Let me educate you.
I have been fighting my illness every hour of every day since it got really serious six months ago, but I also know I've had this all my life. I fight and I fight and I fight and I fight. And anyone you know with depression is fighting too.
What is depression like?
First, the feeling. It’s a feeling that comes unbidden, that won’t respond to rational thought, and that grows and grows until you feel like it’s all there is.
“I know I have a good life,” I snapped at my husband a few weeks ago. “I just wish it would FEEL good.”
That’s the important thing to realize. It’s not that you’re tired and some caffeine will wake you up. It’s not that your back aches and a painkiller will help you. It’s a feeling that won’t quit.
The feeling includes anger, sadness, grief, hopelessness, fatigue, pain. Then there's being mentally stuck in one place in your head and sometimes physical inability to move. Everything looks, tastes, sounds, smells and feels like crap.
I’ve had days when I stood in the shower and sobbed for fifteen minutes, days when I simply could not leave my house, days when I realized I'd been sitting on the toilet staring into space for twenty minutes and I didn't know why and days when I yelled at someone at work and had to apologize profusely, which doesn’t change the fact that it’s a Career Limiting Move.
Second, the voices.
You know that little voice in your head that criticizes you? We all have it. We beat ourselves up for doing something stupid, or tell ourselves we’re not capable of doing task X or Y.
But a positive attitude or even temporary mental kick in the pants dismisses the voice, right?
Not for people with depression.
My voice doesn't stop. And it can’t be dismissed. It's a demon on cocaine, it sees constant opportunities to torture me and it's got a lot of creative things to say.
Then I have the voice that tells me scary stories. "The house is burning down and your husband is dead" it says to me in the middle of getting my lunch in the work canteen. "Your sister has been in a car accident and is in hospital." "Your dog has cancer."
Of course what it is saying is ludicrous. But the problem is that, at the moment you hear those things, they FEEL like they are true. It’s as if my intuition has been hijacked by a sociopathic sadist. Dismissing what the voice says takes a lot of mental energy. And sometimes I can’t do it until I’ve made a phone call to my husband or texted my sister, just in case.
Third, the convictions.
There are two very, very strong convictions.
Conviction A is that nothing has any point. Everything is hopeless. It’s all a stupid waste of time, boring, repetitive and ultimately just leads to death anyway.
Conviction B is that I am worthless. The work I do makes no real contribution to anything of value. I'll never lose weight or get physically fit. My friends tolerate me, but really I’m no fun at all.
So if you add up convictions A and B, I might as well die, right? All this suffering would be over, my family would eventually get over it and my husband would spend a year grieving and then find a wife that wasn’t such a burden and he could be the one being looked after for a change.
I know the building I would jump off, I know how to get there and I know what letters I need to write before I do. Conviction B leads to flawless logistical planning.
To understand depression, you need to grasp two things:
1) Depression is a physical disease. It’s a chemical imbalance, it’s genetic, and it affects the genome (look it up).
2) Depression is a disability. Like cancer, there is no cure. You can be in remission, you can be malignancy free, but it’s always there. Always. It’s a condition that has to be managed for life.
So how do I manage mine?
I had ECT (look it up). I take five pills every day. I meditate every week day morning. I do yoga five times a week. I’ve reduced my alcohol intake to almost zilch. I’m working very hard to eat in a healthy way. I am in weekly therapy. I do pranayama breathing exercises. I practice mindfulness not only to allow my brain to rewire (look it up) and relax, but to be able to spot an episode of sociably unacceptable behavior before it hits me, so I can pop a Xanax, relax and behave normally.
I need to have the discipline of a professional athlete. Oh sure, skipping yoga, just for today – doesn’t matter does it? It’s just one day.
And then I find myself sobbing in the restroom the next day because I saw a post on Facebook about the Honor Flight and someone explained to me what it is (look it up). Forgetting to take my pills? That will be a day on the couch fatigued and crying and having to take a sick day from work.
So I’ve had to face this disease/disability and accept that I need to work hard to be sane. That’s just how it is.
That’s my story of depression. Maybe yours is different. But this is how I live with it. Every hour of every day.
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