The problem with depression is that it’s depressing.
There is really just nothing enjoyable about depression, except perhaps for the weight loss. But as most depression sufferers know, the periods of weight loss are usually balanced out by periods of weight gain. When the Gods of Depression bless you with a drug that minimizes suicidal thoughts while maximizing bloating, it’s like insult added to injury.
But it is what it is.
And it’s depressing.
For decades, my suffering from depression was much stronger than my ability to manage it effectively. I kept my depression a secret, obsessing about who might know what was going on in my head besides my family. It’s hard to keep depression hidden from family. After you miss holidays repeatedly, family begins to suspect something. But it’s easy to hide depression from neighbors, colleagues and friends. The lies you tell to get out of obligations are balanced against the appearances you make when you feel good. So people forget that you bailed on a party, a meeting, a deadline or a project. If you’re a conscientious or neurotic depressive, you over-promise during periods of good health. You feel good so you think you can make up for the balls you dropped when you didn’t feel good.
The few people who knew about the darkness I lived in would encourage me to reach out to them. It was always hard to explain – and still is – that the moment I am LEAST likely to reach out to anybody is when I feel awful. Sometimes, I would explain to well-meaning friends and relatives that feeling bad from depression is like being nauseated. You have to just lie very still and wait until you feel like it’s okay to move. Like nausea, depression can’t just be ignored or overlooked. It’s debilitating. And when it’s bad, it’s paralyzing.
I understand the urge to help others. I do. I always appreciated knowing that there were people in my life who wished I would call when I felt bad. But I also know all too well that the worse I feel, the more deeply I burrow into isolation. Unfortunately for those who are not good managers of depression, the temporary safety and comfort of isolation tend to suck you in, keeping you isolated even after you might benefit from being around people. Now that I’m a well-managed depressive, isolation isn’t a big problem. I know when it’s time to be around people and to seek out companionship. I’m good enough at managing depression now that I can give family and friends a heads up when I know I need to go off radar for a while or lay low.
But life wasn’t always like that. My depression was unmanaged or poorly managed for most of my first four decades on this earth.
I was depressed long before the internet and cable television. I was a depressed child. Growing up depressed in the 1970’s was far from ideal. Back then, nobody imagined a child could be depressed for no good reason. My parents were alive, healthy, employed and happily married. We had food on our table and enough money to buy encyclopedias and bicycles that fit our growing bodies. We had new notebooks for every school year and enough friends around to create the social chaos that every child should grow up with. There was no reason for me to be depressed. Aside from genetic ties to depression and suicide, my quality of life was good.
But I wasn’t a happy child. I didn’t want to run around and play the way kids want to run around and play. I didn’t sleep well at night or enjoy special occasions. I was moody and serious and sensitive. I was dark and attracted to suffering. Nothing in my head matched the visions I had of what childhood should look like.
And it didn’t matter how many different ways the depression manifested itself because in those days it just didn’t occur to anyone that depression could possibly be causing me, a small child, to act unlike a child.
Luckily for me, I grew up protected and safe. My parents were very strict and our resources were limited, so I got through childhood without enough rope to get into trouble. I loved reading and schoolwork, activities I later learned to seek out when my head and heart were hurting. Summers were hard but the school year was easy. I was fine as long as I had an assignment or homework or something that needed to be turned in. I preferred the school year when everyone was in a routine and focused on getting the work done. I would later become a workaholic,working seven days a week and as close to twenty four hours a day as possible. The more I worked, the less time I had alone in my head. Work saved me many a time and kept me from doing harmful things to myself.
It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I realized I was losing my battle with depression. I was exhausted from trying to stay one step ahead of depression. I had managed to get through college and law school and to become financially independent, but I barely had enough energy to get from one day to the next.
When I felt good, life was productive. But when I felt bad, I would immediately lose any ground I had managed to gain. By my late thirties, I was losing ground faster than I could make it up. And it was getting harder to keep my depression hidden from those around me.
I always wonder how my life might have been different if I had the internet back then. I might have found resources online or outlets for my frustration or even other people who understood what I was going through. But internet was still a few years from becoming the world I needed at my fingertips. All I had back then was video stores and bookstores.
So I lived in video stores and bookstores. I bought any book I could find on depression. I knew them all. I knew the authors and titles by heart. I rented videos that could help me feel better or help me connect with the part of myself that I could depend on to see life clearly. I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s obsessively, trying to figure out how to become someone else.
I haven’t visited the self-help of a bookstore in a long time. It brings back bad memories for me.
But when I was hurting, the self-help aisle was all I had.
Today the self-help aisle is available online so I’m writing this blog. This blog is for those who are reaching out to find that one piece of advice or that one anecdote that gives them enough hope to get through whatever they’re going through right now. This blog is for those who need to hear that it’s possible to feel good at some point in your life.
It happened to me. And I didn’t think it would.
During my darkest hours, I didn’t look for books or advice about how to be happy.
I looked for books or advice about how to cope. How to get by. How to get through.
This is a blog for those who need to figure out how to cope while they’re trying to find the therapy, drug or combination of circumstances that enable them to finally feel good.
Or to not feel bad.
Because not feeling bad is really incredible.