What is this thing you call depression?

What does depression look like on a person? Is it moping around feeling sorry for yourself? Is it wishing that things were different? Is it a pity play? Is it hoping that someone, anyone, will come and rescue you? Is it something that you can snap out of? Is it really a disease or is it just that you are a person who sees that glass as half empty, focussing on the negative?

For me, depending on the day, it can be some of those things, or all of those things. Bearing in mind that not all of it is just depression, but also fueled by circumstances that I have faced in my life. Who wouldn’t want to be rescued from a miserable, abusive marriage or a manipulative mother and enabling father?

So is it moping? Well, there are days when I have not had enough sleep. I know for a fact that when I am tired, I struggle to regulate my mood and get myself back on the straight and narrow – aka that joy-filled happy path that we all strive to be on. The one where the world looks rosy. You know it – the glorious sunshine, heart full of lightness, limbs that feel like you are walking on air. Those moments when you feel that you have really been seen and understood and perhaps shared a fleeting period of time with a person that uplifts you. The nanoseconds where your heart is overflowing with joy, like you are encompassing all that is right with the world, right to your core and then spilling that light into the world. That path. The epitome of being human, isn’t it? But me, when I haven’t slept enough? I can’t get there. So, on those days, I have a tendency to mope – feeling dejected and apathetic. (Thanks dictionary for such a perfect description.) The small things trigger me. My intense anxiety that I am not enough is front and centre. And if I am REALLY tired, then it can be overwhelming enough to be crippling.

On days like that, yes, I do wish that things were different. The thing is that whilst feeling apathetic, I literally lack the oomph to get up and change things. Do I weep and wail and slash my wrists? Well, no, because slashing my wrists is not my thing. I sometimes cry, but sometimes, I just lie and stare out of the window for hour upon hour, or watch TV endlessly. The hopelessness of it all, the feeling of how little power you have, is crushing. Then I choose – do I cry for hours on end, feeling wretched and alone and in pain or do I just accept that this is my life and feel numb? I choose numb, almost always. The pain is too much. The pain is more feelings than I can deal with. The hurt is so deep and unrelenting. It feels like I am going to physically break. It is so painful, that I would rather be dead. But interestingly, being numb means that sometimes I just want to block that out too. I want to feel alive. And then, let’s welcome onto the stage, reckless behaviour.

In past times, reckless behaviour included alcohol and men. Alcohol gives you that freedom to forget things for a little while and even fly for a bit and then the men, you can pick them and choose them and discard them. You can decide if you want them or not, if you are going to let them into your bed, or not. There is that pleasure of knowing that someone wants you, even if it is only for a couple of hours. You were chosen and you chose. Works both ways.

Unfortunately the next day shows up. You don’t respect yourself for what you did or how you did it. You don’t enjoy that the affection was just a means to an end. Worst of all, the hole that you feel, the numbness, the apathy, those are back. Sometimes with a vengeance. So, should I rinse and repeat or “sit with it”.

More recently, reckless behaviour has mostly exhibited itself as driving fast and I am not talking 140 on the N1. I bought myself a car that has power. I can drop it into gear and push the pedal to the metal and it responds beautifully. I feel like I am flying. But in an effort to keep my life under control, I make a conscious effort to not engage in these behaviours anymore. It sucks. Those moments of feeling that I am living on the knife’s edge, make me really feel alive and the adrenaline that goes with it, makes me giddy with excitement and joy. It is called reckless behaviour for a reason, because, duh, it’s reckless. In an effort at self-preservation and a nod towards loving myself a little, I try to avoid this now, even though I sometimes could scream with the battle that rages between me and myself at not fulfilling that desire.

Is it a pity-play? Sometimes. I know that there are times that I want to feel supported and loved. I have the ability to hone into the dark depths of my soul to engender that response. I have a narcissistic ex and narcissistic mother – I know how to play the victim. I have learnt from the best at it – they taught me well. I didn’t even know that I was doing this until relatively recently. There was a part of me that realised that something was remiss, an unease or disquiet in my soul, when I was doing it, but no conscious recognition. Then I did a course where the person running it talked about being the victim and it lit up my mind like London at Christmas. I felt so ashamed. I am accepting that they are learned techniques that helped me to survive tumultuous times, but still, it is a shameful way to treat people who care about you. I try to console myself with the fact that now that I know it, I stop it before I get into it.

