TL:DR version (because this one’s mighty long): I recently finished with a bad battle against my depression. I wrote about depression while battling depression to share with you so you might be able to better understand depression. Ultimately: Depression Sucks.
After-Depression Me: I’ve talked about depression on here a time or two, but never while I’m actually in the midst of a major bout of it. Now, although I was in the midst of one at the time I wrote the majority of this article, I held off on releasing it until I was out the other end, so as to make sure that it wasn’t completely terrible or too dark or whatever.
This isn’t an attempt to garner sympathy for myself. I generally manage my illness well. This is about opening up the discussion about this disease. To give those of you a glimpse into what it feels like on the inside of it. There are many who suffer from this much worse than I do. Many who take fatal action because they can’t cope. My hope with this is to help you not only understand why they might take such action, but also so that those who know their friends/family/neighbors are suffering might have a bit better grasp at what’s going on so they can help them through it.
With the holiday season upon us, a common trigger for many who suffer from this disease, there couldn’t be a more important time to discuss this too regularly un-discussed topic.
Firstly, depression is different for everyone. There really is no one way to describe it. Secondly, I’m lucky to not suffer from an extremely bad or frequent case of it.
What this means is that, although I firmly believe that what I’m about to tell you is a fair approximation of most cases of depression, this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of disease. It’s an incredibly personal one. And one which takes a great deal of effort to even express. By that, I mean that the below doesn’t even truly do what I’m going through at the moment justice.
The first matter of business here is to highlight how this is 100% a disease. It’s not just purely moping around about something not going your way. It’s not being sad about something sad that happened. It’s an irrational outburst of emotions which may or may not have been triggered by something happening to the person.
It’s a complete and utter breakdown of your brain’s ability to think through items rationally.
It’s an emotional disorder.
To use a metaphor: Depression is like when you have a cold and can’t stop coughing. Except, instead of coughing, you’re crying (although maybe not on the outside).
This metaphor is useful for another reason. You see, just like slapping a person who won’t stop coughing and telling them to “get over it” won’t have any positive effect on that person, neither will it on the person suffering from depression.
Another important item to consider right off the bat is that depression is not about any specific thought or event in a person’s life. Again, these things could be the trigger to a bout of depression, but that’s not what it’s about. They will most definitely be things which repeat endlessly inside their head while deep in the depths of their depression, but that’s not what it’s about.
It’s about an overwhelming emotion. An emotion unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. An emotion not well-described by saying they’re sad or mad. It’s completely different. If anything, the best word to describe it is despair.
And because I don’t think words alone could ever truly do this disease justice, I’m going to use another metaphor. A scene from Silence of the Lambs.
Although the movie tends to focus primarily on the relationship between the characters played by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, there’s a guy named Buffalo Bill who brings these two together. He’s a rather terrible human being. Likes to kidnap women, put them in a hole in the ground in his basement, and have them lather themselves with lotion for an indetermined period of time until he finally skins them and makes their skin into things like lamp shades.
Depression is like being that girl at the bottom of the pit. Except, she’s moved past the fear. She’s given up hope. She’s accepted her fate. She knows there is no good left for her in her life. All that’s left is Buffalo Bill and his damned lotion.
Depression hits you just like if Buffalo Bill grabbed you off the street and threw you right down into the bottom of that pit and you immediately accepted your fate. One moment you’re just walking down the street happy as a clam and then, BOOM, you see nothing worthwhile left in your life.
You’re in a pit. Alone. And you can’t find any way out.
But here’s where the metaphor breaks down a bit. Because unlike that girl, there are people walking by who could save you all the time. They even see your plight and ask what’s wrong.
Imagine that girl, sitting at the bottom of that pit with Buffalo Bill looking down at her, grinning maniacally while sharpening his knives, having people walk by constantly, asking if there is anything they can do to help, only for her to respond with “Oh, I’m okay. Just a little tired.”
Not only that, but she’s down there folding laundry, doing dishes, creating reports for work, performing brain surgery–she’s going about her daily life as if everything is completely normal. While sitting at the bottom of that pit, completely alone, in utter despair.
If that girl’s really lucky, she may even have some people throw down a rope to her. Try to help her out. She’ll turn that down as well. Assuring fully that she doesn’t need the help, that she’s completely fine. She might even get mad at the offer. Although it’s obvious something is wrong, she wants you to know that she’s got it all under control.
