With the recent death of Robin Williams, depression is being talked about everywhere. Television news shows, blog posts, social media outlets–everyone seems to have an opinion, whether or not they’ve personally lived through depression. I went through a three year period of very deep depression, which I survived with the help of a couple of amazing women/counselors, prayer, exercise, and for a time, medication. While things are generally much better, depression still rears its head just often enough to keep me on my toes and remind me that it’s lurking around. While depression is not one size fits all, there are some commonalities that many experience. Here are some of my personal observations:
Depression is relentless. It slithers around inside your head like snakes on the brain, telling you all sorts of nasty things. He left because she is better/younger/skinnier/prettier than you. He never really loved you. You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never be loved. You’ll never be wanted. You’ll wind up alone. Your family will be fine without you. There was a time when my depression told me I was worth more to my kids dead than alive because at least with my insurance money they’d have college paid for and then some more to start out in life. It comes at night, it comes when you’re alone, but sometimes it especially likes to slap you down even in the middle of a good day–Hope you’re enjoying this time with your kids because one day they will leave and you’ll be alone… Cool, you like this song on the radio? Remember when you danced to it with that friend of yours, the one who’s dead now? Remember that May when she was a smiling college student and then by July she was dead from a brain tumor? Yeah. Good times.
Depression is absolute and unyielding. There are times depression is unwavering in its certainty. In those times you cannot see any other way of thinking or believing. For those who would argue that depression is a choice, or that suicide or self-harm are choices, I would say, yes and no. When you are in the deepest trenches of despair, there is no discernible way out. You cannot fathom that things will ever get better, that things will ever change. This is your life and this will be your life and there is nothing you can do to change that fact–this is what it says.
Depression can be fleeting. This is the best and worst thing about depression. Often, bouts of depression, much like waves, can rise and fall in intensity, with lulls in between of normalcy and even happiness or contentment. When you are happy, the darkness of depression and the thoughts had in that time seem far away and small, like the memories of a nightmare recalled from a sunny corner of your front porch. The details generally sound right, but you can’t believe you actually said that, did that, or considered doing something that drastic over something that seems trivial now. When you come up from a severely depressed episode sometimes it's hard to believe you really felt that way-until the next time it strikes, and then the pain is all too familiar. This is one of the reasons it hurts so much when someone takes his life during depression, because sometimes things do feel better with time. Until they feel worse again.
Depression is a liar. It tells you things will never get better. It tells you that nothing really matters. It tells you that you are not important and you are not deserving of love. Worst of all it tells you that you are alone, that no one can relate to what you are feeling and that no one wants to hear it. In fact, my depression quite often tells me to pull away from others and disengage at the time I most need to reach out. At those times I desperately want someone to notice that I am not okay, and yet if they were to ask I would lie and say everything is fine. Because fine is easier. Fine doesn’t get noticed. No one judges you when ‘everything is fine’ or when you’re ‘just tired, it’s no big deal’.
Depression is a thief. It robs you of sleep. It robs you of motivation. It robs you of time. I can’t count the times I would sit down with a basket of laundry or stack of bills to pay or some other task to complete only to look up and find that minutes if not hours had passed while I did nothing but lose myself in my thoughts and worries–and then feel guilty for wasting the time. It robs you of relationships. Sometimes because you close yourself off to others; sometimes because they don’t know how to deal with you; sometimes because you become short-tempered and difficult, another side of depression. It robs you of joy in the present because you are brooding about the past or the future. Most of all it robs you of hope, and without hope in something–anything–life is really, really hard.
Depression is not uncommon. I think this is probably the most important thing to remember. While depression strives to isolate you and make you feel like an anomaly, you aren’t. The Center for Disease Control states that as many as 1 in 10 Americans deal with depression at some point in their lives. The problem is, we are often too busy projecting the image of a flawless life to be real with each other. Behind the perfectly edited selfies on Instagram, the Facebook posts designed to show everyone just how fabulous life is for us and our job/house/kids/marriage/family, and the #Blessed updates on Twitter, people often don’t want to acknowledge that they struggle. Yet I believe this self-imposed isolation feeds the depression. I think being open and honest about our struggles is a good place to start a real dialogue on depression.