A FEW NOTES:
First, thank you for reading. There’s a lot here that’s tough, but I hope in the end, you’ll feel it was worth the time.
Second, I quote quite a bit from Dr. Andrew Solomon, an author, and scholar in the fields of Psychology and culture. I learned so much from him about Depression from a TED Talk: “Depression: the secret we share.” I’ve linked it and highly recommend a watch. His are the comments, without color, in italics.
Third, I’ve gotten into the habit of placing my own dialogues in color. Red is Mars (who’s Mars? see here), and I am blue. Enjoy!
It’s been a little while since I’ve shared, hasn’t it? I’ve been pondering this blog lately… What should I do with it? When I first started, I was responding to an issue that really fired me up. Whenever I would feel that fire, I would write. First, it was anger, then tragedy, then secrets, dejection, love, firsts, Mars, doubt, and lastly, defiance (heh, heh… nice rundown, Marlin).
and more nothing.
One reason for that, I think, was my need for attention. As people were reading, visiting the blog, and raising my view count, I started tieing those views to my own self-worth. Views equaled affirmation and I yearned for it. I started thinking about what would gather more views. How could I make this blog more interesting? I would start writing something, and then after a few paragraphs… “People aren’t going to look at this. I don’t know what I’m doing.” “Oh… *sigh* Hey Mars.”
“Well, you can always just come back to it Marlin,” I thought. “At least you’ve got something started. And who knows? It could really help some people.”
“Are you serious? You really want to try to write something when you’re dealing with this? We need to get our sh*t together before we even think about this blog.”
There was no way I believed that, right? But months passed, and six drafts/ new ideas later, there was nothing posted… until today, when that surge of feeling, that fire, rushed through me and this poured out. Mars was right. In so many ways, my life was in shambles. I had just returned to work from being on a medical leave, which started after a hospital stay, which was a consequence of a real darkening of my entire outlook. I was changing, and not for the better. My behavior, speech, and attitude, was raising flags of caution and concern, confusion and anger. I knew why. But, didn’t want to face the possibility that this… THIS… was making its return.
One thing that I learned about Depression, was that it can come in Episodes. Dr. Solomon talked about “interstices between depressive episodes.” An episode is essentially a time period (from at least 2 weeks up to a year or more) where multiple symptoms of major depressive disorder, the most noticeable usually being low mood, appear and persist, and usually increase in intensity. People can liken it to a valley, or a tough time, or a rough patch, or a storm, or a wilderness, or any number of colorful euphemisms. I would do the same; though, after about the eighth month or so, terms like rough patch didn’t seem to capture it effectively.
“Depression is the result of a genetic vulnerability, which is presumably evenly distributed in the population, and triggering circumstances…”
I definitely had a triggering circumstance- the loss of a friendship; the separation from someone I loved. Though after this long, I wonder if that was really the catalyst at all. It made sense the more I learned about this disease: that depression was going to be a risk factor throughout my life, that I would have relapses, flare-ups, and episodes, that therapy and medication were necessary, lifelong realities, that some people simply do not have this condition while some do, and that there is no one factor that can precipitate an episode (among other things, of course). That last one I listed, was eye-opening because I always questioned if this episode didn’t start before then, and that losing my friend wasn’t a catalyst, but an aggravation. Or, maybe it was the catalyst… I honestly don’t know.
“People think of depression as being just sadness. It’s much, much, too much sadness; much, too much grief… at far too slight a cause.”
One real trouble was that once I was in it (the episode), I felt vulnerable to everything: every comment, every “failure,” every hiccup or challenge, every task, EVERYTHING. And I responded to everything very intensely, unpredictably, irrationally. I thought I could or would never cry this much over a mistake at work, a “poor” workout, a long walk, a hypothetical story, a memory… but I was definitely wrong. I would describe it this way- it’s as if you were going through your day, but your chest was bare, your skin peeled back, your ribs split and opened, and your lungs parted revealing your heart. Everything still works and your heart still beats, but the air is hitting it, bugs are landing on it, it’s cold and hot, and you feel everything. More than that, you’re afraid, because you think anything that comes into contact might break it, or pierce it, or infect it, or some other terrible thing. So when something touches it, you cry out. It hurts, after all. Of course, that mental picture does not match the reality. Right now, you’re just sitting at a table, in a well-lit, air-conditioned, conference room, drinking lemon water and talking about why changing this one phrase in a presentation will clearly, undeniably cause Ragnarok. That’s the trouble: Everything; feeling, emotion, reaction, is just so… extra (as the young whippersnappers say) when it’s there. And when it’s not there…
God, the nothing.