That’s depression: Being alone, even when you’re not alone.
And the entire time the girl is down there, she’s saying to herself, “I wish someone would just come along and save me from this pit. I wish there was anyone in my life who cared enough to come along and help. Why do I have to be so alone?”
Because depression’s not rational. It’s emotion. And it’s devastatingly overwhelming.
And now, I’m going to do something that goes against every fiber of my being. I’m going to give you a brief insight into my current situation. Let you get a glimpse at what’s going on in my brain right this very moment. Not because I want to. But because I feel it’s necessary. Because I feel that if more people just understood what depression is, we might be able to find better ways to help those who deal with it on a much more severe basis than I do.
Like I mentioned above, to get into a depressive bout, there is often a trigger. However, a trigger isn’t necessary. It can just as often come about for absolutely no reason.
(After-depression Me: Although I mention a trigger in the following paragraph, the reality is that I was on the slope toward a depressive bout for days leading up to the moment I’m about to describe. My “trigger” was actually much more a product of my depression, not what brought me there.)
For me this time, it was a dream. I woke up from a dream feeling as though my wife were sharing her love with someone else. There was no rational thought behind it. No real reason to believe this to be true. No minor indicators which would have caused me to believe this. I just suddenly woke up with this fear that my wife might leave me.
I knew from the start it was a stupid thought. I attempted to brush it off as such, knowing that whatever had happened in the dream wasn’t a reflection of reality. That my wife had done nothing to cause me to believe this to be true. Nothing to betray my trust. Nothing to even cause me to think she might have. But my brain couldn’t let go of this feeling. The emotion of it.
The emotion of being absolutely alone.
The trigger, for me, was my own damned brain. A random series of images flashing through my REM sleep gave me an emotion. And that emotion stuck.
That day I hid. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t interact. I couldn’t possibly even let my wife know what was going on. Luckily for my need to hide during a depressive bout, my wife was aware of how I had woken up in the middle of the night and just assumed I was tired.
You see, I’m luckier than many. I do have a wife I confide in. She knows about my depression. And although she might not be able to “correct” it, she has gained an ability to identify when I get here.
Unfortunately, depression isn’t rational. It’s savage. There may be thoughts which you find to support the emotional state you’re in, but ultimately, it’s the emotion which feeds those thoughts, not the other way around.
And so, even though she was there, attempting to make me feel loved. I sat alone, separating myself from her and everyone around me, feeling alone.
Just to make that last sentence completely clear, the base emotion of my depressive bouts is that I feel like I am completely alone. Yet, when I get here, my reaction is to separate myself from everyone to make myself actually alone.
I stop talking. I stop doing. I just hide in a corner. Incapable of responding.
After a day or so, the rawness of the emotion began to fade and I became slightly more capable. I gained the ability to pretend everything was okay or at least I was able to do so better than I had at the start. I could talk to people, sorta.
But the emotion still hangs on. It informs my every thought. It impacts my every action.
Just writing this right now is an act of sheer will. I’ve attempted to write this several times over the past few days, only being able to get a few words out before giving up and shutting down once again. (After-Depression Me: This is very true. The attempts were generally only a few sentences long each, very dark, and very very ugly. Luckily for me, I hadn’t saved them at the time, so I don’t need an excuse to not share them with you now.)
Because this is the thing about depression, it completely overtakes you. Consider the maddest you’ve ever been, or the saddest, or even the happiest. Find a moment in your life where you lose complete control of your actions and thoughts because of an emotion. That’s what depression is. Except the emotion is…emptiness.
That no one could ever love you.
It is the strongest and worst emotion I have ever experienced.
And it makes everything else fade to black.
So there you are, sitting at the bottom of a deep pit, feeling as though there is nothing left to live for (I promise I’m not the suicidal type, but the world can appear quite dark from down here). You feel alone. That no one can save you.
And honestly, that can be where you stay indefinitely. Based on my experience, it is possible to just ride out a bout of depression. You can just let it run it’s course. It’s not pretty, but it is possible that it will fade. The problem being, it could take years for that to happen. You can find yourself coming out the other end with an entirely different life than you had when you went in.
You can also get medicated
(After-Depression Me: For the record, this is how I began the climb out, even if I sound somewhat against it in the following paragraph).
