About five months ago, I wrote a post on Facebook (and on this blog) about my experience with depression and how I came to receive treatment for it. I remember feeling very triumphant as I wrote it, because I felt like my difficulties were finally over.
This turned out to not exactly be the case.
In January, perhaps precipitated by some unfortunate personal circumstances, I relapsed and have been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to recover ever since. The months since then have been filled with a lot of self-loathing, many random bouts of crying (daily at times), and much speculation on my part as to whether or not I really belong in this world.
This is when I realized that my problems, whatever they may be, don’t simply go away when I’m not depressed. I don’t “invent” the issues that I’m unhappy about. But being healthy makes it easier to ignore the pain in the back of my mind–all the wasted opportunities, lost friends, and scarring memories that have built up over the years like dust on a windowpane. When I’m healthy, I simply don’t think about it, and consequently I’m happier. But the mockery that I’ve made of my life isn’t a figment of my imagination; it’s quite real.
I also started to realize, perhaps even more than I did when I wrote that post, how little the healthy world knows about depression. Mental illness is truly the last taboo; many people refuse to even consider dating someone who has it. Kinda makes me reconsider being so open about my experience…
Even people who would otherwise be supportive just don’t know enough. For instance, if you know your friend is a diabetic, would you offer her a piece of cake? Probably not. But would you casually make fun of your depressed friend? Unfortunately, many people would, even though teasing and jokes are things that many depressives have a lot of trouble with. (This is because depression often causes a cognitive deficit that makes people take everything–a snappy tone of voice, an odd glance, a sarcastic remark–very personally. Here’s a great guide to cognitive distortions.) I am always analyzing and picking apart things that people say to me to try to figure out if they were just teasing or not. I am terrified of the threat of rejection that these casual utterances may carry, so I am always alert, always on my best behavior.
Another thing I’m never sure of is which parts of me are depression and which are simply me. I’m a skeptic, a cynic, and generally not too big a fan of things that most people seem to really like (Exhibit A: this). I don’t fit in with my surroundings in many ways. I’m more complex, polite, caring, respectful, quiet, conscientious, serious, passionate, emotional, and sensitive than most. I’m less assertive, flaky, impulsive, cheerful, “chill,” and casual than most. This makes for a great number of personality differences between myself and most people I know. When I’m not feeling depressed, these differences fade into the back of my mind. But when I am, they come right to the front, putting up a wall between me and the rest of the world, making me feel like I’ll be an outcast for life.
One more realization–Northwestern might be the worst place in the world to be depressed. (Not that there’s really a good place for that, except perhaps the psychiatric ward of a hospital.) It’s isolating, stressful, and miserably cold from October till May. Your peers churn industriously around you like a hive of North Face-clad bumblebees while you vegetate listlessly in your shitty shoebox room and email professors, friends, student group leaders one by one and tell them that you’ve been ill and cannot come to whatever crap you’re supposed to be at that day. You eat Nutella from the jar and wonder why none of your friends care. You wonder why you expect them to care. You sleep, a lot.
Northwestern also happens to have entirely inadequate mental health services, but that’s a topic for another post. My friends and I are working to change that. But for now, this is a really, really unfortunate place to be depressed.
And that’s it, really. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now, but hopefully it’s somewhere good.
Hang in there. Both my parents committed suicide so I’ve dealt with depression in my family.
Both my husband and I have suffered situational depression – i.e. brought on by circumstance. We have both survived, but it takes work and support – the right support.
I hoep you find a good mental heal practitioner as soon as possible.
I’m really sorry to hear about your parents. My family is actually one of the few things that keeps me going and reminds me that giving up is not an option–their lives would be shattered if I took my own. Thank you for your support.
Sorry to hear you’re going through a bad patch. My depression began to subside about two years ago, after some counselling, but it returned earlier this year, seemingly as a side-effect of a bad virus I had (apparently that can happen). I’m feeling much better now, but having it come back reminded me how much power it can have over me. I’ve also experienced insensitivity from friends, so I really know where you’re coming from. I hope it doesn’t stick around too long! Just remember, this too shall pass.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Glad to know you’re feeling better. Incidentally, “this too shall pass” is my login to my laptop–typing it every time I use my computer reminds me that it’s true.
Hello. I’ve wandered in here from a completely DIFFERENT portion of the internet at god-knows-what-hour and wanted to say one thing:
I might not have had is as horrible as your experience sounds, but I know what it’s like to not be in control of your mind and your life. But you OWN it and are willing to stare at it unflinchingly and tilt at it with every weapon in your arsenal. It took me YEARS to realize or consider that. You are brave and wiser than I.
Thank you, that really means a lot to me. I hope you’re doing better, too.