Despite my very best efforts, i.e. running and exercising every day, eating healthy, journaling, writing and trying to make friends – my body has slipped into another depression. I had been off of medication for about five months this time, so I honestly feel like this was the most of “real life” I got to taste in years. I don’t know if the little taste makes it easier or harder when the rug gets pulled out from under my feet. But this is life with a chronic illness. It’s tenuous and sometimes unfair and oftentimes lacking in hope. My mom suggested I write about the experience to help me process through the onslaught of emotions that comes with a major depression. So here you are, this is my life:
Living with major depression means that there are significant periods of your life (months for me usually, up to a year at times) where you don’t want people in your life and people don’t want you. The crippling sadness, the tears, the withdrawal – those aren’t exactly super great benefits that new people coming into your life want to deal with.
And I don’t blame them at all. “I’m not usually like this” is the oldest cliche in the book. Making friends as an adult is basically dating. And most people don’t want to dig through rubble to get to the person underneath. I have my family and my husband and one or two friends that I’ve known for years and don’t live here and that’s it. Five months isn’t really enough time to seal somebody into your life forever. And I always feel like I’m on a clock for the next dip.
And don’t even get me started about working. Would you like to hire an employee who needs to work on their own schedule, mostly from home with a little bit of in office time so that I get some of that socializing in? No, I wouldn’t want to hire that person either. So instead I’m left trying to find odd jobs or trick people into hiring me for a few months before the next depression hits and I can’t get out of bed.
Everyone is always telling me how strong I am. It’s their favorite thing to say about me. Because all I really want to do is sleep and not have to fight through the heavy weight on my chest telling me that nothing matters. And this weight that’s more like a hole in my soul constantly leaking goodness at a rate that can’t be patched, it shows up at the front of every single decision of every single day during a depression.
Should I eat? Eh, why bother – my life is unimportant and doesn’t really matter. Should I go for a run? Same answer. Should I get out of bed? Same answer. Should I shower? Same answer. It is unbelievably oppressive and it makes every single day hard. And I have people in my life to live for, so I don’t give up. I just keep going for those runs even though I would rather just stop existing. I shower. I do the things that normal people do because I know that some day, months from now I will not feel this way anymore and I do not want depression to have stolen more time and more years from me.
It can feel hopeless.
Imagine building a castle, the most beautiful castle you’ve ever seen, and watching this unstoppable force of nature come in and destroy it. So you rebuild. And the castle starts to come back into focus. Maybe you live inside of it for awhile, but then that same storm comes and destroys it again. And your left standing outside asking, “Why bother building?”
That’s kind of how life with this illness is for me. I do absolutely everything I can when I’m on the upswing of things. I want to be an actress and writer. So when I feel good, I go to every single audition that I can. I write as many pages as I can feasibly put out. I start looking for more opportunities and try and develop myself as a trade worker who can be trusted so that I’ll get something closer to that ever illusive dream schedule for me. On top of that, I workout every day, I journal, I use all of the essential oils in existence basically. And just as things are starting to really turn around, I stop sleeping. Nothing matters to me anymore.
And in case anybody reading this doesn’t know, there is no quick fix to getting up out of a depression. I’ve written extensively about things that can help with overall mental health, but the addition and subtraction of medication in treatment of depression is menacing. Even if the medication being prescribed to you is the exact right chemical dosage to help balance your brain, it takes about six weeks to kick in. Think about living in the dark for six weeks if you’re unsure what that waiting game feels like. There are tons of doctors appointments and experimenting and usually months of emotional roller coasters before thing even out.
As I’ve gotten older the difference in my life is that I keep going through the motions because again, I refuse to let depression steal my dreams from me. But the truth is that going through the motions is just a stop gap. It’s not what gets me to the next stage in my career. It’s not the kind of passion people need to be successful. So I stall out. And I build a world of paint-by-numbers and books and TV shows because those are the only things that distract me enough from my sadness to get me through the day most days.
I used to be an incredibly religious person. I had faith in a grand plan for my life and in a purpose and a mission to the world in general. Call it a chick and an egg thing that when major depressive disorder took over my life in my early twenties that faith went out the window. The first couple of depressions, I legitimately believed that there was a crack in the fundamental building blocks of my soul that would always keep me from being happy. I was so mired in sadness that I didn’t believe in anything anymore.
But if there is anything I can say about living with this for so many years now, it’s that I have an unwavering faith in myself. I now know that these feelings are not an issue with me but a result of my body not producing the chemicals it’s supposed to produce. I have faith that if I keep doing the things that my best self wants out of life, that when the medicine does start working and the hopelessness begins to fade, I will be happy.
Because even though it’s harder and painful and filled with tears, my life doesn’t stop because I’m sick. And I refuse to wake up a few months from now in someone else’s life. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve given the depression what it wanted and fed all the lies that circle around in my head when the storm descends. That life is not one I will ever want. It’s filled with other people’s expectations and hopes. Let me tell you, you do NOT go to as much therapy as I have and not come out as one of the most self-aware son of a bitches you’ve ever met in your life. I know the difference between what I want and what the sadness wants. And I have faith in my ability to overcome another set of obstacles.
I write this today as a therapy for myself, yes, but also to tell people what it’s really like so that maybe the world will start to look at mental health issues with more compassion and honesty. I write because hopefully if you’re struggling you’ll find solidarity in knowing you aren’t alone. I write because it’s the truth, and the truth deserves to be told.