I am not particularly good at speaking up in the moment, so when a friend told me that a TV show cured their depression, my eyes bugged out of their sockets but my mouth stayed shut.
I know that was a throwaway comment not at all meant to trivialize depression, but it did. I have dealt with depression for well over a decade and with it: anxiety (general anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive & compulsive tendencies), occasional panic attacks, constant irritability, apathy, inability to acknowledge accomplishments or feel rewarded by them, lack of emotional reactivity, constant fatigue, weight gain, lack of appetite and surprising weight loss, insomnia since I was 10 (the earliest I can remember, though it likely began before then), headaches from the moment I wake up, sometimes migraines, and psychomotor slowing and agitation!
And then there was a period in my early teenage years when I thought about dying every day.
Yes, I looked up all of those symptoms, for two reasons. One, because when I try to think of how depression has affected my life, I always draw a blank, the same way I’m unable to answer a question on the spot (or speak up in the moment); my brain cannot cut through the fog quickly enough to do so. Two, I can’t remember a time before I felt this way, cannot remember what my life was like before, and cannot say how depression has affected me, because depression is my life. I have only recently, the past year at most, begun to extrapolate my actual personality, sense of self from the condition that grew roots so deep into my being and wove them so tightly around every fiber that I didn’t know that the depression was not me.
So, when I hear that cutting out sugar and “eating better” helps depression, I remember when food was the only thing in my life to which I looked forward. When I hear that “small goals” help depression, I remember my STILL PRESENT avoidance and thoughts of futility and failure. When I hear that “getting out of the house” helps depression, I remember feeling like everyone was watching me, whispering, laughing about me, judging me when I left my home. When I hear how “being active” helps depression, I remember my low, low self-esteem and imminent failure.
Getting better is not that simple.
When I hear anyone dole out advice that suggests ignorance to the difficulty–impossibility–of achieving seemingly easy, every day activities, errands, actions, I say what the fuck do you know about depression and shame myself for not expressing compassion for their well-intended attempt to help.
For the record, YES all of that well-intended advice does help. But it is not, by any means, that easy. Not easy to get better and not easy to even put those suggestions into action.
I can only speak to what I have experienced and the accounts I have read, but the act of existing is exhausting when you are depressed. For anyone who experiences depression on an episodic or reactive basis, the experience is so, so different from a persistent depressive disorder. There is even debate about the conditions encompassed within the diagnosis “major depressive disorder.” All that a diagnosis requires is experiencing 5 or more symptoms at once, over a consistent two week period. But how can someone who experiences 5 of those symptoms for exactly two weeks have the same experience as me, someone who has experienced all 9 of the possible symptoms, often all at once, for years and years?
It is after two years of therapy and the highest legal dosage of antidepressant & anti-anxiety medication bupropion, highest legal dosage (and occasionally 30mg higher) of additional anti-anxiety med, buspirone, and nightly sedative/antidepressant trazadone that I have upgraded to a consistent state of relative okay-ness (okay being feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, difficulty being productive, and generally gloomy disposition), which as far as I can tell is “persistent depressive disorder” with regular but brief bouts of what I guess is categorized as “major depression.”
And in this vein of trivializing depression, I imagine that someone who deals with never-ending major depression, the actual major kind with which I used to deal, the idea of persistent depression, that state of relative okay-ness, seems like a walk in the park, and I know I’m fortunate that my mental health has improved to this extent.
The good news: I am doing things again! Things that I enjoy! Sometimes I even feel feelings of enjoyment while doing them. But the accomplishment here is that I am not avoiding things I love due to my fear of failing at or not enjoying them. Like spending time with horses. Reading books. Painting. And writing! Writing this blog post!
Part of this writing success is due to my discovery of new bloggers and artists around my age who express their vulnerability through their art. Vulnerability of being themselves, of sharing their fears, failures, and talent with the world.
But part of it is my own pettiness, from witnessing art that claims mental health as inspiration or artistic platform, but does not claim the vulnerability necessary, and knowing that I could do better.
My success is not (yet) a large audience, but is within myself, having not found writing that is exactly what I want to read, knowing it’s up to me to create that. My success is slowly, surely, steadily writing that story.