hello friends. alas, yes. it is that time, once again, for a routine dose of mental health dialogue. i might sound like a broken record at this point, but i promise you, *1920s traveling salesman voice* this record is not only in good condition, it’s the best of its kind! nothing but top notch quality here, folks, i say!
so what’s on today’s agenda? *flips open agenda* well, i think it’s time to talk about depression. the thing is, up until now all topics relating to depression have been invariably concurrent with themes of anxiety. and according to the agenda we’re long overdue for a discourse about the reality of depression as a standalone subject. who is this for? this is to validate the experiences and pain of anyone who struggles with depression; i hope you feel less alone after reading this. this is also for those lucky few who aren’t depressed and do not understand what we go through; i hope you gain empathy and patience.
so without further ado, buckle your seatbelts and please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times because this is a long and winding road of a topic (it’s basically a dissertation sorry y’all but i tried to break it up).
(**trigger warning: this essay contains testimonials describing personal experiences with depression and at times graphic content**)
the face of depression: everything is not what it seems (to the tune of the witches of waverly place intro)
one time my therapist asked me if i enjoy dressing up for halloween. to which i self-depricatingly explained that my life is scary enough because i’m a walking poster child for depression & mental health issues on every other day of the year. but let’s ruminate on this briefly. what the hell even characterizes someone to fit the title of “depression poster child” (also do you think that’s appropriate to put that on my resume) (asking for a friend) (myself).
to you: what does depression look like. no, not what it feels like or how it acts. what does it look like. it should look like me. and you. and the guy next to you in chem lab. and your boss. and your new coworker. bc you can’t look at a person and decisively tell them what you think they feel inside. it’s simply not your body. the face of depression can be (and often is) every face you pass walking down the street. now that i’ve attempted to abrogate the common misconception of what depression looks from the outside, let’s shift. let me portray a glimpse into what it feels like.
have you ever felt as though all energy drained from your body. almost like a phone when it reaches 0%. you know how when you try to turn it back on, it takes a while because it was so void of power that it needs at least 5 minutes charging before it can even power up. imagine your life being at 0%. stuck in that goddamn 5 minute lifeless charging state. but perpetually. indefinitely. you actually never turn back on.
some days i think i can reboot enough to get out of the charging limbo. a lot of days i’m not even plugged in.
i’m slightly mortified for analogizing human beings with technology, but alas, we are millennial pieces of shit who’s easiest metaphorical tool is technologically grounded. it’s just that it’s really quite arduous to explain something as vast as depression in a way that’s comprehensible (you kno i’m finna try tho).
inside the actors studio: minus james lipton but featuring me
this is normally the point in an essay where i would insert a convenient, personal, situational narrative that applies to the overarching theme so you (the reader) can fully grasp the theme. this time i tried, instead, to describe depression so you feel it rather than try to completely understand it. it came out more like poetry, but i think the message stays the same. so. i hope you feel this.
i cry while i spend 8 hours in an emergency room chair, waiting for a doctor to tell me what to do next.
i close my eyes and wish for death while i ride in an ambulance, waiting as they take me to a mental hospital to get better.
i stare apathetically while i sit across from a psychiatrist in a windowless, off-white room, waiting for him to diagnose conditions i don’t need a doctor to know that i have.
i listen halfheartedly while the dean of students tells me that my ‘bandwidth’ stretched too far, waiting as she assures it’s typical for high achieving students ‘like me’.
i sob uncontrollably while i see yet another doctor, waiting while she tells me who she thinks i am.
i rush to the bathroom while i weakly puke for the 34th day in a row, waiting for a body that won’t break a sweat just from walking across a room.
i force myself to get up while i choke through unfathomable exhaustion, waiting because i know my capstone partner is waiting for me, too.
i sigh to just myself while i stare at a different doctor, waiting as she insists on increasing my medication again.
i curl up in a ball while hot tears run down my face, waiting for this eternal, agonizing, hopelessness to end as i will myself to find enough energy to put pants on for the day.
i sprint to an empty parking garage while i simultaneously hyperventilate, cry, and vomit, waiting for another episode of uncontrollable depressive anxiety to end.
i watch blankly while people around me express emotions like joy and laughter, waiting for my hollow ghosts of those to become real.
i look in the mirror while every day i wake up, waiting to finally meet a whole person again.
that’s all it is though. i’m waiting. i’ve been waiting through a lot of things.
