This is what depression looks like.

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.

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About Maia Rainwood

Owner and Maker at Maia Rainwood Design. Wearable art for wise women, birth keepers, witches, and world-builders.
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33 Responses to This is what depression looks like.

  1. Foxipher says:

    I’m here. I live with this too, and I know how fucking hard it is. If I lived closer I would come and visit and watch a movie with you.

    What do you need? Is there any way I, a long distance friend, can help?

  2. Foxipher says:

    Also, hon, would you mind if I quoted parts of your post? I won’t mention your name or LJ name or anything if you don’t want me to, but there are some folks to whom I’d like to explain some depression stuff.

    • Rainy says:

      You can link here if you like, quote, attribute, whatever. I’m not hiding this or my experience or that I’m having it. I think there is too much shame and hiding. I refuse to be ashamed of this. *hugs* and in response to your upthread comment, *HUG* thank you. I know you get it. I appreciate that so much.

  3. Lee Cox says:

    [[hugs]]

  4. Tammy says:

    I just wanted you to know that I wish I lived closer too. I know it’s hard and I’ve never been in your shoes. Hugs to you.

  5. Tori says:

    This article is a good one to point folks to when they are not respectful of your lack of excitement over a fun ride on the pharmaceutical merry go round.

    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/01/28/the-depressing-news-about-antidepressants.html

    • Rainy says:

      this is a great article.

      • Shawna J. says:

        For *me*, my med helps. It helped me regain some sex drive, it helped me stabilize myself. It’s not a miracle pill by any means, but it has helped *me*.

        I would never tell someone “meds, meds, meds”. It is one of many options to consider, and really does work best in conjunction with therapy or other healthy self-directed methods.

  6. Sleepycat says:

    {{{hugs}}} I’m on that med-go-round too and it does ever so suck. May we all find someplace better than “mostly functional” someday.

  7. Rainy says:

    Shawna,
    I’ve had good luck and bad luck with meds. I’m not anti-meds by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just cautious about them They aren’t my first line of defense. I don’t think I knew you around the time I affectionately call “Effexor Hell” but I’ve definitely got a reason to proceed with awareness and medical supervision.

    I don’t think they’re effective for everyone and it bothers me that doctors don’t know why or how exactly some of them work. I think more work needs to be done, there.

    And yeah, therapy + other self care are critical. Meds aren’t a fix it.

  8. Hugs for you… I’ve been walking the fine line between being ok, and being in trouble myself. You know your body, and what works for you… but it’s still so hard to set aside the things that people say to try and make you feel better. My family keeps pushing that when I have a bad day I should just “take something” and that frustrates me to no end. I’m working it out my own way, in my own time. Be well 🙂 J

    • Rainy says:

      I hope you can stay on the okay side of the line more than not. This stuff is hard… *hugs* There is help and there are options, but I think every individual has to find out what works for them personally.

  9. britt says:

    You know the “exercise more” business kills me. I know as well (or better) than anyone that exercise helps depression, but if I can’t get myself out of bed you really think I’m capable of going for a run?
    I share your feeling on brain chemistry, drugs and the roller coaster ride that is. It’s not that I doubt the effectiveness of medication I just doubt that I’m going to get the effectiveness without having to first go through 12 adjustments with side effects from hell.

    So I say this: Have a hug and you are awesome

    • Rainy says:

      “t’s not that I doubt the effectiveness of medication I just doubt that I’m going to get the effectiveness without having to first go through 12 adjustments with side effects from hell.”

      This. THIS. Yes. Exactly. It’s a happy little version of hell. Except not happy, and more hell.

  10. knitnana says:

    This is definitely a post that folks need to see, as it’s hard to know what the right thing to say or do is when someone we love is in this place.
    Know I’m thinking of you…and sending you tons of
    (((((hugs)))))
    (and, yes, I know you’ll get thru this one, too, and you know where I am…ok, a long ways away, but still…)

  11. Phoe says:

    As someone who is in the midst of a depressive episode, I understand. I’m loathe to ask for medication because I know it’s a roller coaster ride that I will *not* come out on top. I’m just trying to deal with a year in which the universe has taken a huge dump all over life. I live in hope when I can and abide within the darkness when that’s not possible.

    I’m here. And I’ll help if I can at all.

  12. Torrilin says:

    Oh lord hon. Ugh 😦

    One thing that helps me some on the days where getting out of bed feels like it’ll kill me… I ask myself *what* actually would not feel like death to do. Usually hunger, thirst, or needing a goddamn bathroom is enough motivation. Usually. There was a point in time where it felt like going to work was on par with dying, and I ended up quitting the job over it.

    *hugs you really tight*

    You *are* successful if you got up out of bed. Especially if you remembered to eat, and have something to drink. And if you managed to identify something else that you could do, you need gold stars plastered all over.

    For me, exercise more is a preventative, not a treatment for after onset. Which is one of the reasons we gave up the goddamn car… hard to miss out on exercise if you need to do it to go anywhere. If you’d like a baseball bat with that printed on it, for beating idiots with, I’m sure we can talk CafePress into making them ;).

  13. A. Marina Fournier says:

    You said: “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”

    My hypomanias last a few hours at best, anymore–not that they were ever long-lived. If I realize I must be in one, it disappears instantly!