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”
For those of you who don’t know what I mean by “the nothing,” I am going to share with you what it’s like. It starts off with a small thought or feeling that comes, usually something like “why even do this?” and you physically feel the sensation of energy leaving you. You slump over, you look down, but at nothing in particular, you exhale. Then, the stillness creeps- it’s like what happens when you see a predator, a lion, or tiger or bear; you “freeze” in your tracks. Your mind goes blank for a moment and thoughts don’t come. No positive or negative thoughts, or even thoughts about what you should do next, like tie a shoe. You have an awareness of what’s going on, but it’s not conscious really. It’s a subtle touch, like a faint smell in the air or a tint in a window. Everything is ‘normal’ except for this one thing. But, it’s almost in complete control. You get to this state, and if you’re standing, you sit; if you’re sitting, you lie down; if you’re lying down, you sleep a restless sleep. Sometimes, you just stare at the ceiling.
The next part of awareness is that thoughts do start to return, thoughts to move or act, but it’s like you hear someone else saying them, or like you’re on a beach screaming into the violent ocean. It’s like you’re trying to command the wind to blow, or the rain to fall. You think it, you may even say it (because you do hope for it), and nothing happens. You usually then start questioning yourself, because it’s incredible (as in unable to be believed) that this is happening. “Why aren’t you moving? Are you lying down? Should you reach out to someone? Why can’t you? Do you even WANT to come out of this? WHY AREN’T YOU MOVING? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!”
Then, the internal questions, “Is this really me? Am I not moving? Why? I should call someone… Why am I not calling anyone? The phone is in my hand, just call! WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!”
“And one of the things that often gets lost in discussions of depression is that you know it’s ridiculous. You know it’s ridiculous while you’re experiencing it.”
Did you know that you can be grateful AND depressed? I didn’t understand that before, but I do now. Did you know that you can eat well, exercise, take medication, go to counseling, and still feel depressed? I do now. I’ve read, and heard, and seen, how some people address the condition of depression in their minds. And I get why some people find depression mysterious, or incomprehensible, or frustrating. I get why those with depression find depression mysterious, or incomprehensible, or frustrating. Issues of the mind are easy to obfuscate and difficult to diagnose, let alone treat. And there is a distinct difference between “depression,” the very valid and very real universal human feeling, and “depression,” the equally valid and very real medical condition. It’s not an easy thing to see or accept.
I look at myself and I can see nothing amiss (I could be taller, but let’s save that for another time), so what do I have to be “sad” about? The sun is out, the sky is blue, the breeze is cool, the leaves are green, and the air is clean, why don’t I just get out of bed? My stomach is growling, my hands are trembling, and I have a slight headache, why don’t I just eat something? I have money, why don’t I just pay my bills? There are incongruencies like these all over. It’s madness (the situation, not the person), and these polarizing thoughts and self-sabotaging behavior lead me to question if I’m making any progress at all. My mind is overthrown, or malfunctioning, so can I trust what I’m thinking or saying? Are these moves, or actions, or decisions, really what’s best for me?
You see these thoughts, and what word comes to mind? Maybe “familiarity?” You’ve had these thoughts once in a while too, haven’t you? You’ve felt these feelings, maybe done these things at some point. There is nothing particularly unique about these feelings or thoughts. For me, the one difference is that there was a something; a something that recognized these thoughts then put them aside and went about living anyway. I think it’s a something we all have- a higher functioning or control that prompts us to act and keeps us from the brink. With me, depression removed that something. Depression opened, or broke, or removed entirely, that sluice that prevented feelings from overflowing. I think that’s why people sometimes say, “I just wish I was the old version of me (or the version I remember).” And many people, myself included, focus efforts on trying to get back there, recapture that identity we once knew, even if it may have helped bring us to this point somehow.
So, why am I writing this? Am I going to provide some answers? Is this a tale of triumph to say, “that was me once, and look at me now- I’m rich, b*tch?” Afraid not. I don’t have many answers, but that’s the ‘why’ of this blog: not to be a grand sage with ancient mystical knowledge, not a mental health Yoda, but to be a human being, and share things that I’m afraid to share, in the hopes that someone will see. “See it in yourself, you may” (that’s the only Yoda reference, promise), or in a family member or friend, or in a colleague, and maybe this could help you understand. With that in mind, I have some words for you-
To that someone who knows/ cares about someone with depression-
As much as I can, I understand. This person is different, they seem hurt, they’re not themselves, they’re doing things they don’t normally do. It’s been going on for some time and it doesn’t seem to be changing. Maybe they’ve become less dependable, or irritable, or erratic, or melancholy. Maybe they don’t see that you care, or that their actions are affecting you too. After all, you are human- you have feelings, not everything is roses and riches in your life. Maybe they’re detached, or pessimistic, or just exhausting. As much as I can, I understand. Thank you for understanding as much as you can understand.
