Depression is not a state of mind one can meditate into. It is not grief. It is not failure, rejection, or heartbreak. Although these things can and do trigger it in many cases or make it that much more unbearable, depression is an illness. It trips you up, holds you down, and laughs at you, most of the time with zero physical symptoms. It laughs because a lot of the time, you have no reason to be depressed. You might have a good life with so much to be thankful for. And yet there you are suffering internally from something that I read causes 15% of its victims to take their own lives. You know the story, you’ve heard it a million times, and you’ve read the mental-health campaigns: “You wouldn’t tell a person with cancer to just ‘get over it.’”
I am the sort of person who talks to myself a lot. Muttering aloud a lot of the time, constant internal dialogues with myself, and hundreds of notes on my iPhone: lists, song lyrics, dreams, schedules, general thoughts, 2AM ideas and inspirations. God forbid anyone ever has a look through my phone—perhaps one day I’ll be bothered to put a passcode on it.
Being able to express myself like this is important to me. But I’ve never told anyone quite what goes on in my head when I’m having an “episode.” (I don’t know why I’m calling it an episode; it just seems like the correct word.) I can just about manage to sit awkwardly in a chair in front of a physician and explain very matter-of-factly in 30 seconds my emotional symptoms:
“I find myself crying all the time, I suppose I isolate myself, I lie in bed all day, I can’t really think straight, I either don’t sleep at all or I oversleep, I’m normally sociable but I don’t really like hanging around people anymore….”
It gets repetitive having to say the same things, but it gets me the medication I need. My doctor is not paid to sit there and listen to my poetic inner dialogue about how it feels like I can’t breathe even when I’m breathing. How I long to feel better but I’m crippled by the guilt that I don’t deserve to get better. You get the picture. I don’t tell him or her any more than he/she needs to know to show that actually I’m not that OK on the inside.
But I don’t care to see a counselor again. I’d rather crawl into bed and soak an entire pack of tissues with my tears before I let them near my thoughts again. There is something about a voice that sounds too trained. They’re getting paid at the end of the day. Do they use this sympathetic tone with everyone? Could anyone really care what I have to say? Maybe that’s my problem. Counseling is for some people, yes. Not for me.
You see, depression makes you selfish. How could anyone possibly understand how complex my emotions are? You indulge yourself in hating yourself. You start to ignore your friends, your family, your responsibilities. You let them worry about you and you ignore the life outside, building a cocoon in your bedroom with the curtains drawn during the day so you can pretend nothing else exists but you. Your sheets will start to smell and your desk fills up with empty mugs and your floor will grow piles of clothes and wet towels. You learn a way to avoid the people closest to you, even if you live with them. You write articles…about yourself. You allow your natural adult routines to give way to childish instincts and you cry. And you cry and cry and cry. And although sometimes you feel like your chest will cave in from supporting your breaking heart for too long, it feels right. Not better, but right.
Crying is the greatest gift you can get if you have depression. On one hand, it’s like you’re drowning, like you might never feel happy again, like no one could ever begin to understand the depths of pain you feel pumping through every vein in your body. And at the same time it’s like coming up for air after being held underwater for 60 seconds. Have you ever held your breath that long? I used to do it all the time—I still do when I go through tunnels, it’s kind of fun to test myself. The crying all comes at once. It’s unstoppable. It makes you leak out of your eyes, your mouth and your nose. You make horrible groaning noises as you gasp for air between sobs, so much so, that sometimes you have to bury your mouth in a pillow so no one can hear you. You accidentally catch that unforgettable glimpse of your snotty, wet, distorted face in the mirror. You know that what you are feeling is real. And it feels amazing.
You see, you can be suffering from the most crippling depression and not shed a tear for days, even weeks. This happens when you can lose that voice in your head. The one that makes up the lists on your iPhone, the one that shouts at your keys when you’re trying to find them in your room, the one that tells you every minute of every day that you’re useless, hopeless, worthless, friendless, boyfriend-less, penniless, and basically less human. But you see, this is the worst thing—without the voice in your head, you become a shell on autopilot. You don’t feel sad, you don’t feel lonely, you don’t feel angry and you don’t feel guilty. You don’t feel alive.
Crying is that first gasp of air when your head reaches the surface of the pool. The tears feel so good, and each shaking breath confirms that you are in fact alive again. This is how it feels good to wallow.
The fact of the matter is, if you’ve never experienced depression you will never quite know what it is like. Nor could I dare to begin to understand what any other person with depression might be experiencing. Has it shaped me as a person? I couldn’t say. Would I take it away completely and rewind the years? Obviously. Who wants to be on a permanent comedown after all? Sure it’s not the same going to see your favorite DJ being drunk when the rest of the room is enjoying Class A heaven that you know and miss all too well. But when you have to choose between feeling 160% one night a month from a pill (don’t do drugs, kids) but 4% all day every single other day because you’re going untreated, OR 75% all the time from prescription anti-depressants, it’s a good compromise.
I ran out of my prescription just over a week ago and didn’t realize until I went to take my next tablet. Withdrawal can be worse than the original symptoms when you go cold turkey. I’m forcing myself to see a doctor today; thank God for the NHS. I’ll ask for a letter, give it to the office at uni, and pray that my circumstances will be accepted.
I’ll be fine, though. I was before and I will be now. And I hope if you can relate in any way to any of this, that you will be fine, too.