After the dump-fest of a letter I wrote you the other day, I got to thinking…. maybe I should go into more detail about depression and what it does to me, personally, to help others who also read these letters better understand exactly what depression is… or what it isn’t.
In our session on Monday, my therapist told me that that one way in which she’s heard people describe major depression is that you’re just as sad as if someone has died… though no one has. Though I once heard something else that resonated with me even more: Sarah Silverman says, “Depression is feeling homesick… except you’re already home.”
There is a popular phrase amongst sufferers like me: Depression Lies. It’s freaking true! Your mind manages to distort things in such unpleasant ways that you literally believe only the worst things about yourself. There’s a filter of sorts, at work, really. They talk about what is happening in the mind of someone who suffers from body dysmorphia; a person might have reached a deathly low body weight leaving them appearing skeletal yet somehow, when they look at their reflection, they still see someone who is overweight. They will continue to starve themselves of the nutrition they need to survive in an attempt to lose even more weight. Until they seek help, it’s never going to be enough. There’s something happening in their brain that makes it impossible to see themselves as they really are. My brain also has it’s own kind of flawed lens through which I see myself in relation to the rest of the world.
For instance, when my marriage of 8 years ended, we ended on spectacular terms and only words of great kindness were exchanged between us. He told me what a smart, funny, loving, kind, caring and wonderful person I was and that he was grateful to have been a part of my life for those 8 years. And the one-year relationship I was in after our divorce ended quite painfully but respectfully and very lovingly; we had nothing but kind words for one another as we parted ways for good. However, my most recent relationship somehow has left me feeling as though I’m “off balance” enough to not deserve someone who loves and cares for me despite my obvious flaws… and that maybe I’m just”too much work and effort” for anyone to bother being in a relationship with. We haven’t spoken a word to one another since we split up and I’ve taken his impression of me to heart for some reason. Why is it so much easier for me to believe his image of me (after only 2-1/2 years together, only one month of which we actually lived together) rather than the wonderfully kind things my ex-husband said after living with me for an entire 8 years? You’d think that I’d be inclined to believe the person who spent the most time with me and really got to know the truest version of me but no… my depression instead tells me that I’m broken beyond repair and undeserving of love. Why? Because someone tells me that I can be “too needy and insecure” sometimes? I mean, who hasn’t been either of those things at one time or another? Why is it so hard for me to believe that perhaps I might actually have enough wonderful qualities about me that make me just as loveable as anyone else? Not that I’m looking for it, mind you. After what this last year did to me in terms of my love life as well as the soul-crushing grief I’m currently experiencing, I’m nowhere ready to be in a relationship with anyone but myself for many years to come, I’d imagine.
What depression isn’t is a fleeting feeling or regular sadness. It lasts longer than weeks and months and doesn’t go away on it’s own, it has to be treated. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw. Depression isn’t a choice. It’s also not all emotional pain; there are many physical side effects from depression. It can mess with your gastrointestinal system. It can cause sleep disturbances. It can screw up your appetite– you either can’t stop eating or you have no appetite at all; sometimes it fluctuates between the two. It can cause chronic headaches and back pain. You know that achy, exhausted, run-down feeling you have when you’ve got the flu? You’re tired all the time, sore muscles and joints, everything feels physically more difficult? Yup, feels like that. All the time. But because you don’t have anything that outwardly makes you appear sick you get to hear fun things like, “Put on your big girl panties and suck it up.” Or, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” How about, “You have to CHOOSE to be happy, you know.” Or some multitude of variations of, “You know so many people have REAL things to be depressed about, don’t you?”
I know much of society believes someone choosing to end their life because of a deep depression, like you did, is a selfish choice. You know that I’ve never believed that because I know what it feels like to be in such a prolonged state of profound sadness that you have great difficulty seeing any way out. I came across a quote today by David Foster Wallace that really hit home with me and it might put into perspective for other people why I feel the way I do:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
Another quote of his that seemed to scream, “Yes! That’s exactly what is happening in my head!!” was this one:
What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.
That’s how I feel about all of these letters to you– they help me and all, you know, to feel like I can still talk to you– but they all still seem to leave me feeling insatiable. It’s as though I’m just never quite able to articulate things as fully or as eloquently as I could be to really express what it feels like inside my mind. It just always feels like there’s so much more to say. Who knows? Maybe the right words don’t even exist and I’ll keep on writing these letters to you forever… feverishly grasping for the perfect words like someone endlessly swinging at a piñata in a pitch black room but never making contact; and, all the while, because it is so dark, they do not even realize that there is no piñata there.
So for the time being, I will keep on writing these letters to you, dude. Whether or not the “perfect” words exist, I do not know. But I do know that it sure helps to try.