Since my birthday, I have been incredibly depressed. If you’ve not read Allie Brosh’s description of depression in “Hyperbole and a Half, then you should go here and read it immediately. She does as good a job as anyone describing what it’s like to live chronically with depression.
I’ve had a hard time over the last couple of years coming to terms with the “d” word. A couple of years ago a therapist I was seeing asked me if I was depressed. I felt like he should know that. Isn’t that why I was seeing him? Looking back I realize that depression is not that simple. Depression for me, and many others isn’t necessarily “sad”. I have a friend who likes to remind me that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s vitality.
So on days when I’m feeling like I have been the last couple of weeks, the smallest things feel like big wins. Getting out of bed? Amazing! Feeding myself? Epic! Going to work? Downright heroic! Every interaction with another human is a herculean feat of strength and endurance. This week, I have slept an incredible amount. And I feel exhausted. I constantly feel like curling up and taking a nap would be a good next step. I have inexplicable body pains. Maybe they’re just bed sores.
I also don’t enjoy much. That’s one of the really frustrating things about depression. Your natural tendency is to do the things that make you happy, in hopes that they will snap you out of your funk. But you begin to build up a resistance to those things you once enjoyed, if you can find the motivation to do them at all. So I spend a lot of time seeking entertainment without actually being entertained.
Depression steals your sense of self worth in really fundamental ways. One of the indicators that my depression is on an upswing is the level to which I am taking care of myself. Well, the level to which I am not taking care of myself. I don’t eat unless other people are around. Who do I think I am eating alone? Like I deserve food or something! I’ve probably been drinking a tad too much. I haven’t been exercising. I have books with daily reading that I do in the morning to get myself focused. I haven’t been doing those. I’m not doing much to improve my financial prospects right now. I have paper work that I need to tend to. My room is a mess.
None of these things are evident to be around me. I invest a lot of time in making other people laugh. As my depression has gotten worse, I’ve become a bit of a class clown at work. It’s actually what allows me to do my job and it’s probably making me better at work. I’m just not taking much very seriously. I post funny things on Facebook. There is a validation in making other people laugh. I feel like shit. You shouldn’t have to. I don’t want people to feel like I feel. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy… I don’t have one of those, by the way. I like to make people happy. Somehow I got it in my head that if people like me I wouldn’t be so depressed. This is, of course, not true. Lots of people like me. Quite a few people love me. That’s not really doing much for me these days. I know intellectually that I am loved. I feel like I’m supposed to “feel” loved…
… and that’s one of the truly devastating things about depression; the numbness. I often feel like I’m supposed to feel a certain emotion. Kitten? Happy! Dead kitten? Sad! Kitten dead from gunshot wound? Righteously indignant about the state of our country’s gun laws! I tend to not actually feel any of those things, but I know my scripts:
“Damn you, kitten-shooting gun nuts! The second amendment was not intended for you to defend yourself from every black cat that stirs up your superstitions! He was just a kitten!”
Numbness is fine at first. Being numb to your sadness or anger, that’s fantastic. Who wants to feel that shit? But when you find yourself feeling indifferent about the things that are supposed to bring you joy and fulfillment? That’s less than ideal. “Numb” sometimes feels like the price of survival. If I let the feels in, when I let the feels in on rare occasion, they threaten to take me over and take me to a dark place I fear from which I will not return.
A therapist I was seeing last year suggested that I try personifying the depression. I didn’t have much luck with that. I’ve been depressed for so long without knowing it, the only face that I can attach to depression is my own. We even have the same first initial. She was trying to help me see the depression as something “other”. I struggle with that. It feels intrinsic. It wasn’t that big a leap from accepting that I am depressed to accepting that depression is me.
Being with the kids snaps me out of my depression. Part of that is that they’re super demanding. They force me outside of myself. They make me sing and dance and play games and cook meals and change diapers and give baths and read books. People will often say that the best way to snap out of depression is to serve others. I think that’s true to a point. It’s a slippery slope from getting over yourself and seeing the needs of others down to “I only have worth if I’m doing something for others”. Depression is a tricky bastard because it can reinterpret even the positive things that you’re doing into self loathing. I’ve had friends who suffered with depression. While I was outwardly sympathetic, I secretly thought of them as selfish. This was during my (self) righteous phase when I was serving God with energy and enthusiasm! It’s funny how a desire to serve can turn into being overwhelmed by the vastness of the world’s problems and being fully aware of how meager your efforts are… which is depressing. I should apologize to those friends. I realize now how much energy they were expending just getting out of bed each morning.
I have some very real factors contributing to my depression: divorce, under-employment, displacement, career disruption, financial insecurity… these things aren’t imagined. Many people have said to me that “anyone would be depressed going through what you are right now”. That’s probably true. But there was a time when I didn’t have these factors in my life and I was still emotionally numb, where I couldn’t recognize the good around me. I don’t think my depression is worse than anyone else’s. In fact, I think it’s pretty mild. But it is real and I can’t pretend that it’s not a factor in my daily living.
“It won’t always be this way”. Friends and therapist alike have used this phrase with me. I believe it to be true and I suppose that’s what keeps me going. Although circumstances will change, my depression will always be there to some degree. The awareness of it is a good start. I’m hoping that soon I will care enough about myself to get back to managing it. Today, all I can do is write about it…
…and maybe take a nap…