Sometimes I know that I am starting down that same well-trodden victim’s highway but I so desperately need some care, that I continue anyway. The shitty thing is that now I know, I don’t reap the same emotional reward. I feel guilty about what I am doing and the selfish motivation that I just want to be rescued. I guess that as a person who has spent a lifetime doing rescuing, I just want to be the recipient for a change. I wonder how many rescuers do this?

Just pull yourself together; just snap out of it; just stop feeling sorry for yourself; just focus on the good things; just put this stuff behind you. Just, just, just. I just want to scream in frustration when well-meaning people tell me these things. Everything will look better in the morning. This is just a phase. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I abhor these platitudes that are trotted out. I have tried all of these things. If it were that simple, depression would not be an issue in our world. We could all “just” say our ten things that we are grateful for and cheer the fuck up. These are not helpful or constructive. For me, they are damning. They point to the fact that I am not trying hard enough, not making enough of an effort to “get better” and live this life that is full of meaning and happiness and purpose. I just need to look at the positive things. Let’s just pretend that the shitty things didn’t happen, shall we? It is a fun game. I am good at it. I can smile with the best of them, say, “Yes, you are right. I just need to change my attitude and life will get better”. After all, it is my attitude that is wrong, right?

Depression is a thief. It robs you, in the dark of the night as well as broad daylight, brazenly, of happiness. It takes your memories away – the ones that keep you floating on the surface, head above water – and just reminds you of all the reasons why you are rejected, not enough, insufficient, incompetent, unwanted, unloved. It claws and claws at your mind – razor sharp talons scraping away the good things. Efficiently stripping them away, piece by piece. I often describe how I feel like I am at the top of a slope and teetering on the edge. I know how very slick with grease that slope is and I know how it feels to slide down it with barely anything to grab onto to stop the fall once it starts. I have days where I am standing at the top, turning my back on the slope and doing my mental best to hang onto the things that the talons are trying to slice and dice out of me. Desperately clinging, literally with all my mental might. It is exhausting when this runs into days and nights. I know that if I can just do it for long enough, that I can walk away from that edge. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.

When that war is raging inside me, I am so vulnerable to criticism – whether intended or not. I am paper-thin and can be torn with ease. The very smallest thing can cause me to give up the fight, because when you are losing all your energy, being told that you are not trying hard enough, not focussing on the good things in life and not doing well at pretending that there are no negative things, is incredibly destructive. People talk about losing the will to live. I know that place. I have been there more than once. Me and my demons can hang out there together, in the dark, having a great catch-up.

Is it a disease? I don’t know. Disease is stuff caused by a virus or bacteria or cancer cells, isn’t it? The cynical side of me says that if just changing my attitude and being ever mindful of the good stuff is the antidote to depression, then no, it is not a disease. It is just a state of mind that I am choosing.

Depression robs you of the will to eat, the ability to sleep, the energy to participate in life. There have been days where I am so exhausted, it is all I can do to get out of bed. I literally have the power and vigour sucked out of me on every level – physically, mentally and emotionally. I live in a fog, unable to think clearly. Decisions become impossible – should I stay at home or go to get groceries? I feel like a weight is pressing down on my chest, trying to shatter my ribcage and annihilate my diaphragm. It is too much energy to make the decision, so often, I don’t make any. I simply get back onto the couch and stare into the void.

People don’t know how to deal with all this. Hell, I don’t know how to deal with it either, some of the time. (You would think I would have a handle on this given that it has been a part of my life and world for the majority of it!) So, there is the medication brigade, the focus on the good things and meditate brigade, the get you out of the house brigade and the I don’t know how to deal with this so I am going to pretend that it is not happening brigade. There are a few who have a different understanding – the ones who understand that even the very smallest thing is huge. They help me break things down into tiny, minute little steps. The absolute basics so that even when I am at my worst, I might be able to do that one thing that could help, even the smallest bit. It might help enough that I could even do the second.

For me, this is a facet of how depression looks. It is tempting to just give up and give into it. It is easier than the fight. But then again, I am one stubborn bitch – I can come back swinging, even though it isn’t pretty. I just laughed at that – the inside world is reflected onto the outside world in so many ways. I am not pretty, I can be the world’s biggest bitch and boy oh boy, can I be stubborn.

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