“Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” – MayoClinic.com
I’d call that rather impersonal, and as someone who still needs an official diagnosis and lacks one, I raise Mayo Clinic a few personal experiences.
This post is in no way intended to “call anyone out”, hurt feelings, or receive any type of attention. That’s the opposite of what I want. I am deathly afraid of talking about this. This post is made almost entirely so that I don’t have to explain and re-explain to however many people I need to explain to – family, friends, church friends, present/former colleagues, etc. I do not expect, nor do I want, anyone (sorry guys, but that’s why I’m going back to therapy) to pull me aside and ask me questions about why I’m struggling with this, if it’s anything to do with them, et cetera.
I don’t want lectures.
This list is, by no means, a complete and comprehensive list of what depression is like for everyone. It’s not even a complete list of what it’s like for me. More like a list of the most prominent experiences I’ve had in the years that I’ve struggled with this. It’s not eloquent, it’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not my usual writing.
My hope for this is that those of you who weren’t aware become aware, and regardless of if you were or not…that I will not be judged, shunned, or treated like less than I am. My other hope is to shed light on what living with mostly-untreated depression is like, and maybe to relate to someone else who is struggling, so that somehow, my honesty might bring some form of hope.
– pain. Not physical…but the kind of pain that can’t be explained. Agonizing. Like your head is being held underwater…but the water isn’t water, it’s molten lava, burning away at who you are.
– feeling like you’re at the bottom of a well, and every time you try to climb up, you slip and fall…and the well gets deeper.
– fear of making commitments when you think you’re doing well, because you never know when you’ll go under again and cancel everything.
– locking yourself in the bathroom at work, silently gasping for air as you struggle to breathe through the tears…all because a supervisor or coworker treated you like dirt one time too many…and then emerging from the bathroom a few minutes later, blank-faced, as if nothing happened.
– bottling up your thoughts and emotions during someone else’s emotional outburst so as not to risk upsetting them…then feeling guilty for “not being supportive enough”.
– worrying that you’re bothering everyone with your problems…only to realize that most of the “problems” you talk about are all superficial, because you wouldn’t dare talk about what lurks underneath.
– feeling “evil” for struggling – even though you know better.
– the feeling of a constant darkness hiding underneath every smile you put on your face.
– intrusive thoughts. About horrible things. All the time.
– going to therapy on and off within a seven-year timespan and only being somewhat honest with a therapist once – and then temporarily losing the financial stability to go back for awhile, leaving you feeling more fragile than you were when you started going.
– hearing “it’s all spiritual, go read your Bible/pray/journal and it’ll go away” at least ten different times…sometimes not even directed at you…and believing it so strongly that you would deny the possibility of having a verifiable mental illness and blame yourself for feeling a constant, agonizing pain that you can’t put a name to. (note: I DO agree that some depression is spiritual. But if you’re growing spiritually and you’re experiencing severe depressive symptoms for longer than a month, chances are it’s not spiritual)
– sleeping a full night…and waking up even more exhausted than you were before, struggling to stay awake at work all day.
– waking up two hours before your alarm and being unable to go back to sleep because your mind starts to race.
– finding coping mechanisms that you love (dance, music, art) and throwing yourself into them…only for the depression to sneak up and remind you that you suck at all of them.
– starting to avoid those coping mechanisms because you can’t focus on anything anyway, so why waste anyone else’s time with your bumbling inadequacy?
– comparing yourself to others, knowing full well that you shouldn’t, but because the monster reminds you of what that person can do that you can’t…you catch yourself feeling horribly worthless.
– watching everyone else interact with the large and loving social circles around them…and, with the monster in your head whispering “it’s all your fault because you hang out with the wrong people and they’re too busy for you”, realizing that you haven’t had a large group of genuine non-family friends since childhood.
– being excited to spend time with friends you haven’t seen in awhile, being relatively well rested, and spending an hour with those friends…only to sink into pure exhaustion on the drive home, because the mere effort of being cheery and social is so draining that it’s almost unreal.
