Every weekday morning, I have the same internal fight with my depression.
It says, “Why are you getting up so early? It’s so wonderful and warm in this bed. You shouldn’t leave. The world is terrible. It’s standoffish, full of pain and judgment and hurt and heartache. Come back. I’ll keep you safe.”
Luckily, most days now, the voice is faint, and I can shut it down easily. “You’re being pessimistic again…” I tell both it and myself, “…the world may suck sometimes, but choosing to stay here and miss out on the potential good it can offer sucks way worse.”
It wasn’t always like this. Actually, if I’m being fully real here, this is a pretty recent development in my recovery journey. Old me wasn’t able to stand up to my depression. It was loud and persistent. It was strong. And it drained me. I felt as though I had to agree with it. I let it convince me of its warped ways. That believing, wishing, and hoping was for suckers. That given the chance, people would disappoint you more times than you can count. That there isn’t any point in trying, because trying means you care, and when you care, that’s when you get hurt. And why live in a world of hurt when you can numb it all away?
Depression is the toxic friend your parents warned you about. The one who could derail you. The one who could bring you down, who could make you question your dreams. Your priorities. The one who could convince you to give up. To stop trying. To stop caring. To throw your life away in a snap decision.
Depression is also like a drug. You can handle it in small, innocent doses. A lack of motivation here. Pessimism setting in there. But as you open up to it, it begins to fill you. Every nook and cranny, nothing is off limits. Oxygen is replaced with negativity, hopelessness, and defeat. You start wondering “What’s the point?” more often than not. And not “What’s the point?” in a liberating, let’s create change because this isn’t working, kind of way. More of a “What’s the point?” I really can’t be bothered with any of this, I quit, kind of way.
When it gets to its worst, depression is the last thing you trust when all other trust is broken. The last thing you cling to when nothing else makes sense. But you don’t realize it’s happening. You think you’re becoming a “realist” or are finally “growing up”. You put down the fairy tales and realize a happily ever after isn’t guaranteed in this life. Unbeknownst to you, your depression starts to brainwash you and transforms you into this numb, zombie of sorts. You quit seeing any sort of light, any kind of positivity. There are no more silver linings, only black shadows. You shudder at your reflection, as it begins to morph into someone you don’t recognize. Or it gets to the point where you can’t look at it at all. All you want is to disappear. To continue this transition into becoming this ghostly shadow of the human you used to be.
You ache to stop existing. To find some peace from this hell on Earth.
I wish I could sit here and say there’s a hack to fighting your depression. But there isn’t. You can read all the self-help books and have sessions with all the therapists you want. You can read all the blogs and ingest their helpful lists and tricks. It helps for sure, but these things won’t cure you. There is no “cure” for depression. There is no 12 step program that forces its grip to loosen around your throat. No magic trick that makes you forget it ever laid it’s cold, gruesome hand upon you.
Depression is a fight and will continue to be a fight. It’s something you have to work on daily. It’s something that you have to want to get better at dealing with because you can’t just get over it. Lord knows we can’t just get over it.
And you have to continue to want to get better day after day after day after day. It’s a fight that sucks. A fight you feel continually breaks you down more than you thought possible. The opposing soldiers are ruthless and they can attack without pattern or warning. When the depression is gaining ground, it becomes a fight you wonder is even worth the effort. Depression forces you down and tries to convince you that your retaliation is pointless. It continually coaxes you into surrendering.
Depression is a fight that requires a lot of strength. Internal strength of which you need help to unleash (aka those self-help books, therapy, mindfulness, self-love, and coping skills). And then external strength from a support system. External strength showed in empathy. External strength shown in love. But finding that support isn’t always the easiest. Depression is a fight that half the population doesn’t understand. A fight that half the population doesn’t care to understand. They give it nicknames they can relate to, such as “laziness” or “sadness” or “exhaustion”. They get up to live their lives every day. They face their battles just like everyone else, so why can’t you?
A few months into our relationship, my boyfriend asked me these questions. Not out of judgment, but because he truly didn’t understand. We were facetiming (because this was when we were long distance) and I vividly remember cultivating this feeling of being caught off guard but still so guarded about my issues with my mental illnesses. A weird, ironic twist of “guard” based emotions tied to a question that haunts most people with depression…
“I don’t get it, why can’t you just get over this and go do it?”
At first, I’m pretty sure I stuttered out some kind of sentence about him not being able to understand because he’s not like me. He is logical and easy going (I am not). He thinks things through rationally and has so much patience (I don’t). He knows his core values and rarely loses sight of his goals (hit or miss for me). If you can get past his walls and into his heart, he’ll be forever in your corner (okay we’re the same on this front). He knows he has flaws like the rest of us, but he’s also fully aware of and takes pride in the things he does well (I’m better at this now but the self-worth/self-love concept is still so new to me). He inspires me to be more like him. He compliments my spirit and grounds my soul.
And if I’m being honest…I genuinely think part of the reason I’m recovering so well, and so quickly, is because I’m lucky enough to continue on this “growth” journey with him every single day.
After stuttering out that mess of a disclaimer, I fell silent, really thinking about his questions and how I could put years of pain into a few minutes of understandable words. I was out of therapy by now and apart from journaling my feelings to continue working on my triggers and how to cope, I kind of closed off about my inner demons and their associated emotions again. Not because I was relapsing and giving into old numbing hacks, but after months of talking about your feelings 5 times a week, it gets old and a little repetitive. And my boyfriend was the only person other than my mom that I talked about therapy with. I was so worried that our relationship was going to be built on this foundation of me being this crazy, mental girl, so avoided getting too deep, too often with him. Everything had been going so amazingly in our relationship, and I was constantly worried he was going to see that I wasn’t worth the effort. I was terrified he’d get scared or bored and he’d leave me for someone less broken. Someone with less baggage. Someone that society would deem as normal.
