I’ve heard depression described as walking towards a sunset. You can see the light ahead of you, but even when you’re basking in the warmth of the light, you’re always aware that the darkness isn’t more than a heartbeat away.
That sounds pretty accurate, but what makes depression so hard for those on the outside ― and even those on the inside ― to understand, is that being depressed and being happy aren’t always mutually exclusive.
People with depression can be happy, sad or funny just like anyone else. And while we’re all aware of the dangerous places depression can go, what no one seems to talk much about is that there’s a kind of psychological purgatory that exists somewhere in between the high points and the end of your rope.
When you’re having a good day, no one can tell you’re depressed because the symptoms aren’t as obvious as we think they should be.
You might not be feeling that miserable “I can’t get out of bed” type of way, but your internal dialogue and view of the world is pretty similar. There’s relief in knowing that you appear normal until one little thing sets you off ― a comment, an obstruction to your routine, maybe nothing specific at all ― and down that slope you go sliding again.
These are the times I sit at my desk at work, feeling panic and claustrophobic with a need to literally go run away from myself. These there are the times when I’m at home on the couch, mindlessly flipping through the same websites, the same channels, feeling nothing but a need to not think.
These are the times when I should reach out, but the world I created is so narrow that I retreat back into my head, to distractions, to exercise to numb out the pain. These actions become habit, the habit then becomes an obsession and from there I’m stuck in a vicious cycle again.
But in some ways, as miserable as you, well, that I, can feel, you get used to it.
Depression doesn’t ask much of you other than to suffer, whereas happiness ― in as much as you can remember it ― simply can’t be trusted. It’s undependable and often fleeting, and while depression saps your energy, happiness is exhausting in a different way.
Even though you know there are people willing to help, you can never tell them everything.
Revealing the plot of your story would give away that tiny shred of control, or the illusion of control, that you so desperately feel that you need just to get by.
Plus, seeing happy people makes you feel as if you have some kind of obligation to get well, and you don’t want to have any obligations or distractions that you don’t invite yourself.
So instead you avoid people when you can so you don’t have to make yourself vulnerable to questions, to wondering if everyone knows that you’re really a big jumbled mess, unable to figure out how to get back to “happy,” or at the very least, back to “content.”
That’s why depression can be such a dangerous thing. You can appear absolutely normal and functional to the outside, but be silently screaming on the inside. And when you’re down, you wonder why you can’t just “be happy” again, and when you’re happy you feel guilty for those times you’re stuck in the dark.
Then there’s the middle ― that psychological purgatory ― neither way up or way down.
These are the times to remember that isolation is a symptom, not a solution, and that flowery language aside, there still are those small shards of light. For me, sometimes it’s sitting outside. Sometimes it’s trying to be funny to people I see. Sometimes it’s getting lost in a book or emailing someone I trust.
Those things can spark the good days.
Of course you have to sift through the muck and the mud, but it helps to just enjoy the good days for what they are and not question why. Life isn’t easy all the time, even to the most well-adjusted individual, and the dark times aren’t a reflection of weakness or selfishness or anything you might tell yourself.
In other words, just because you deal with depression doesn’t mean that you are depression. A bad day/week doesn’t mean a bad life. After all, it’s not sunny every day but we know the clouds won’t last forever.
Enjoy that light when you can.