This is the day that my girlfriend broke up with me, in the food court of a shopping mall. I wrote this in the morning before we met up to “talk” and then two hours later she said almost all these things to me, verbatim, and then some. Which was kind of a little ironic and maybe a lot cruel, and it will take me a long, long time to get over it. Because it shattered me a lot. Depressive disorders are scary and huge, and a lot to ask someone to take on via a relationship. I get that. But I just wanted to mark this post here, as… hell, the day that I survived. This is the day I did NOT drive my car into a concrete freeway divider on the way home. This is the day that I lived and if I can live through those words and those feelings and that kind of heartbreak? I can live through anything. This is, weirdly, the day I got a lot of hope.
Depression. Mental illness. Cycling disorder. Major depressive episode. Hypomania. Suicidal ideation.
I hate those words. I hate them because they are sometimes used in relation to me.
I’m not talking about having a bad day or a short rough patch, here. I’m talking about major, life altering depressive disorder. The kind of insidious sadness that can creep up without warning, until, like that proverbial frog in boiling water, you are in trouble. Suddenly you can’t keep your head up above the waves. You’re drowning, but in your own head.
When it happens to me, it feels a lot like trying to walk through a pool of molasses. It sucks at me, mires me down. I can’t move fast, or think. Everything hurts, not just my heart and emotions, but my body aches and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep it off. I get irritable, there are cognitive issues, and I react badly and emotionally to things that would normally just roll off my back. Just getting out of bed in the morning becomes a major accomplishment. I get terrible insomnia, which turns into nightmare ridden sleep if I am lucky, and this leaves me groggy and exhausted the next day. I am in pain, physically and emotionally, at these times. There are days when taking a shower and putting on clean clothes is a major accomplishment. Never mind that I cried in the shower. Never mind that when I was putting on my clothes, I was praying as hard as I could for God to reach down and just help me out of this morass. By god, I took a shower. WIN.
Sometimes I wonder if God is even listening. Those foot prints in the sand? Yeah, not so much with the being carried. I can feel myself taking every excruciating step.
Helpful articles on the internet all say, “just talk about it. Ask for support.”
Well there are two problems with that, and anyone who has dealt with real depression and mental illness can tell you I’m dead on the money here.
1. Sometimes it’s too big and too scary for your loved ones to handle. Look, major depression is a lot to ask anyone to take on, I’m aware of this. I understand. But you have to see that this makes it terrifyingly risky for me to talk about. Ask for support? It only takes a bad reaction once or twice before you begin to feel unlovable and damaged, and like your illness is something shameful that you should hide.
2. People have a lot of misconceptions about depression. Dangerous, stupid misconceptions. Here are some of the helpful things I’ve been told when asking for support.
“You can choose to feel better. It’s all in your mind. Your life isn’t so bad.”
“Your life is amazing!”
“Depression is a choice.”
“Exercise more! Eat better! *insert helpful statistics that someone read in TIME magazine*
“Bootstrap yourself up. No, seriously. Suck it up.”
“Life is hard for everyone. There are people in the world who have it so much worse than you. Why when I had X hard situation, I… *insert story of how they handled whatever awful thing happened to them without being depressed*”
“Fake it till you make it.”
“You’re just lazy.”
While I am sure that some of these suggestions have merit, and there is a kernel of truth to them that I would love to explore when I’m NOT drowning in a vat of molasses, now is so not the time. Please, let me extend a big sign language salute to anyone who has ever said anything like that to me. Seriously. Those are all the things NOT to say to someone dealing with a major depressive episode. Really. What, yon’t believe me? Go read any one of a hundred articles on the internet, ones backed up by actual doctors and psychologists. When they’ve convinced you of the futility of the above statements, come back. I’ll wait.
Having a depressive disorder is not something I chose. This is not something I want. This is not something I enjoy. This is a ginormous case of sucktastic fucknuttery and I wish it had never come to me. I imagine diabetics feel much the same way about their disease. It is an illness, not a life choice.
I would MUCH rather be putting money into my retirement account than spending it on doctors who recommend endless antidepressant therapy that sometimes looks (and feels) a lot like Russian Roulette.