When I was finally ready to speak, I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry and started off strong. I told him that through my experiences, I understood why people like him think the way they do about depression. Especially because the majority of us who suffer in this way are high functioning. We understand everyone else has problems. That we aren’t some special snowflake. We understand the concept of responsibility and doing what we need to do. We are constantly drained and suffer from side effects like terrible headaches, lack of appetite, and poor ability to sleep. We do our freaking best to blend in, to not cause a scene, or make things about us, but we are prone to emotional difficulties. We’re called over-dramatic and sensitive when in reality, we just have a harder time processing because we are constantly on sensory overload.
And even though we are doing the things we need to and checking off every item on our to-do list, those tasks still feel impossible.
It’s like this fog you can’t lift. This mist of all your past disappointments and failures and criticisms trying to swallow you whole. There are days it’s so thick you can’t see the sun. You can’t remember it’s warmth or what days are like when your depression isn’t as bad. There is no promise of hope. No glimmer of light. All you are able to focus on is the blindness and the suffocation. Suffocation mixed with drowning. All you want is for the air to clear, if only for a moment, so you can breathe again. For just one gasp. To fill your lungs with air that isn’t poisoned. And it’s terrifying. Terrifying because the depression is ingrained in your own brain, essentially a part of you (as depression is a physiological disorder at its core). It’s terrifying because it feels incomprehensible and indescribable, especially when it’s happening to you in the moment. But mainly, it’s terrifying because we don’t talk about it as a collective society. Isolation is the forced choice. Forced isolation with your demons…yea, not exactly an island paradise.
And this is when the floodgates opened and I openly started bawling. I told him he would never understand because he’s never felt the lows I and so many others have felt. The lows associated with external bullying, of others telling you that you have no worth and should do the world a favor by taking your own life. The lows that come with feeling like a complete disappointment even when you do well because it’s never enough. The lows that flourish with perfectionism, self-sabotage, and self-hate. Of continually obsessing over things to work on and improve upon, even though none of those improvements actually make you feel better. Starving yourself – mentally, spiritually, physically – so that others will finally realize you can’t give them anything else. That you need to tap out. That your tank is empty. Trying to fill the voids with food or love or addiction you know isn’t good for you. Purging yourself from those binges and benders due to guilt. A punishment for the lack of judgment. Punishment for being so terrible to begin with. The internal screams and cries for help every single time the razor breaks skin. Hoping with every external tear, someone would just hold out their hand, anchor you and say “Hey, I’m here. And you’re here. And we’re both okay. You’re going to be okay”
I envy those who don’t understand depression. It fathoms me that there are people who have never experienced such darkness. And while I envy them, I’d never wish for them to fully comprehend it. Because if you’re like me, you know what a prison depression can be. So for those of you that don’t understand, thank you for at least being open enough to listen to my story and get this far. I’m sure for you, it still doesn’t make sense, and that’s okay. But even just being open to the idea that there is something more beneath the surface means everything. Being self-aware enough to admit you don’t get it, and being open enough to listen, well, that’s a game changer. Even a life saver.
And for those of you like me, in pain by the hand of your own brain, I need you to know right now that I love you.
I know you sometimes can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t. I know your mental illness the is most persuasive liar imaginable. I know that no matter how much it brings you down, sometimes it seems like the only thing there for you. Because your depression has made you feel so alone and the voices have convinced you they are your only friends. I validate everything you are feeling. I validate you feeling like you can’t get out of bed. I validate that you don’t want to face the world today because it’s hard. I know it’s hard. It’s so fucking hard. I validate how tired you are because you are always on high alert. I know how that can take a toll on your body. I know how it hurts. How it aches. The soreness and muscle fatigue. How it wakes you up in the middle of the night and all you want to do is scream. To scream loud enough that you finally wake up from this all-encompassing nightmare. To scream loud enough so finally someone else will wake up with you and realize something is wrong and you are more than just “fine, but tired.”
I want to close this by saying your depression will tell you I’m lying and being naive. It will tell you my new outlook on life is just a phase. That maybe my depression isn’t as intense or real as yours. It will tell you I’m faking this and I couldn’t possibly understand the torture you go through every day. And it’s right in the fact I don’t know your exact torture. It is true I don’t know your exact experiences. But it is wrong in telling you I don’t understand your suffering. And it is wrong in telling you that others won’t understand either – but you have to muster all the strength and courage you have left and let them in so that they can understand.
You are still here. You are still breathing.
And that means there is still some hope left inside you. It may be lost and you may have to search for it. But it is crucial you find it. It will be faint, as even the hottest fire dwindles to embers and ash. But through empathy and love, through support and strength, that glimmer of hope could soon set you on fire. You are capable of rising from the ashes of your despair, reborn like a phoenix, stronger than your depression could ever be. You will scream and sing your battle cries loud enough to drown out the voices of your demons. Drown them the way your depression has been drowning you for years.
I am awake, my friend. My eyes and ears are open. My heart hurts and beats with yours.
I hear your screams and cries. I see the hurt in your eyes and in your heart. And I need you to know I’m right here with you. I’m here to hold your hand and anchor you down and let you know it won’t always be this way. I know the sun is faint and this cold winter feels like a damn eternity. But the sun will rise. And you will see it again.
I promise you feel its warmth soon.
I promise the voices will start to fade.
And I promise you will never have to face them alone again.