It’s the text at three in the morning, “What’s wrong.” And you don’t have a proper answer to it.
It’s the phone call late at night as you hold back tears.
It’s standing in a crowd and you’re overcome with this wave of loneliness so you reach for another cigarette, trying to feel better.
It’s the over thinking and anxiety that keeps you tossing and turning.
Depression has been my shadow for as long as I can remember. Always there, always present, always waiting to kick me when I am down. I have, for the most part, hidden my depression and the sickening thoughts that accompany it.
There have been days that I have fallen so deeply into the darkness of this feeling that I couldn’t make myself walk to the kitchen for something to eat. I have stayed in bed for days at a time, laying there, alternating between sleeping and staring at the ceiling in silence.
At first, I’d try to explain that it’s not really negativity or sadness anymore, it’s more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can’t feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you’re horribly bored and lonely, but since you’ve lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you’re stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.
Anhedonia is real, it is not something that can easily be shaken. It is the self loathing that wakes us at 2 a.m. and the voice that whispers “you are nothing to anyone”, as we lay in bed wishing we could sleep. It is the 10 a.m. cigarette that we need, to lower the volume of our self doubts. It is sitting on the bathroom floor because you feel too sick to move but you knowing that you can’t possibly have anything to vomit because you really haven’t eaten anything in days.
I don’t think it happened over night — but at some point I suddenly realised that everything had become impossible. For a period of time I hadn’t felt any emotions at all, and spent a large amount of my time feeling as if I wasn’t in my own body but just spectating. I was simply existing — if you can even call it that. I would walk around, do what was needed or expected of me, then crawl back into my bed until my next obligation. Eventually, I stopped getting out of bed.
After said period of feeling nothing, I then started to feel all of the emotions. Sad ones.
I liken those days to trying to climb out of a well that keeps getting deeper, until eventually you can’t see any light at the top.
I started to lose myself.
When I did make it outside into the world, I occasionally got so overwhelmed by life that I would just break down, unable to move, regardless of where I was or what I was trying to do.
However, I also realised first hand how much stigma (and ignorance) exists around mental health. I faced phrases such as:
“pull yourself together”,
“think of all the people in the world who have it much worse than you”,
“people are dying”,
“just cheer up” (four examples from a multitude of problematic ‘advice’ that many people living with depression hear).
I can’t speak for others in my position but regardless of intention, phrases like these made me feel worse.
I would blame myself for feeling the way I felt, convince myself I was ‘just being silly’, and berate myself for being unable to be a ‘normal’ human being — the uphill climb towards recovery would become even steeper. I found these attitudes pretty difficult to cope with at the time, and have come to realise that ultimately these responses reflect a wider issue in society that needs to be addressed. A worryingly large proportion of people just don’t know what to say. Even worse, some people judge you for it.
Depression is Humiliating
It turns intelligent, kind people into zombies who can’t tie their shoes or change their socks. It affects the ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your lifelong passions, your relative good fortune.
It scoops out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable sludge that finds no pleasure, no delight, no point in anything.
You alienate your friends because you can’t comfort yourself socially, you risk your job because you can’t concentrate, you live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone go outside and enjoy.
You become pathetic and you know it.
And you have no capacity to stop the downward plunge. You have no perspective, no emotional reserves, no faith that it will get better. So you feel guilty and ashamed of your inability to deal with life like a regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over an averagely turbulent normal life.
It’s not an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world.
It’s an incapacity to function. At all.
No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It runs in families, it ruins families. You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a therapy appointment, to pay bills, to laugh at jokes, to return library books on time, to keep enough tissues in hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself.
Depression is real. Compassion is also real. And a depressed person may cling desperately to it until they are out of the woods and they may remember your compassion for the rest of their lives as a force greater than their depression.
People tend to think when you say you are depressed, you are just being a sad privileged prick, sometimes I wish that were true, it kind of has a quick solution that way, just find a source of joy and be less of a prick, right?
Sadly, depression is not sadness, it is a lack of vitality and intense apathy towards almost everything, if you are lucky, if not, towards everything and I mean everything.
Some just can’t wrap their heads around how everything in your life seems to be working just fine and you claim to feel depressed, how ungrateful can you be?
I have always had a hard time describing what I feel when I am depressed, someone once told me that if she had my life, she’d be one of the happiest people in the world, I tried explaining to her that I wasn’t sad, I just didn’t care.
I didn’t care that she had bright eyes or that the morning was quite chilly, that the birds actually did sing that morning or one of my favorite songs was on repeat on my phone. I just wanted to curl up and maybe scream a bit, just scream.
It’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen.
From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are…
But people want to help. So they try harder to make you feel hopeful and positive about the situation. You explain it again, hoping they’ll try a less hope-centric approach, but re-explaining your total inability to experience joy inevitably sounds kind of negative; like maybe you WANT to be depressed.
The positivity starts coming out in a spray — a giant, desperate happiness sprinkler pointed directly at your face. And it keeps going like that until you’re having this weird argument where you’re trying to convince the person that you are far too hopeless for hope just so they’ll give up on their optimism crusade and let you go back to feeling bored and lonely by yourself.
And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope.
It isn’t even something . It’s nothing.
And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it.
It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything.
That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.
— Hyperbole and a Half, pp 127–132.
Yeah, if you want to read more, buy the book from Amazon.
Depression is a lot of things I really cannot explain, one thing I know it isn’t and the author was kind enough to point out is “sadness”.
When someone tells you he/she is feeling depressed, believe me, the last thing they want is “attention” or your sympathy. Some tag it as a cry for help, half the time I tell people I am feeling depressed, I just want them to leave me alone, I am not calling for help, maybe I do lack the power to feel panicked enough to.
A few months ago, I slowly began to talk about it, to share my writing about it. Most days, I share my experiences so that perhaps mine will help someone who is going through the same things, to know that they are not alone in this battle.
I don’t know why I’m writing this. I guess I just had to come some things off my chest. I want more people to understand. I want people to be more supportive of their fellow person.
If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why.
It isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through.