Narratives are my non-professional, personal documentation of my struggles with mental illness. Please excuse the language. Life ain’t always pretty.
I have never had the perfect words to describe depression to someone who’s never experienced it. I don’t feel like I just watched a sad movie. I don’t feel blue. The opposite of depression is not “happy”. It’s the desire to live, in all capacities of the word. I feel no purpose. No sense of drive or ability to enjoy things; achieve things; to move at all. Life becomes a black hallway that appears to have no end. And you are stuck there, in that space, indefinitely.
It feels like all the bones in my body have been crushed, and that collective pain has been transferred to the deepest part of my heart.
It feels like Azkaban. For Harry Potter fans (🙋🏻), JK Rowling’s dementors are a reliable description.
It hurts. I don’t know that I can even use the word “sad.” It’s so much more than that. It’s hard to get out of bed. It’s hard to get dressed. It’s hard to be creative, innovative, or productive. It’s like someone has dumped a giant bucket of molasses on my life and I’m just trying to get through the muck until I can disappear in my bed each night.
One fall afternoon in 2016, it was especially heavy. I had been depressed for several months and I was slipping into an acute episode of sheer pain. I call them “acute episodes” because I don’t know what else to call them. I have yet to come across research that clinically defines these instances, which last for 30 minutes to a couple hours. I am wracked with pain and shake with the intensity of it. It literally brings me to my knees. Or I’ll end up a ball on the floor somewhere. It’s like I’m being stabbed with the Knife of Heart Break. Over and over and over again.
My partner found me sitting on our bed and came and sat beside me, trying to elicit any kind of information on how I was feeling. In a loss of words, I just started sobbing. I was crying so hard I was struggling to catch my breath. Snot’s flying everywhere. I just remember trembling and mustering up enough to whisper, “I hurt so much.” He hugged me for a long time. For loved ones of someone dealing with depression, sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all. Sometimes it’s just nice to feel another human being next to you, someone confirming your existence.
Such a distorted part of depression is not recognizing yourself. I am so grateful that my parents always truly understood this concept, because I can be a real asshole. I am not myself. Frequently, I’m just white hot angry. Why? Because I truly don’t know why I’m so “sad”. I can tell myself that my life is great. I live in America, I am more fortunate than 99 percent of the people on this planet. I have an amazing family, a wonderful and supportive partner, a job, college degrees. Why can’t I feel the impact of those things? What is wrong with me?
It’s scary and confusing being so emotionally ravaged knowing there’s no clear reason as to why I should possibly feel that way. Some of the most difficult times in my life have been spent trying everything in my power to talk my brain out of it’s current pattern of emotion (anxiety, hopelessness, etc) and failing miserably. And in the spirit of depression, when you can’t talk yourself out of it, or you lash out at someone unintentionally, you feel that much weaker and worthless.
It’s impossible to understand the experience of depression unless you’ve lived through it. Many years ago, I myself wondered why depressed people couldn’t just “snap out of it.” I don’t expect anyone to understand what I’m feeling. But just because you don’t know about something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it. As a taboo subject, a lot of people feel uncomfortable or even fearful of talking about mental illness. Know this: by just listening, you can make a big difference.
For me, it is cathartic just to form feelings into words and have a supportive person acknowledge the pain. When someone wants to talk about my experiences, I am usually happy to share. It makes the burden of the illness just a little bit smaller. Please don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice your support. I am alive because of the people who asked me questions. You are more appreciated than you can ever know. ∗