Even though I have lived with depression for nearly 10 years, the long depressive episodes (or depression days if they are short-lasting) are something I don’t think I will ever get used to. On days when the joy and light in my life are completely obscured by depression, I feel like the world is caving in and I have been left trapped alone in my head.
I can feel when the depression begins to sneak in. If it traps me in the morning, I wake up exhausted even after 9 hours of sleep. I feel heavy and empty at the exact same time. I pull myself out of bed with all the strength that I have and instantly feel gloom overcome my judgment, purpose, and outlook on the world. I cry as I get ready, wishing I could stay in bed all day, in my safe cocoon of sadness.
If depression traps me in the afternoon, it is usually sparked by an event -- maybe making a mistake at work, thinking about my dead dog, or feeling alone for a second that soon turns into a storm of loneliness in my head. I hide in the bathroom at work. When I get home, I lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling. I stare and stare.
If depression traps me in the evening, it creeps up after work. I suddenly feel extremely anxious, exhausted, and overwhelmed, like the world is too much for me to handle. I’m convinced I can’t manage my responsibilities or being an adult for that matter. Just thinking about completing a single errand is enough to immobilize me for the rest of the day.
No matter how the depression seeps in, I go to bed as early as I can on these days, finding respite in sleep instead of consciousness.
If only one day I could wake up and feel the complete weight of depression dissolve from my shoulders for good. If only I could feel free of the darkness that is ready to set in at the slightest suggestion of a bad day -- when I make a mistake, have an unlucky moment, or despair at the world’s relentless tragedies.
The worst days are the hardest to motivate myself to do something that I know will help me. That is the war that depression feels like. It is me against my brain. My brain, relentless with its thoughts as weapons, and I’m engulfed in the waves, half drowning. I’m unable to rescue myself, unable to see the life raft that is a few feet away.
I try to cope with episodes by trying to incorporate enjoyable mindful activities, like reading, doing art, or organizing my room. Hot showers help. Lighting candles and wrapping myself in soft blankets also help. My weekly therapy sessions keep me afloat.
It’s hard to give myself grace on these days, to think of myself as with depression instead of someone who is depressed. Someone who is less than others for having less functioning, feeling like my emotional rollercoaster is a character flaw instead of an illness.
Why do I see myself in this way? I bear the weight of perfectionism, convincing myself that maybe I do have control over my depression and that my lack of motivation and utter exhaustion is something that tells me I’m not trying hard enough. Would I tell this to someone who has diabetes? Cancer? Any other kind of chronic illness? No.
I’m still trying to accept fully that my depression is not going away any time soon. Yes, there are days when I feel utterly in love with my life, or moments I feel proud, at peace, and strong. But many days are hard days.
It’s not enough to yearn for a time when depression will no longer exist in my life. I doubt that time will ever come. So each day is about coping, managing the symptoms, and being gentle with myself. It’s something I’m learning how to do every day, a skill I haven’t mastered yet in nearly 10 years. A skill I will spend the rest of my life trying to learn.
The thought that echoes in my mind, deep below the darkness, that is hard to acknowledge and listen to is, “You have been through this before. You will get through.”
And I do.
Photo Credit: Andrii Lutsyk/ Ascent Xmedia /DigitalVision via Getty Images
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