I wade through the topography of my depression, empty wrappers and clothes and dishes thrown about with little care. It feels almost too appropriate that this is the state of my bedroom because it is such a direct reflection of my mind. My room being in a state of complete disarray usually points to one thing: I’m depressed.
Depression seems to creep in at moments that feel unexpected at the time, but in hindsight, make total sense. After all, there was that two-week period where I was eating like crap, or when I got too drunk too often and threw my brain chemistry off, or when I skipped a few workouts. There is the threat of nuclear war and white supremacists marching in the streets and the ever-looming feeling of impending doom to consider. Plus, I am 27 and single and okay with it, but is it okay that I am okay with it? And am I really okay with it, or am I just telling myself that I am okay with it so I don’t have to deal with my true feelings? Time passes and life gets more complicated and sad as I get older, and I am only in my twenties; I have yet to experience so much heartbreak and loss and trauma. I only have so much time on this planet and will never be able to read all the books I want to read or hear all the music that I want to hear or go all the places I want to go or experience everything I want to experience. I have so many regrets that I just have to live with because time travel isn’t a thing yet (get on it, science). And I said this horribly awkward thing and I cannot stop obsessing about it. I am not perfect, and this is feeling more and more unforgivable as my desperation to hide all my faults heightens.
I can usually trace my depression back to one or more of these factors soon after my symptoms begin. After all, I have more than a decade of experience with depression; these themes have come up enough times by now that I can look back and reflect with more knowledge than ever before. As I grow older, my depression comes back again and again, and in a way, it feels like an old friend now. While it gets easier to determine the source and prevent major episodes, depression is inevitable sometimes, and these periods have never gotten easier to weather.
Often, it feels like I am battling my own mind. For a while, I’ll feel just fine. I will be happy with my life, making healthy choices, and feeling great. I might hear murmurs from my anxiety (another old friend who is in a codependent relationship with my depression), but when I’m doing well, I can shut anxious thoughts down pretty fast. The problem is that life is unpredictable. I have a degree of control over my symptoms; they tend to get worse if I am not taking good care of my physical health, for example. But other times, rejection or loss or fear come crashing into my life, and there is little I can do to stop depression from consuming me.
When I am depressed, it feels like a shameful secret I need to hide. It feels like no one will understand, even though 350 million people can relate, including several close friends. I get so scared that if I do reach out and open up, they will say the wrong thing or I will disappoint them. I feel so sensitive and fear disappointing people so much, I pretend that everything is fine. I spend more of my time inside my own brain, where the depression gets louder and more real. The horrible irony is that reaching out always helps; it makes the burden a little lighter because my friends and family actually want to share the load. The thoughts quiet because they are met with love, empathy, and validation. Suddenly, I can see how someone who loves me sees me, and I think, hey, maybe I am not so bad. But the depressed mind doesn’t want to get better so it shit-talks this option and fills the empty parts of me with shame to encourage my isolation.
I hate my depressed self. She’s bitter and boring. She is oversensitive and easily offended. She’s angry and irritable and has a short fuse. And she will not stop telling me to kill myself. Before I knew that I was experiencing it myself, I thought suicidal ideation looked like a scene from an angsty teen drama featuring a character who struggles with mental illness for one episode cutting themselves with a straight razor because their dad is an alcoholic and their boyfriend cheated on them. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that just because my experience wasn’t like an episode of Degrassi, doesn’t mean it was normal or healthy.
In my experience, suicidal thoughts are more like my brain just decides to pipe up when I am trying to solve a problem with this helpful suggestion: why don’t you just kill yourself? OKAY THANKS, GREAT IDEA, BRAIN. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT PLAN. It’s not often that these thoughts carry any real weight for me anymore because I have spent plenty of time thinking about how much I love my life and don’t want to die, but they get quite intrusive and annoying. Can’t you think of a better solution, brain? But no, my depressed self has very few ideas other than suicide and sleep. It feels like I have lived a thousand lives in one day, and I crawl into bed at 4:30 PM.
Right now, I’m the healthiest I have ever been in my life, but I live with a lifelong condition that means that sometimes, I am just not myself. I am learning how to care for this person who takes over my body occasionally. It’s attributed to several different people, but there is a quote that says, “People need love the most when they deserve it the least.” I may hate my depressed self, but I need to learn to love her. She is imperfect and irrational and mean, but she needs my love.
I climb through my room, stuffing the remnants of my dissipating depression into a trash bag. I do six loads of laundry, hanging my multitude of dresses in my closet with care. I make my bed, enjoying how neat it looks when I am not lying in its rumpled covers. I vacuum, wipe the dust away, and organize my shelves as the cat anxiously looks on. When I am done, I observe my accomplishment and deeply exhale. It looks and feels like control, and I can see the other side.