My Relationship With Depression

Christopher Burns
Christopher Burns

Earlier on June this year, an old friend arrived unexpectedly.

He came in through the backdoor, unannounced, much like his last visit. I didn’t even know he was inside my home. When I became aware of his presence, I prepared myself up for what I thought would be a short visit. But before I knew it, he had unpacked his suitcase, and moved into my bedroom with me, even sharing my bed.

Let me tell you an unlikely romance with Depression.

We go way back, depression and I. He has been my occasional roommate for varying lengths of time. He stayed for what was probably a good couple of months. His first entry into my life was debilitating and exhausting. Who was this stranger? When did he start living with me, sharing my most intimate spaces?

The first time he came, more than four years ago, it was a shock. I came from a dark period of a thicket in the forest. I was trapped in the dense overgrowth of my regrets, my bitter resentments, all the should’ve-beens and could’ve-beens. I lingered in that sunless place because I felt life owed me those things. I stayed even though many exit pathways beckoned to me because I was afraid. And then Depression came and overstayed for a long time.

He was massive; I couldn’t breathe when he was in the same room with me. He took up all the space in bed. He insisted on being carried around wherever I went. Going to work and school wears me out. Even walking to the fridge for a drink of water was exhausting. He has a large appetite. He stole mine away.

Sometimes I do not eat and sometimes I overeat.

Depression never leaves you alone. Every morning, he awakens before you do. You wake up to him sitting on your chest, a large black creature, staring you in the face with eyes that never blink.

I had other visitors as well — Denial, Anger, and Sadness. They visit quite regularly, but I do not fear them. They’re harmless strays who drop by for temporary shelter. They don’t take much room and they never intend to stay.

Now he’s come to stay for a month, though I did not recognize him right away. He looks an awful lot like Anger and Denial in the beginning, until he takes off his hat and coat, and you realize he’s not just staying for a cup of tea.

But because I had met him before, I knew what to do. I got up every morning, even though I wanted to stay in bed all day and cry, even though the mere thought of changing clothes filled me with anxiety.

I went to work and school even though the thought of going made it hard to breathe, even though it felt like a death march in Bataan, Philippines. I went to bed at night even though I would wake up in the morning feeling like I hardly slept, entertaining so many thoughts and fears, like so many screaming needy infants in a nursery who are all dying for a bottle of milk.

I went on with existence, even though it felt like I wasn’t moving forward, like I was a hamster on a wheel, running for dear life and getting absolutely nowhere.

I felt stuck, imprisoned in a pattern, and even though I knew in a rational way that things are always changing, I just couldn’t believe it for myself. I was walking through a dark thicket in the forest. I could not see a thing. I could not imagine a future that was different from my current situation. All I could see was the doom of endless repetition.

I went about my daily life, doing all the usual stuff, except I had an invisible, 200-pound creature strapped to my back — a creature whose eyes bore deep into my soul, pointing out every flaw in my body, and every failure I had, and stirring up every doubt I had about myself, my personal relationships and my life.

Depression holds up a mirror that reflects only the ugliest things. It’s no wonder that the dam would burst sometimes, and I would find myself locked in the bathroom at work yet again, sobbing my eyes out over something trivial that I can’t even explain.

And all of this I kept to myself, because Depression is such a bully, indulgent creature, and I can’t burden my family with such talk. It’s not anybody’s problem, it’s mine. In keeping things to myself, I effectively cut myself off from the people who probably cared about me, and probably would have wanted to help me.

In fact, I spent much of my alone time weeping. Any meditative activity that required stillness, and silence, and being alone with myself, made the thoughts riled up in my head. I am a writer and a photojournalist by profession, and my artistic practice slowly fell apart. I couldn’t enjoy any of it.

Depression is like having your mind under siege. It’s being assaulted, invaded, by inside forces. To defend yourself against it is really a battle against yourself.

But depression is an old friend. Why I did not consider him to be my enemy, you ask. Because I am not one to judge whether what life sends my way is good or bad. Life is simple. There are enemies that look like friends, and friends that look like enemies. Depression commands you to be completely honest with yourself. It makes you face your fears. It can also awaken you to forgiveness, self-acceptance, compassion, and hope.

My depression is made of me. But I am not my depression. My mind may be working against me, but I am not my mind. My mind can be changed. Everything changes. Talking about it helps. Reaching out to my friends helps. Getting help helps. TC mark

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