“The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.”
― William Styron, Darkness Visible
Though this post is late in the game, internet-speaking, I want to take a moment and thank Allie Brosh for her amazing post on returning to Hyperbole and a Half. She wrote a post in 2011, some 18 months ago, chronicling her descent into depression.
She returned last week with this post, Depression Part Two, which outlined in as accurate a way as I can imagine reading, what it feels like to linger in such a painful place.
“I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse’s Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled. I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience. Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything.”
Depression is real and people are really resonating with Allie’s work, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has suffered from it. You can learn more here. It’s in part a mood disorder, a chemical imbalance, a shift in how you see the world that lasts longer than a few weeks. It can be caused by external events, like losing a job or losing a spouse. It can be related to hormones or genetics. It can be one exacerbated by the other. Hell, it can even be caused by vitamin deficiencies or the wrong birth control pill.
In it’s mildest form, depression can feel like a bad cold, sufferable but you can get up and do your daily tasks. This kind often goes away on it’s own and you feel back to normal.
It can feel like bronchitis, where if you must, you could go about your business. Sometimes this one will clear up by itself, but it’s usually good to go and get some kind of intervention.
It can feel like pneumonia, where you might just rather sleep and sleep and sleep and never wake up. This one needs real help.
As Allie put it perfectly:
“At first, I’d try to explain that it’s not really negativity or sadness anymore, it’s more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can’t feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you’re horribly bored and lonely, but since you’ve lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you’re stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.”
Depression is invisible. It doesn’t look like a broken arm or chicken pox or heck, even like bronchitis. You can go through your life looking awesome, having great things in your life like kids or a wonderful job or fantastic friends or amazing creative ideas and projects and still feel like hell. And during that time, you can look at your wonderful fantastic amazing little life and hear nothing but lies about it. That everyone would be better off without you. You should quit projects, or you shouldn’t go out and see friends, or it’s fine to stay in bed all day.
Depression lies, as many many people, including the wonderful Bloggess, have noted. But I have often wondered in the midst of depression (for I suffer from mild to moderate chronic depression and have from my teen years), which me is the “real” me-the happy one or the one when depressed. During a depression I imagine I’m finally seeing the truth about the world, how pointless it all is. I get kind of French existentialist only without the cigarettes. Then, when I’m in a good place I realize how much my chemistry was messed up.
It does tend to make me wonder then how any of us can determine what “real” is in terms of personality. I’m fascinated with perception.
My own depression started during my teen years and while there were some life circumstances that would have depressed anyone, it was related most strongly to my menstrual cycle. There have been lots of jokes about women being moody around their periods (and I mean come on, who wouldn’t be moody when they are bloated and cramping) but for some of us its more severe, the way estrogen and progesterone interact with serotonin…well, as I am not a scientist I’d say the official term is “jacking with it.” Or PMDD for short.
I come from a long line of men who have been artists, passionate and sensitive, and a long line of women who have suffered from depression both ongoing and severe post-partum. I myself had a very very difficult time after my second son was born, with new symptoms of anxiety and exhaustion which I would not wish on anyone. I’ve had to work hard to manage myself, and I do work hard because I know it’s important.
For me, the feelings are frustrating, not least because I KNOW that they are chemical, alterable, somehow fixable. I KNOW that when I feel the symptoms of flatness, fatigue, sadness, that I just have to live and work anyway. I KNOW when I loathe expending energy to appear competent, normal, happy (because I have a wonderful life and I know that too!) that giving into it is the worst thing I can do.
I KNOW when I feel guilt over the exhaustion, when I worry over letting people down, that I have to dig deep to pull the real love and enthusiasm I feel for people and things out of the mire that feels like pounds of wet woolen blankets covering the real me that there is a real ME underneath filled with love and passion and hope and that I have to keep tethered to that person, to MYSELF despite the desire to just…stop.
Still, I’m thankful I’ve had a connection into myself where my reactions to people were still real and authentic, even if blunted. In fact, I’d say that most people with depression are so very strong to keep those connections going, even when it feels like a falsehood. Something in them, in me at least, knows the real truth that there is hope, and thus put on a good face, a strong face, and do the work so that the outside happy face will find its way into the inside sadness, do battle, and make that shift back to something more like real balance. Some make that shift. Others do not. I’ve known too many that have lost themselves and their loss is a violent rip in the fabric of love, in the potential of connection.
I’ve been lucky to have access to therapists, to insight into proper nutrition, to good doctors to help me with hormones (and those are currently changing and it’s been difficult lately), and medicines that help balance the complex choreography of chemicals that dance about in my brain. I’m also very lucky that I am able to KNOW that depression can lie, and that I can see patterns of feeling better. I’ve been blessed to have the support of a wonderful husband, of good friends, and to have a core nature that is energetic. I’ll tell you, even with those piece of good fortune there are times when I have felt so tired.
I hate feeling that tired. I have to admit that there are times during those times when I wonder why I chose something as difficult as social justice to be part of my life. I mean come on! It’s hard enough to talk about human rights, consent and sexual equity when you feel GOOD all the time, yeah? The opposition alone can depress you! But it’s what I do, perhaps it chose me, and frankly, the work gives me the most encouragement. Writing, in particular, has been one of things that has given me joy. Theater as well and the ability to help others tell stories and reach and touch people, that’s a source of compassionate energy that helps me with that internal tether, that connection to the good and true and hopeful.
I’m so thankful that Allie is still here, that’s she’s sharing her words and pictures which are so insightful and eloquent and so important. She’s helped so many people with her words, just by being there and I hope some part of her knows that. I hope those that read her know how important THEY are as well, because they also help others just by being them. I hope Allie can sense how many people care for her and I hope she continues to feel better.
I have little else to say save for this: You are important. You are beautiful. Your thread in this fabric is connected to all the rest, to all of us and your well being and your health is important to me, to those who love you. Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel shame over having depression or anxiety or any mental disorder (if you have one). If you don’t have one, love those fully and deeply who do, listen to them with compassion, and help them stay tethered to themselves and to you, even if it feels scary. I know it might feel scary, but your loved ones need you just as you need them.
If you do need help, or know someone who does, help is out there: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).. Reach out. Because depression lies and you deserve to know the truth. You are important.