– disconnection from reality, like you’re walking through a hazy dream. And hating it.
– having vivid and frequent nightmares.
– being able to turn on the smiles and the laughter to keep everyone else happy…then tearing apart every stupid thing you did or said when you’re alone and crying until your lungs hurt because, in the end, you still feel alone.
– struggling to concentrate on even the most minute details of things you need to concentrate on.
– driving home from work and having fleeting thoughts of continuing the drive on autopilot, going nowhere, until you run out of gas…just the way your life seems to be going most days.
– waking up each morning wishing you hadn’t…not because you don’t want to live, but because something about the day already hurts, and you just woke up.
– missing/leaving work because of a meltdown…and instead of recognizing that you need the rest, you feel guilty and like a complete failure.
– feeling conflicted about celebrating a milestone birthday, because the thought of having made it another year is a strange, foreign thought.
– feeling conflicted about planning your own wedding, because sometimes you’re afraid that the monster in your head will get the better of you, and you won’t make it that far without imploding…or exploding.
– struggling to find the energy/motivation to keep going day to day.
– feeling guilty for struggling to find the energy/motivation to keep going day to day when there are so many people dealing with worse things than you, as you’ve been reminded so many times by other people.
– having people who understand, and clinging to them so tightly that it feels like you’re pushing them away and ruining the few good relationships you actually have.
– feeling like you’re constantly in the way, and a nuisance.
– feeling intense guilt, like you’re a bad daughter, sister, niece, aunt, fiancee, cousin, friend, Christian…and any of the other nouns, which you can’t remember because your cognition is slower than usual and you can’t remember basic English words sometimes.
– singing – loudly, and not always on key – in the car all the time during your good times…but once you’ve sunk back to the bottom, forgetting how to even sing in church.
– forgetting basic things, like the speed limit, because your head feels so heavy with exhaustion…then getting pulled over and getting a warning and crying when the cop shows you kindness by helping you pull back out onto the road so you don’t have an accident.
– worrying about what other people would say or think if they knew how low you really were…so you don’t say anything, because you’re afraid you’ll get another “is it my fault?” talk or a “snap out of it, just make yourself be happy” pep talk from someone yet again…which just makes you feel guilty for suffering.
– coming out of a particularly bad spell, feeling really good for the first time in months, and thinking “maybe I’m over it this time, maybe it’s gone for good, maybe it was just grief…”
– …but it always comes back. And always when you’re least expecting it. With a vengeance.
– feeling like you’re suffocating, all lung issues aside, all the time.
– begging God to make the pain stop one way or another…but it doesn’t. Not because He isn’t good…but it just hasn’t, so of course you blame yourself.
– fearing that one day, someone who isn’t as patient as the people who understand will know just how low you are, and instead of understanding, you’ll be put in a hospital where all of your freedoms are stripped away.
– speaking of hospitals, fearing them. With a passion. Fearing most major medical treatments for depression, actually, because you typically don’t support mind-altering chemical substances and they’re expensive and you don’t want to burden everyone you love…nor can you afford the treatment yourself.
– being afraid to commit to things in your church, because you’re afraid to admit that you don’t spend time with anyone outside of church and you’re terrified of discipleship because that would mean potentially talking about the depression, which doesn’t like to be talked about.
– believing every single bad thing you’ve ever heard about yourself, because most of what you’ve seen indicates that they’re all true.
– knowing how loved you are, but struggling to believe it, because love is a messy thing and depression tends to distort it.
– no longer recognizing yourself, because this thing has torn you to pieces, and while all you want is freedom…you don’t know what life would be like without it.
If you made it to the bottom of this list, congratulations, and I’m sorry. If any of this resonates with your personal struggles…you aren’t alone. I may struggle to believe that for myself most days, but I do know you aren’t any more alone than I am. Even when you think you are…He is with you.