In the middle of Los Angeles, California there is an area called the La Brea Tar Pits, where asphalt and crude oil seep up to form pools on the surface of the ground. There is a museum nearby where one can view the fossilized remains of animals, from beetles to mastodons, that became stuck in the tar forever over thousands of years, with an exhibit where one can experience just how much strength it would take to escape the pit. The pools have an unpleasant smell and appear faintly menacing, a murky brown-black with an insectoid petroleum sheen.
Suffering from major depression feels like sinking into a tar pit.
The simplest, most mundane tasks of daily life seem to require a Herculean effort. I remember standing in the shower one morning, feeling that picking up the shampoo bottle was almost too difficult to bear. The experience of depression for me is less about sadness than it is about weight, a heavy sinking void in the pit of my stomach, a mental sluggishness and blunting of a formerly sharp mind. Activities that once were enjoyable now feel like far too much trouble, and when I force myself into participating I derive little pleasure from them. My sex drive evaporates. I try to keep up with responsibilities through sheer force of will and feel inadequate in doing so.
Depression directly affects my ability to concentrate, so focusing on challenging schoolwork feels impossible and in the workplace, I proceed slowly and make more mistakes. This in turn produces real negative consequences (poor grades, missed deadlines, reputation damage) that feed back into the depression. I feel lazy, worthless, and stupid and grow paranoid that everyone around me views me as lazy, worthless, and stupid too. I brush off my accomplishments as anomalous or inauthentic and focus instead on my mistakes and failures, ruminating on them in an endless toxic loop.
Eventually it seems as though I have always been in the tar pit and always will be in the tar pit. I look out and see others living undisordered lives but think that this must be impossible for me, that I have some unalterable damage that it makes it pointless to try. I push friends and loved ones away, because who would possibly care to associate with someone as flawed as me? I hear judgment and insult where none is intended, feel that people secretly dislike me and are socializing with me merely out of a sense of obligation, and I ask myself “who could blame them”? I am the first to admit that mental illness is frightening and that chronically depressed people are no fun to be around. I sink yet deeper and think about when, not if, I will finally say that I have struggled enough, when I will be free from obligation, when I will be able to kill myself and finally make my escape.