let the dark cloud rain on her. She'd had enough and she didn't want to be at work. All she could think of was getting home to the dogs and snuggling up with them on the sofa and a bottle of wine.

Gosh, how was it only Monday?

"You know, we should really switch this bread bar out to something else. Fruit bar, nut bar... open bar," Joan said, completely ignoring what Zoey had to say. "Have to look into the legalities of that."

Grabbing a pepper from the table, she smiled weakly and headed back to her office - even more depleted than she knew possible.

Roll on 5PM.

The rest of the week had dragged by, and Joan just didn't see the point anymore. If she had enough vacation days left, she might have taken the rest of the week to wallow. Unfortunately she only had 10 days left for the rest of the year and she'd rather go on her vacation to Hawaii in a few months than spend the rest of the week crying over a glass of wine.

So she turned up for work, kept interactions with her subordinates to a minimum and prayed the weekend might arrive a little quicker.

She could only dream of being so lucky.

It was the weekend she had been dreaming of, however, when she finally let the dark cloud rain.

Waking up on Sunday was when she knew she couldn't go on like this anymore. She needed to be pathetic and to bask in her own misery for a while. Time to lash out, to sob and sob until there were no tears left. It wasn't like her to be so open to her emotions but she didn't know who she was anymore, so what was the harm? She wasn't a huge drinker but in the past week or so, she had drank more than she had in the time since Charlie had warned her never to drink too much again.

So on Sunday, she decided to let herself cry.

She lay on the sofa until later afternoon, only moving from her position to make sure the dogs were fed and let out, and to make herself some coffee. She was adorned in her comfiest clothes and watched the worst movies she could acquire on Netflix. The desire to eat had not yet returned, but at one point she found that the tears had stopped and she felt like that was progress; at least for now.

Tom Ford and Hermes lay by her side, enjoying a deep sleep she was sure she herself would never be able to acquire. Watching their chests rise and fall, Joan couldn't help but smile at the little creatures she had once had to convince Charlie they needed in their home. First Tom Ford, her German shepherd, then Hermes. Even her husband, the cold and seemingly uncaring bastard had loved those dogs. Or at least, he had respected how much Joan had loved them.

But it was on Sunday she realised she wasn't entirely alone, too.

It was at the time she was thinking about ordering a pizza, when the had doorbell sounded and the previously sleeping dogs were up and by the door, barking excitedly at the prospect of less melancholy company, she presumed. She'd consumed considerable energy in moving from her cosy spot on the sofa and to the door, worn from hours of crying and sedentary activity. But upon opening the door, she was momentarily confused to see there was no one behind it, only a small box.

"Tom Ford! Hermes! Come here. Let's see who's there."

A cake. Who the fuck would put a cake on her door? Was it some kind of joke? What a weird joke. On closer inspection, she noticed a blue sticky note reading:

On the 7th day, God rested and ate carbs. Xo, Zoey.

And for the first time in a long time, she laughed. Not a guffaw by any means. But a small, sincere little chuckle.

It was a start.