If you’ve never taken a ride on that pharmaceutical merry go round, don’t judge me for my wariness and caution. “I feel reluctant to get back on that ride.” is not the same as, “I refuse to seek treatment.” We are talking about altering brain chemistry, an inexact science with me as the guinea pig. Ever read some of the side effects on those drugs? They’re unfun. Trust me. Sometimes they’re worse than the depression itself. To me, “cautious and slow” means “educated patient.”
Look, the honest truth is that I would honestly rather not be afraid to get into my car because I had thoughts of driving it into a telephone pole and putting myself out of my misery. Believe me when I say that I would rather not feel like I am swimming against a rip tide knowing that if I ever stop struggling and fighting so hard then the pernicious, whispering current could carry me away. I have friends who, in a moment of despair, got carried away. They’re not here anymore. I don’t want to be one of them. I will not be one of them.
I will not. Not. NOT. be one of them.
I would rather not need to have to have iron-clad agreements with friends and family about calling them for help, or about when I will dial 911 or check myself into a hospital. But I do. I do have those agreements. I have those agreements because I would never hurt my family in that way. I like living. I like being here. NO hurry to leave. Also, I want to see the new Harry Potter movie in November.
Having those thoughts does not make me a horrible, selfish human being. Having those thoughts is a symptom of my illness. It does not mean I will follow through. Those thoughts are terrifying, they are horrible, and they are my worst nightmare. Being judged for them? Just makes it worse.
I would rather not wonder, when I realize that I’m feeling happy, if I’m starting on a hypomanic swing. I’d just like to take happy for what it is. I’d like to trust feeling happy. But here’s the truth. I have to manage being happy. I will never be able to trust being happy, not entirely.
So what IS helpful?
Helpful is you saying, “I’m here.” and asking me, “What do you need?” and then letting me tell you. I know what I need. Listen.
Helpful is you educating yourself about the realities of depressive disorders.
Helpful is coming over to watch a movie or TV or just play cards or drink tea. I am not very apt to seek out social opportunities when this is going on, but they’re good for me. Don’t try to fix me. Just listen. Or let’s just watch a movie and not talk about it for a few hours. You’d be surprised at how much better that can make me feel.
Helpful is understanding that it is a day by day/hour by hour/minute by minute thing. I may have been fine on Sunday, but today is not Sunday, it is Tuesday. I am not fine today. I may have been fine this morning, but it is no longer this morning. It is lunchtime, and I can’t stop crying. Take my up moments when they come and let’s make the most of them. Don’t treat me like a failure when I slide back under a few hours or days later. I already feel like one.
Don’t fucking judge me. That isn’t helpful. See “educate yourself.” If you must judge? Keep your judgment to yourself. I don’t want to hear it.
Helpful is reminding me that this will pass. That right now is horrible, but I’ve lived through this more than once and I’ll live through the current episode, as horrible as it feels.
Helpful is you taking care of yourself. I’ll feel better knowing that you’re on top of your own self-care. Trust me, I’m doing my best to stay on top of mine.
Helpful is understanding that this takes a while. For me personally, a depressive episode can take weeks or months to resolve entirely. It isn’t all crisis mode all the time, but yes, it is hell until things even out. Then, it’s just a steady, slow, uphill slog. See “hour by hour/day by day” and understand that I have a different relationship with time when I am depressed.
Understand that “functional” is not the same as being “okay” but that functional will totally do in a pinch. When I’m deep in the pit, that’s what I’m aiming for. Not “happy.” No. Just “okay enough to function like a mostly normal human being.”
Understand that no, really? It was actually too much fucking work to wash the dishes/do the laundry/clean the litterbox/brush my hair/put on shoes. All is not lost. There is hope, for lo, I emptied the dishwasher. Smaller scope, remember?
Here’s where “choice” comes in, by the way. I chose to reserve my limited energy and funnel it into maintaining my mental equilibrium. It mattered more to me than the catbox. Or perhaps I chose to use my limited energy to call my doctor. That too, mattered more than the catbox.
After 40 years of this, I pretty much know what I need to do to get through this. I don’t need to be fixed or rescued. I just need your patience, your support, your ear and a hand to hold while I do the work of getting myself out.
I don’t much like that I’m so intimate with this reality that I can tell you exactly what works and doesn’t, but there you are. I am. It isn’t fair. Whatever.
Please listen to what I’m telling you.