mostly i’m waiting for a day when i want to be alive.
finally, one of the most profound things i think to myself on a regular basis is:
i don’t want to be alive.
i don’t want to kill myself. but i don’t want to be alive.
the first time i thought that, i felt overcome with this suffocating despair and downright misery. in case it’s not transparent enough (for the sake of redundancy) y’all do realize how fucking shitty it is to think something like that.
people usually ask why or what causes my depression. what a great fucking question. i ask myself that every waking minute. well for one. sexual trauma. perfectionism. body image. crippling anxiety. relationships. chemical imbalances in my body. and for the love of existentialism. what the hell does it all mean. what in god’s name is all of this for. why can’t i find any fucking joy in any of it and what am i even working towards. why do i feel so hopelessly alone.
but. but. despite everything. despite feeling as lonely as akon in 2004. we’re surprisingly all in this together like the cast of high school musical. as i became more comfortable sharing my damn depression, the people i love became more comfortable sharing theirs. pretty soon i realized basically everyone i know is low key depressed.
we’re not alone: encore performance of ‘we’re all in this together’
i want to preface this by saying i’m no spark notes. i can’t give you a quick summary or overview to convey how expansive of an emotion depression truly is. i just have a lot of feelings like that girl that doesn’t even go here (but tbh don’t we all). then i thought, hey now, what if we all just passed around the feelings stick. who better to help us feel less alone than one another?
so. here are four testimonies from individuals who told depression in their own words. each story is unique to them. as each person’s mental health is unique to them. if you’re reading this, i hope you find peace in the words of others. (mind you i basically went above and beyond for this blog by forcing myself to talk to other ppl so i hope y’all appreciate me going outside of my depression’s comfort zone).
#1. sometimes you feel it all the time. and by it i mean nothing.
you know when you’re searching through the radio and there’s nothing but static and every once in awhile you’ll hear something push its way through the noise? that’s kinda how life is for me, except the volume button and the tuning knob just have a mind of their own. i rarely feel anything whether it’s sadness, happiness, excitement, or anger, any emotion is usually just a white washed blip in a sea of static. i used to think my depression made me sad all the time but now i see it more as a static that makes everything else quieter and it just takes more to make me feel anything. i still get sad and i still get happy, they’re just really high highs and really low lows. and that’s the worst part, i am never content. laying in bed i hear the static, time with friends i hear the static, and it takes something to distract me or really make me feel to pull my mind away from its usual numbness. i think the reason people want to kill themselves isn’t because they’re sad, but because for them the static has and always will be too loud for them to ever ignore. i wish there was a way to tune out the static, but just like a radio, it’s always there, always waiting to be interrupted.
#2. sometimes you convince yourself what you feel is wrong. like it’s your fault you’re depressed. but it’s not. because the pain is always real.
i don’t know how to say the words that spin in my head out loud so i decided to write this letter. i don’t know where to begin or what to say. maybe i’ll start with this- my problems are problems but nothing in comparison to other people. i feel like i don’t have the right to feel the way i do. that being said, i don’t know how things got so bad so quickly. i mean i do but that would be a whole other letter. you asked me the other day about the band- aid i’ve been wearing so maybe i should start there. i’ve been cutting myself [here after referred to as “it”]. as i type these words i can hear how ridiculous it sounds. maybe ridiculous isn’t the right word. melodramatic or attention grabbing sounds better. i’ve never said the words out loud though. you know how in the movies they say that dramatic line, “i couldn’t admit something to you that i could barely admit to myself”? that’s exactly how i felt when you asked me. my throat went dry, the shame made my cheeks flush, and panic rushed through me like a flood gate being opened up and all i could say was that i didn’t want to talk about it. perhaps i should start with the first time…
the first time it happened i had cried all day long. the day felt like a year and it felt like there was no end in sight. at some point i had thought about it but i brushed it off as ridiculous thought. i went to cook my dinner and all of a sudden the scissors was pressed against my wrist and i knew i could do it. someone once told me that they thought a lot about it but could never do it. i guess i’m the opposite. for the first time that day i stopped crying and felt like i could function. i felt in control. the next day though i looked down and saw what i had done and felt disgusted with myself. had i really stooped to this level? is this where i was in life? i told myself that i wouldn’t do it again.
the next time it happened i had barely made it into my room before crying and found myself on the floor looking for the razor because in that moment that was the only thing that made sense. it centered me and again gave me the control i desperately needed. a whole week went by and i hadn’t cut and felt so proud of myself; i thought i was doing better. my first therapy session brought up so many things and again i felt like i was spinning so i went back to the thing that made the most sense to me. like the other times, i crawled into the corner of my closet and cut. it sounds disgusting and awful as i type it but in that moment all i felt was surety.
i don’t know how to cope. i’ve never felt this way before and this is the only thing that’s made sense since i started feeling unhappy. it’s the worst thing in the world because i just pray to the universe that no one notices because i’m so ashamed of it and at the same time i pray to the universe that someone notices. we live in a fucked up world.