Please keep hanging in there. Do not let go of that person. They need you, and just don’t know it. Keep working to find that right level of support. Even though there are some types of support that push people away, most times, when left to their (I should just say “our.” I’m in this group too), OUR, own devices, we tend to orchestrate our demise. THAT’S NEVER ON YOU. You do, however, bring so much good, and promote healing sometimes just by being there. You may get this, but if not, understand this is a lifelong deal- the person you care about WILL improve, but the brain is how it is, and as far as we know, it doesn’t heal itself. I hope this helps to see what someone with depression may be thinking on the inside. I hope this helps to see that someone understands.
Thank you for your effort. We can see your sacrifice, your care, and we certainly need it. We care about you too and wouldn’t want to see you hurt. So please, sit out an inning when you need, but stay in the game. Go to your corner, sit on the stool, get some water and some straight, no-jive talk from the trainer, then get back into the ring. We might not say it enough, but words can’t express the depth of gratitude to you who stick with us. Who help us limp to the finish line when we pull a muscle mid-run. You are heroes, brethren in the trenches, lifesavers, and if no one has told you, accept it from me.
Keep being awesome.
If you are someone with depression-
I want you to know that I understand. I’m with you. I know you pull this weight on yourself; and hate that you are not this perfect, burdenless, never-miss success. I am going through it too, and I don’t have the answers. I don’t write this with the intent to say follow me; only to say I’ll walk with you, and I HOPE we’re walking in the right direction.
I know you feel like a burden, but as much as possible, say something. Have you ever heard the phrase, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”? That’s very true here. I hope you have people around you who want to see you better, but they are human just like you, and if they don’t know how to help, or even if you need help… then their help… might not help (that’s a lot of helps). When you can, take the time to thank them. We don’t want to be a burden, and they probably don’t even think we are, but a genuine thank you and acknowledgment of their effort can go a long way. It helps you too. It’s like a balm on a burn- it will still hurt, but there’s no doubt that it feels a hell of a lot better than before.
And, to steal advice from a friend: be patient with yourself. No matter how long it takes for things to get better, you will always have wanted it much sooner than it happens. BUT IT DOES HAPPEN. To steal advice from a professional: think of your process and appreciate your progress. What you did today that you didn’t do yesterday. What not-perfect accomplishment was accomplished. Could it have been different for someone else? Maybe. Was it messy? Maybe. But, it’s yours and it means something.
You are not your depression. You are not your failures. You are limitless potential and immeasurable value. You are deep thoughts and powerful acts. You still bring something good into the lives of the people you touch. And things won’t always be this way. You won’t always feel like you do. I’m sure people have told you this before (like they’ve told me), and there are days when you believe it and days when you don’t. Hopefully, you catch this on a day that you do. Take these words and feel all warm and cozy for a bit. I’m hugging you through the screen and through these words. “Why all touchy-feely,” you ask? Because life is short, and we’ve seen death. And even though we’re still afraid, that doesn’t mean we can’t send and receive a little love while we’re here.
Well, that’s about it. I’m not sure how this comes across. But maybe this will leave you feeling hopeful. I know I’m hopeful. The lingering thought that things can improve is always in there (points to the left temple) along with so many others. This is just how messy life is. To use that “walk with you” metaphor once more: I do think that we’re going in the right direction and that someday, we’ll look back on this from the other side (of the wilderness- that’s the one I’m using), and count it triumph.
Did you know that it took me nearly six years to obtain a bachelor’s degree? I share that precisely because so many people don’t know it. You can look at me and see the diploma and maybe write your own story of how it happened. But the truth is it was a journey far from perfect, loaded with mistakes and close calls. It’s not a story where I was always the hero. But, I’m okay with that. Because in a small way, it’s an ever-present reminder to put things in perspective.
Was it ideal? I don’t know.
Could it have been different for someone else? Maybe.
Was it messy? Yes.
And was it mine?
And that means something.
Love you all.