Last fall was a hard one for me.
I’d just moved across the country and felt isolated and friendless, but struggled with finding the energy to make or keep social commitments. I woke up almost every morning as tired as when I’d gone to sleep, even when I’d slept for eight hours or more. I’d spend days at a time feeling too sick to eat, or else feeling like the effort of procuring food was too much. I couldn’t think of anything that would make myself feel better – the usual suspects sounded unappealing at best.
My job, which required interacting with strangers for much of the day, while maintaining a happy, polite facade, was exhausting; my back frequently ached but not badly enough that I felt like I could get out of duties that were a strain. I could tell that I was exhausting my girlfriend, that she was sometimes frustrated with my refusal to try things she believed (from past experience) would help lift my spirits. But why would I? This was just the way things were, and the way things would be forever. There were several days when the only thing I could think of that I wanted was to stop existing.
I recognized what was happening, of course. I was officially diagnosed with depression when I was 12, and I’ve had my share of depressive episodes (despite managing my symptoms with therapy and medication) since then. I knew, objectively, that this had happened before and I’d come out of it, and that this time around would pass, too.
But one of the insidious things about depression is that arguing with it is, more or less, like trying to fight your own brain. Sometimes it feels like there are two Elises uneasily coexisting: the happy, relatively functional Elise who can think clearly and logically, and the depressed Elise who very firmly believes that everything is terrible and will be terrible forever, there is nothing that can help, she is worthless and a waste of space and a burden on everyone around her.
There’s an Ally Brosh comic that expresses this division very well:
As you might guess, this approach doesn’t work very well at alleviating depression.
The worst thing about depression (other than all the other worst things about depression) is that it’ll convince you it isn’t real. You should be able to deal with this. You’re not really depressed. This is just reality, the real you. Don’t forget you’re here forever. And depression is very convincing.
That depressive episode in fall of 2015 didn’t last, of course. It ended, though I spent almost a month after the worst was over waiting breathlessly for the other shoe to drop. That’s been another part of my experience of depression – a lot of times, I don’t trust happiness. I’ll always be looking over my shoulder, thinking okay, but when are things going to go wrong. It’s an exhausting state of paranoia to live in.
This post is less about any particular angle or particular point than it’s an attempt to talk about an experience. Depression isn’t any one thing, and different people experience it differently. For me, sometimes it feels like there’s a bear living in my head. Sometimes it’s asleep for a while, but then it’ll wake up roaring and go on a rampage for a while – a week, two weeks, a month, two months. Eventually, it’ll subside and go back to sleep, but the scars take longer to heal and I’ll be looking over my shoulder, half expecting it to have been faking, it’s really right behind me. And probably that’s a bear I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.
But maybe I can keep it sleeping longer. I can get better at wrangling it. And at enjoying the times in between, when things are good.
I ran across a song, a couple years ago: Rilo Kiley’s “A Better Son/Daughter”. The lyrics are painfully perfect for dealing with mental illness, but the part that always makes my heart lift is the final verse:
Your ship may be coming in
You’re weak but not giving in
To the cries and the wails of the valley below
To the weak but not giving in. We’ll make it through this.