    But that paragraph you said–it’s exactly what I feel. Why do I have to distrust any happy feeling–and forget *joy*? While the meds were not quite right, I lamented that I would have to face devastating depressions for the rest of my life, making me wonder why I bothered. I still *don’t* know why I bother, but at this moment, I have no feeling for a shortened life.

    I have had weeks of days where the only reason for getting out of bed was to use the toilet–eating sometimes exercised no hold on me. For an insomniac to sleep abnormally long hours–it’s lovely, and I had no impetus to curtail it.

    Great essay–I think I was sent here by one of your readers on my LiveJournal friendslist. I’m bipolar NOS, maybe just cyclothymic, but it’s treated just the same way. My son was dx’d with early onset bipolar at 7, along with me on the same day, when I was 47. It did mean a chance at appropriate medication and treatment, for both of us, and learning to manage it rather like the diabetes I have, and that he now has (Seroquel may have interfered with his lipids, but his eating habits didn’t help).

    May you be blessed by the understanding companionship of thoe who care about you, as well as random kindnesses by complete strangers.

    • Rainy says:

      Thank you so much. I wish you the same kindnesses and understanding!

      • A. Marina Fournier says:

        I’ve had a few people thank me for either my honesty or for being spot-on.

        I forwarded what I posted to my pdoc. I am so glad I found her–she treats me as an intelligent person who has a chronic condition that generally doesn’t interfere with my thinking. We both do research on new developments in bipolar studies, medication, and therapies. Her other patients seem to appreciate her as well. It’s a semi-scenic 75 minute drive, but she’s worth it. She’s been my only pdoc since the dx.

  14. mollie luna says:

    I was sent here by someone on my lj and after reading your post, linked to this.

    Because, I’ve been saying this for as long as I’ve known I had brain chemistry problems.

    I have, in the last year, managed to get OFF the pharmaceutical merry go round but like you question myself every single time I start to feel happy. Am I just happy, or is it hypomania?

    This is wonderfullly written, and resonates so with anyone who has this problem (and can look forward to it for the rest of their life.) Thank you more than I can say.

  15. Wendy says:

    Great post and sorry you’re feeling so awful. I’ve lived with people with depression all my life and it’s so hard for them.

    If there’s anything I can do…

    I could come over and spin with you if that helps.

    Anyway, thinking of you and hoping for an easing.

    Wendy

  16. Mouse says:

    You are definitely not alone and I feel as though I could have easily written at least 75% of your post about myself. I get infuriated when I hear people say “just take something”- I was on the merry-go-round as well for about a year and it was the most HORRIBLE time for me — even worse than my depression/anxiety could ever be. For me, being medicated (and the zombie-like state it induced) was torture. I think a lot of my creative process comes from being in a manic state… and without it everything felt gray and colorless.

  17. Cambria says:

    Hi Rainy,

    I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never right? I really enjoyed your post (I tend to enjoy all your posts, lol). I understand because I’m nearing the end of a psych degree, and because I’ve had personal battles with depression. I know that in terms of depression that stands on it’s own, there are two types. The first type is the steady, melancholy that never really goes away. That residual sadness that doesn’t seem to be too bad to the casual observer. The second is the major depressive episode which can last for various lengths of time. I’ve personally dealt with three major depressive episodes, each lasting about a year. Everything you said here about what they do to a person is dead-on. It’s hard to get up. The body hurts. Nothing is fun. Any little thing can bring you to tears. People don’t really understand, and loved ones hurt when they watch what you go through. I was lucky and I responded well to the first few medications that my doctor tried, but I know that I’m an unusual case. I think that God knew I had a new baby at home, and I was the only source of income for my family, and he gave me a boost so I could function. And just like you said, being functional is not the same as being okay but sometimes it’s the best you can hope for.

    Just know that there are a huge amount of people out there who will be suffering from depression, looking for something to help them deal with another hour, and they’ll find this post. And it will give them the strength to get through it. It always takes a little of the sting away when you know that you aren’t the only person dealing with the pain, and stigma of depression. I’m really proud of you, and I love you 🙂 And if you need anything, you let me know and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

    Take care.

    • Rainy says:

      Thank you. *love* I’m so grateful for your friendship and support.

      I’m working hard on functional this week. Hard. And I’m praying a lot, for strength and an assist. I know I’m not alone. It helps.

  18. A. Marina Fournier says:

    I understand. The first friend (above) I lost hurt for a few years afterward. Now, I guess I’m numb to it.

    I lost a man I was beginning to love because, I believe, he had been molested in his childhood by a male family friend/relative, if reported was not believed, and I was “getting too close”. He thought, at least at that time, that all gay men were molesters, and if I were friends with any…yikes. He never gave me an official reason for suddenly breaking things off, but yeah, that hurt. I still wonder about him from time to time, and wonder if he sought therapy/healing.

    • Rainy says:

      I just want you to know I moderated your earlier comment above because you reiterated the details of what I’d originally written in my edited reply. I feel that I would prefer to keep what I wrote initially private. It was venting, potentially hurtful to the person involved, and not constructive. Nothing personal, ok?

  19. A. Marina Fournier says:

    Not to worry!

  20. Diana Malinova Shaw says:

    Rain! It was such a pleasure meeting you at the Art Market last week. You are an inspiration to me! Poppies, Mucha and Crows? What’s next? I hope to see more of your work and even hopefully take a class. I barely know you but you radiate and energy I want to be around.
    Happy Rainy Day!

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