Modern medicine can do some amazing things when it comes to helping you get out of the pit. But everything is muted. You get rid of the lows, but you also get rid of the highs. Those things you would latch on to in your darkest moments, the things you would try to remember in order to keep yourself from completely giving in to your depression–you can’t feel them anymore. You just feel “okay”. I’m not saying that medicine isn’t an important tool for anyone who suffers from depression to have in their arsenal. But I am saying that for many, that tool has as many faults as it has strengths.
There is also therapy. Talking to someone about your issues. Someone who has tools at their disposal they can give you to help you strengthen yourself in your battle. I’ve never been strong enough to put myself into the chair and talk about my depression, so I can’t talk about this first-hand. Heck, even this post is unlikely to ever make it to print. However, I do know that for many of my friends with similar issues, they consider it to be a life saver.
But still not the resolution.
In the end, there is no cure to depression. It’s an ongoing battle. And the only way you can come out on top is to decide you no longer want to allow the depression to win. This is not in any way an easy prospect. Because when you’re at the bottom of that hole, all you see is Buffalo Bill. He’s your only option.
(After-Depression Me: I just want to note how amazingly hopeful I got in the following paragraphs. Attempting to psyche myself up, apparently. It took several days after this was written before I was, in any way, on the road to recovery. And that was only due to medication.)
Yet, you have to choose to fight. To climb out of the deep deep pit. To struggle against the demons which plague you. To use every ounce of willpower at your disposal to lift yourself up and find the light.
It’s not easy. And you’ll falter along the way. And every step of the way your depression will tell you it’s not worth it. And the worst part about it all is that since you feel so absolutely alone, you don’t even know how to ask for the help to get out.
But it’s possible.
Those who suffer from depression don’t like to talk about it because it feels like a weakness. Like an enormous vulnerability. Yet the effort required to get yourself out of that pit is immeasurably large. It’s fighting against every impulse of your brain to say that you want to survive. To say that you want to continue. To say that you WANT to believe you aren’t alone.
While irrationally certain none of that is possible for you.
And even if you find your way out and get back to normalcy, that pit is still there. In the back of your mind. Threatening to pull you in once again. Beckoning you to come back to where you belong.
Depression is a constant battle against yourself to say that you ARE worthy. To say that whether or not other people love you, you love yourself. To choose to be strong when you are most weak. To choose to win.
Light vs. Dark. Good vs. Evil. It’s an eternal internal struggle. And the only reason to keep fighting is because of how terrible it is when you allow yourself to lose any single battle.
I hate the pit.
I never want to be back here again.
And I will not put the lotion on the f*cking skin.
But unfortunately, I’m not out yet.
I’m not okay.
But, if you ask me…I’ll tell you I am.
(After-Depression Me: My thoughts on the above: I was obviously holding back. Also, since I couldn’t write this during the early days, due to a complete and utter inability to exist, you definitely aren’t getting the full effect of what this can be on the brain. The moment I wrote this was actually one of the better periods of time during the week I allowed myself to struggle. From there I went into an even darker place, went back to hiding, spent a weekend just trying to not see or talk to anyone. As a father of three kids, however, that wasn’t really possible.
The important thing to take from this incredibly long post is this: Depression eats away at you, it envelops your entire being. Although you may be able to go through your daily routine, the world hides behind a hazy curtain of insecurity and/or self-loathing.
I’m not suicidal when I get like this, but that’s purely because of years of managing my disease. When you get into that state of utter despair, it is all too easy to just want to end it. To just make the feeling go away. To never have to be that way again.
But then, oddly enough, when you get out, the memory of the time in the pit fades–allowing you to forget how much you never want to allow yourself to get there again.
Bottom line: Hug everyone. Every day. If they’re in a depressive bout, it very well might make them feel loved. If it doesn’t, it could at least cause them to part the curtain for a second to figure out what the heck just happened.
Addendum to the Bottom Line: You should really probably only do this to people who you know don’t have issues with hugging…you know, like friends or family or whatever. Consensual hugging is what I’m promoting here, folks. Although I heartily wish I could just tell you to go out hugging without abandon, there are definitely those for which this could have an opposite effect.
Reminder, the above article was written in the past. If you feel the need to ship sympathy my way, can I suggest, instead, you find a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and just shoot them a message of love? You never know. It could save their life.)