I was supposed to talk about hope today, but recently I had a talk with someone about my post series about Depression and what it really feels like to suffer from the weight of this illness (to read those posts, please click here), and I had to talk about that instead. I had to share it with you, because if you're depressed, you need to see it. And if you aren't depressed, don't know what it's like, and have a depressed person in your life that's exasperating the hell out of you, you need to see it.
I've been talking a lot about how taboo this subject is, and how sufferers of Depression are beginning to fight back against societal stigma. I had a strong (and somewhat emotional) debate with this person about the stigma of Depression where things like this were said:
Person: "You know, I was thinking about your posts lately, and I think some of the stigma behind depression is the depressed people's fault."
Me, heart in my throat: "Are you serious right now?"
We went on to talk about how Depressed people tend to pretend they're fine. We talked about how even when someone says things like, "How are you?" and, "Are you okay?" and, "How's it going," the Depressed person will often smile brightly and say, "Oh, I'm fine, and you?"
We talked about how that is the Depressed person's fault, if there is truly fault to be assigned. We talked about how people can't read each other's minds, and if the Depressed person doesn't open up, no one will know. Then we talked about the societal expectation when a person, Depressed or not, is greeted by another person. The expected normal conversation should look like this:
1st Person: "Hey! It's been a while since I last saw you; how are you!"
2nd Person, who is deeply depressed but "not allowed" to say so: "Fine, and you?"
And the first person feels good that they asked, encouraged that the second person is fine, and happy about the encounter in general. If the first person is perceptive, then they still feel generally good about asking, generally encouraged that the second person is at least fine enough to have said so -- or that even if they aren't, they just clearly "don't want to talk about it, but at least I asked" -- and generally content with the encounter. However, the dirty little truth of these encounters is often portrayed in memes like this one:
Or this one:
Or even this one:
Depressed people tell other people what they want to hear. We say we're fine when we aren't, because we feel like no one cares. We say we're fine when we aren't because we're tired of being patted on the back and smothered with platitudes. We say we're fine when we're not, because we don't want to burden our loved ones with our many problems, with our negativity, with our pity party, with our "choice" to "wallow" in our sorrows. We say we're fine when we aren't because we did notice the way you rolled your eyes the last time we told the truth. We say it because we did notice the frustration in your voice the last time you told us, again, that we just need to fix it. We say it because we believed you when you said things like, "Mind over matter," and, "Fake it 'til you make it," because we believed that if you're happy and that works for you, then it should work for us too. Because when it didn't, we felt like failures. Like losers. Like the people who say, "Happiness is a choice," must be right, and we're just too weak/stupid/sad to make the right choice.
We say we're fine when we're not, because we're desperately hoping that one day, we'll say it and it'll be true.
Let me tell you about when I "choose" to "wallow." Let me tell you what it feels like when I build that lonely, sad little blanket fort in my mind, and I "choose" to go into it and not come out, because I'm "sad" and "I just want other people to feel sorry for me."
When that first wave of sadness hits me, I pretend it isn't there in front of others because it's my best kept little fun secret and I'm selfish enough to want to keep it all to myself. And when I'm alone I usually sit down and think about it for as long as possible, because sadness is my most favorite state of mind and I want it to stick around. I alternate between eating too much and not eating at all, because variety is the spice of life, and when I'm having fun being sad, I really like to get my body completely jacked up. Once I've gotten myself to the point where it's too hard to get dressed or look at myself in the mirror, I start to notice that I don't feel good, ever. It's probably because I'm having so much fun being sad, and the spicy variety of the starvation/binge pattern is creating lots of fun roller coasters with my blood sugar, blood pressure, and digestive system. This is where the good times really get rolling, because now that I don't feel good physically, I have lots of time to sit around lazily thinking about how great it is to be sad. That's, of course, when I'm not busy lashing out at others and hating myself for doing it, or when I'm not too tired because I can't sleep, which is one of my favorite parts because it also helps me to keep not feeling good.
It's usually around this time that I realize I'm having such a great time feeling sorry for myself that I begin to invite others to feel sorry for me, too. I tell someone I'm having a rough time, and I confess that I don't really know what to do about it. I tell them I feel like I'm drowning, or I'm stuck in the bottom of a pit, or I'm held down by shackles I can't remove, chained to my sadness ... haunted by a demon.
I super love it when that someone rolls their eyes and is obviously thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, jeez, this again?!?" Actually though, I don't, because all I want is to keep feeling sorry for myself, and I want to do it so powerfully that I can drag the whole world down with me. You know, because misery loves company, right? And there's no good wallowing if you can't drag someone else down and make them wallow too. Because it's so fun to choose depression as a lifestyle, and depressed people are all sitting around wondering why the happy people can't come on over to the pity party. It's such a grand time, after all.
But since the happy people won't be dragged down by my insistent desire to be negative and whiny and sad, I just figure that's alright, I'll be depressed alone. Because being alone is better for depression anyway; loneliness waters the garden of depression like a good rainstorm. Makes everything all droopy and miserable, which is great because depressed people love that -- it's so totally emo, and since that's in now, all the better.
Now and then, when I'm having so much fun crying all day and fantasizing about suicide, I like to stay in bed all day. For weeks. It's extra fun if the house gets dirty, too, because filth, like depression, is my favorite state of being. In fact, I embrace the dirt so fully that sometimes I just skip showers for a while and stop brushing my teeth, I just lay around feeling sorry for myself. I think about how my knees hurt and my back hurts and head hurts, and my heart hurts, and I feel gratified because my choice to remain sad is really starting to pay off now. I listen to the silence around me, and I love it that I've finally driven everyone away because now I don't have to be burdened with meeting the happy peoples' expectations anymore. This gives me time to work on my confidence.
