You can sort out who’s who.
Some, but not all of you know that I’ve been wrestling with bout of severe depression for the past several years. While I’ve received support from the most unlikely of places, I have also received counter-support from even unlikelier sources. I didn’t write this post as a means of whingeing about my state, but as a means for people to understand exactly what all sufferers of depression experience, and how we go through our daily lives.
I know a lot of people won’t get it. I know a lot of people will say, “Come on, stop being such a pussy and snap out of it.” or “Well, that’s life. Get over it.” or “Stop complaining! There are so many people who have it worse than you do.” or “Oh, come on, everyone gets depressed. You just need to put things in perspective.”
I envy those people. I envy them because they don’t understand. I envy them because they’ve never experienced true depression.
Depression isn’t the same as “being depressed”. It’s a subtle but massive difference.
“There is no point in treating a depressed person as though he or she is feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’
“Sadness is more or less like a head cold; with patience, you’ll get over it.
“Depression is like cancer.”
– Barbara Kingsolver
Depression isn’t something that ever goes away, or that you get over. It just leaves for a while, and then rears it’s grim visage when you least expect it, often at the most inconvenient times. It has nothing at all to do with how successful you are, how good your life is, how many people you have in your life, or how many things are going your way.
It’s something which requires constant tending. Some days it’s effortless. Most days it’s not. Often, far too often, it’s everything one can do to just haul yourself out of bed in the morning; it’s a burden of Atlasian proportion.
Its progression is insidious; it begins with a gradual bleeding off of the ability to feel emotion: things that used to make you laugh aren’t as funny; the things which used to intrigue you and capture your attention lose their lustre. Beloved hobbies and pass-times become hollow pursuits, pointless and meaningless. Eventually you just lose the ability to feel anything at all: happiness, sadness, joy, anger, lust, love. Anything and everything to do with emotion and feeling goes out the window. At first, this sensation is empowering; you feel invincible, certain that you can do anything because nothing phases you.
But that state of invincibility is an illusion, a deceit.
Problems begin to arise when you interact with people. Because of your lack of ability to feel emotions, it becomes necessary to fake them for the benefit of others and for your social life. But people sense more than we realize, and sense that you’re not quite….normal. They take notice that your reactions are forced, false, and mere approximations of the real thing. As a result, people begin to avoid you because you come across as superficial and glib, that you’re not quite right. You feel as though you’re a burden to everyone and that everyone just tolerates your presence. And you also begin to avoid people and social situations for the same reasons, because it’s easier on your self-esteem to voluntarily withdraw from these situations than to made persona non grata and ostracized. Few people enjoy fakes. Fewer still enjoy the company of someone who is down in a hole.
It is at this point where people begin seeking escape, either through self-mutilation, substance abuse, or other self-destructive behavior. You flip-flop between self-destructive self-loathing and abuse, and paralyzing self-pity. Soon, your emotion centers begin craving the release granted by emotional expression, and so they start latching on to whatever emotion is most convenient. Most often, they’re not the good ones; usually it’s sadness that is the first to come, followed by anger. And so, your brain starts clinging to those emotions like a drowning man clings to a piece of flotsam. Which makes you even more socially unpalatable, which exacerbates the process and begins a downward spiral. Sometimes, your brain registers happiness or joy, but it’s manic, like a castaway seeing a ship at sea or a plane flying overhead. And so the process continues into a deeper and sharper cycle. Despair sets in, because all you can feel is either vitriolic, rage-fueled anger, cannibalistic soul-eating sadness, or the bleak emotional wasteland of nothingness. Imagine standing in front of your mirror, hurling every filthy obscenity at that thing, that disgusting creature in the mirror, calling it every foul name you’ve ever heard. You do this in order to feel something, anything, because feeling like a worthless piece of shit is better than feeling absolutely nothing. But because of this self-abuse you just make yourself feel worse and worse, and the cycle takes you deeper and deeper.
It’s a horrible place to be, and so many people just live right there for years, in that state of emotional limbo, just surviving, going through the motions like a clockwork automaton. Until they run out of endurance.
That’s what depression is: an endurance race. Because it isn’t something that you get over, because it is an emotional burden, it ends up being a marathon race to the finish line, to see who can outlast who. Too many people just run out of steam. It wears you down, grinds your will down as surely as a millstone grinds wheat into flour. It grinds you down to a breaking point, because you just cannot take anymore. It eats away at your well-being, gnaws at your sanity, and takes great predatory bites out of your humanity and leaves a stripped carcass, devoid of dignity and self-worth. It is at this point that they decide to take action and do something about it. Unfortunately, and all-too-often, that something is suicide, because oblivion is far preferable to living in that interminable, unending hell.
Fortunately, I’ve managed to outlast this last, most recent bout.
But I can’t help but wonder when the next one will strike.
EDIT: Credit to Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half for inspiration and her hilarious and awesome artwork, probably the most awesome person I have never met.