#3. sometimes you can find ways to describe or control it. but it’s still there. and it still makes your life harder than everyone else’s.
a lot like drowning
hmm, well, i’ve always connected with the quote, i’m not sure where it comes from, that says “depression is a lot like drowning while you see the people around breathe freely.” obviously, depression isn’t visible, but it can definitely feel like you’re the only one drowning. i’ve always described my depression as a big black hole that’s centered in chest; i can physically feel an emptiness and pain in my chest, especially when i’m in the middle of an episode. the hole is just empty, and it sucks all of my energy, will, and hope into it. i used to self harm, and it was the only way i found relief from that pain (outside of medication and therapy) because the pain of my burns would distract me from the pain in my chest. i would also say that it’s icey or blue. i just feel cold throughout my body, like nothing can warm me, so all i can feel is this isolating cold. i deal with a lot of suicidal thoughts too, so i have to reframe my thoughts to see my depression as a liar. it really makes life hard. i used to despise myself because i would get so behind on studies (lol i still do) while my friends thrived. it just consistently makes me feel like i’m a fuck up because i don’t function the same way as other people but the same standards are placed on me as they would with other people. like, how can you explain to a prof, “lol i couldn’t do the reading or writing response because i was trying to not kill myself” without it sparking an uncomfortable conversation.
#4. and sometimes it carries with you for a long time. but unfortunately that doesn’t mean you die or stop living your life. it is then that you decide what to do with it.
depression as an adult.
people i have loved and who took care of me, have died. i miss them still. i’ve lost touch with siblings because i feel like they judge me harshly, are unfair, and never really liked me anyway.
it seems like everyone else has a normal life. i don’t know where my life started to go so wrong.
i feel lonely most of the time.
there’s no one to talk to who really understands me.
i’m trapped in a life by default because i didn’t make the right choices and now i can’t escape.
i imagine packing one bag and moving into a totally empty apartment with bare white walls. no furniture, no food, nothing. Just to get away from the responsibilities and pressures and failure that is my life.
i long to just go to bed and sleep, but i wake in the middle of the night worrying. when i finally sleep, the alarm goes off and i start another day.
the wolf nips at me every single day. i can’t forget or forgive myself for mistakes i have made, recent or past, real or imagined.
i make a choice of which wolf to feed.
the cup of coffee in a quiet room in the morning offers me comfort.
the pink and blue of scattered clouds at sunset bring me peace and hope.
the vivid colors of autumn leaves pierce my soul with their beauty.
the smell of rain after a dry spell brings me simple joy.
listening to and watching birds makes me stop to appreciate them, just because.
i just found a flower that i pressed in a book. i thanked my past self for thinking of me.
the chord progressions of a familiar song fill in the sharp jagged edges.
when i play with a dog, i feel their unconditional love and acceptance.
when i help solve a problem, i’m all about the solution and the me that i hate doesn’t even exist at the moment.
when i’m giving or serving or doing for others, i lose myself and the dark shadow fades.
don’t unbuckle your seatbelt just yet: this blog is ‘to be continued…’
so.. i’ll just go ahead and address the elephant in the room. all of these are depressing as shit. they are also inspiring as shit. most importantly, they are written by humans who are strong as shit. so to each of you: thank you for telling your story. you are the beacon that lights us all.
to my mentally healthy audience: are you starting to feel the weight of it? art thou feeling it now mr. krabs?
and to all my depressed folk: are you feeling some typa way? because i’m feelin’ it, spongebob (patrick that’s not a ride).
regardless of who you are. i hope you found comfort. i hope you don’t feel so alone. we are all here for you, and we always will be.
[this article’s hella long already so the topic is split into two separate parts. having now established an understanding of what depression is, the next article will focus on coping mechanisms and normalizing discourse of mental health in society.]