While I'm spending my time in bed all day enjoying the luxury of being alone, unwashed, unfed, and abandoned by my fair weather friends (which is nice because at least I know who my "real" friends are, right? No one? Hahaha, I'm so glad I chose this.), I like to think about how ugly I am, because it rounds out the sadness pretty nicely. I tell myself I'm not worth anything and no one loves me, that I'm fat and disgusting and stupid. Sometimes I get really nasty just for the fun of it, and I tell myself that if I died, not only would no one care, but they probably wouldn't even notice. At some point, I almost always tell myself that not only would most people not notice, but the few who might would probably be relieved. At least then they wouldn't have to field my constant pity party invitations anymore, right?
This is a great time. I don't know why those happy people don't choose this instead of happiness. Look at them all out there, going out to have drinks together, and having their phone calls and stuff. Working their careers like champs and paying all their bills and wearing bras and stuff. It's crazy; they should all totally decide to sit around and think about killing themselves like I do, crying inconsolably and having little fun fits of shame and rage whenever they glimpse themselves in the mirror. What am awesome lifestyle choice -- I love it here under my little rain cloud of pity-drama. Such a good time.
Eventually though, the cloud passes even though I'm trying as hard as I can to hold onto it. As the depression lifts and I begin to live again, a day comes when for some reason I just want to wash my hair. So I do. I crawl out of bed even though I love the dank smell of unwashed blankets, and I stumble to the bathroom. It makes me sad to notice that the more I move around, the more my stiffness goes away, and I think of going back to bed again, and I promise myself that right after the shower, I'll go.
In the shower, the water is hot, carrying away caked on hair oil and old dead skin cells. But I wish I could keep them because it took me a long time to get that disgusting, and I'm sure going to miss the heavy feeling of being unwashed. Probably, it'll take me another six months to get that dirty again, now that I'm in the pit of depression and I'm not really doing much anymore. But since it's all washing away anyhow, I might as well use some soap. Even though it smells nice, because I hate all the good things and I just want to keep wallowing in my sadness.
Somehow, soap changes everything. When I get out of the shower, I'm feeling these little bursts of contentment, and every time I try to sigh myself back into suicidal thoughts, my heart just keeps getting light and lighter, totally against my will. So I wrap myself in a big clean towel and maybe if I'm feeling up to it, I put some clean clothes on. Might as well, since I'm sick of looking at the other ones I've been wearing so long since I'm a loser. Now and then, if I'm not careful I'll catch my face in the mirror, and I'll smile just a little bit before I realize what I'm doing. Not for long though, because my skin looks good and the smile is growing, and if I'm not careful the happiness will come back. We can't be having that, now can we?
Usually, I'm not ready to let go of being sad because it's so much fun, so I'll tell someone how good it felt to finally take a shower. I'll tell them how alive it makes me feel, and that tomorrow I might even wash my sheets or something. I do this purposely, because I can feel little dandelions of happiness sprouting up in my pity garden, and I need someone to help me pull them. So I find someone who seems pretty accomplished, and I tell them a little about what's been going on with me. Usually, it's best if that person is smug and happy, because they really like those happy little dandelions, and as they remind me, smiling, to just pull myself up by my bootstraps and fix it (because life is easy and you can totally just choose to be happy like they are), the happy person collects my dandelions without even noticing, leaving me with my carefully cultivated plot of depression, sad and pathetic again -- just how I like it.
Eventually though, no matter how hard I fight them off, some happy person attaches themselves to me and drags me along beside them. I try to ignore it and keep being sad in my little cloud of darkness, but the happy person keeps shining light all over everything until the dandelions bloom and chase my depression away. I try to drag them down with me because I love being sad all the time, but it doesn't work. I get happy -- even though I hate it and I need my sadness back, since it's my comfort zone now and depression is the life I choose for myself. So I begin to store up things to be depressed about. I look for reasons to complain and I start taking things personally on purpose because that's a good way to make me feel sorry for myself. I try to overreact as much as possible because otherwise I'll accidentally build a support network, and I get anxious a lot because if I can't be depressed, I can at least be anxious, right?
Then a few months later, I do it all again because the endlessness of this cycle is the best aspect of choosing to be part of it.
Not. Like seriously, do you guys even see how ridiculous that is? How heartcrushingly sad is it that right now, someone is reading this and nodding their head smugly because that's actually what they think depression is.
Okay. This post has gotten pretty long, so I'm going to leave it hanging right here, where people who don't get it can see what it feels like to be told to just "let it go" and "get over it" because "it'll get better" and "all you have to do is change things." I'm going to leave it hanging right here, where people who suffer from not only Depression, but the smugness of others who don't understand it, can feel just for once like they are not alone, because they can see the truth behind the italics.
And in my next post, I'm going to put it all out there for you. I'm going to use regular text, and I'm going to stop being funny or sarcastic. I'm going to use full-on 100% honesty, and I'm going to tell you what really hides behind "I'm fine, just tired today." I'm going to rewrite the above account, and I'm going to do it the honest way, even though it terrifies me because the only honest way I know is the one that's honest for me, the one that lives inside my head.
In the mean time, I wish you happy reading -- because for some of us, sometimes, a book is the only happy place we can find.