I woke up in Edinburgh last week with no responsibilities. It’s been two months since I quit my unfulfilling job in D.C., sold everything I owned, cut my losses in life and love, and embarked on an open-ended trip abroad with my life-long best friend. I’m living a blissful dream.
But when I stirred awake around noon, it wasn’t with excitement to explore another bucket-list locale: It was with dismay and to a familiar darkness. My depression, a shadow I’ve battled for as long as I can remember, had crept overseas with me. I barely had room for shoes in my 32-liter backpack, but the dread and despair I’ve known for so long had bullied its way in. While my best friend Erin explored the city, I was stuck beneath the covers.
I was furious. “How dare you follow me across the world? How dare you bring your shame and doubt here? This is my time, NOT yours,” I reminded it. But by now, I know better. I know that I can’t choose when it leaves.
Depression doesn’t happen when you’re upset about something – it’s a chemical imbalance that crops up whenever. Sure, it can be exacerbated by things like grief, heartbreak, anxiety, or maybe because I forgot to take my meds for a couple days. But most often, it pops in just because.
Generally speaking, traveling makes me happy. In the midst of fulfilling the fantasy to travel unhindered by time, you might wonder what I have to be depressed about. I wonder that, too – shamefully. That’s when I need to be reminded: This is largely out of my control.
Depression is a damn near impossible thing to understand unless you’ve gone through it, and I’m terribly envious of people who just can’t wrap their heads around it. That means they’ve never had a random string of days where they are incapacitated by seemingly unprovoked sadness and doubt.
In my worst days, it feels like being possessed, but my rational thoughts, moral compass, and self-expectations never leave. And that’s what makes it so frustrating. “Just get out of bed. It’s a simple act. Just turn on the shower, it takes so little effort. You know this.”
But it feels like being physically held down. The worst part is that I know that giving into this darkness is likely going to make me feel worse, since I hold myself gruelingly responsible for what happens in these hardest moments. Even so, sometimes I just can’t get out from under it.
In a perfect world, I’d give myself the go-ahead to spend the day in bed and truly be ok with it. After years of fighting, I’ve learned that the key really is to be your own friend; to treat this most fragile self as you would a child who comes to you in despair. But in that moment, when I want to beat myself up for my own perceived shortcomings, self-love is an Everest of a concept. But I know that I would destroy any person who spoke about my friend, broken and vulnerable, the way I think about myself.
Traveling is wonderful, but of course I couldn’t expect to leave my demons behind at home while I gallivant. They’d miss me too much. The fact that my depression followed me reminds me that it will always continue to do so, in good times and bad. It’s something to be managed and wary of, but not escaped.
Depression is different for everyone, but I will tell you this: It fucking sucks. Plain and simple. If you’re also struggling, I’m sorry. I don’t have a tidy little wrap-up here that encourages you to ~keep striving because it gets easier~ because I don’t know if that’s true. I can’t tell you if it ever goes away or gets better in time. My own biggest fear is that it won’t.
But I do know that you’re really brave. I bet you’re fighting the good fight, even when it doesn’t feel like it, and I hope you never ever give up. I hope you have people and memories to remind you of your worth when you can’t even remember what it is you’re good for. I hope you know that you’re not alone.
Not everyone will understand you. You will alienate yourself sometimes. And you’ll lose relationships that will break your heart. But when the sun comes back out and you see who’s left around you, you’ll know on whom you can depend. You shouldn’t have to act like someday you’ll be better, because who you are right now is fine. You’re growing and learning, and your people know that. Take it day by day, and when that’s too hard, moment by moment.
This is hard to write. It’s soul bearing. I’m shining light on the darkest and most vulnerable parts of myself, and there’s still such a huge stigma attached to mental illness. I am just as – if not more – afraid of judgment as anyone. But this is what I know, and this will always be my reality. This is who I am. And I’m not proud of it yet, but it’s a step toward getting there. If this helps or brings understanding to just one person, I’ll be happy and this will have been worth it. May we all be a little nicer to ourselves and to each other tomorrow.