Depression Is More Than A Keyword -- My Depression Is My Fault, Part II

This past month, I've been talking a lot about my struggle with depression, what life is like for a depressed person, and how the theme of depression and mental illness runs strongly through the books of the Kingsley Series. Last week I told you how my depression is "my own fault"; I wrote a sarcastic sort of passage about how it feels when I "choose" to be depressed, and I promised this week to give you the lowdown on what depression is really like.

I'd like to urge you to take a moment - go back and read last week's post, with a particular focus on the italicized passage at the end; then come back and let me show you what it truly feels like to watch, powerless, as my emotional world turns itself upside down, completely and totally against my will.

It's usually something innocuous, often something so small and so meaningless that I hardly notice it. Something as insignificant as a bread crumb, a flower seed, a pinpoint. It's a thing someone said in passing, the whisper of a thought in the very back of my mind, an echo of emotional pain long since passed.

It's a demon whispering in my ear, a radio station I can't turn off.

But people say:

  • "Yes you can. You can choose to be positive."
  • "You can choose not to listen to that."
  • "You have to let it go, just let it roll off your back."

I wish with all of my heart that it really worked that way. I've tried it. I try it every time the cloud rolls in, and I pray with everything inside me that it'll pass - that it'll just be a dark day, just one. I journal, I allow myself the emotional freedom to feel what I'm feeling, hoping desperately that letting myself feel it and being honest with myself will allow it pass. I urge myself to be strong and to stay positive, to take care of myself in ways that are uplifting and encouraging. I use positive affirmations. I remind myself to appreciate the little things, and I make lists of my blessings. I write down things I'm thankful for, hoping that these things will light a candle to chase away to darkness that's closing in.

But sometimes despite all of it, the sky of my life goes slowly darker and darker. It's like my life is on an electronic dimmer switch that's got a short in it, and the harder I try to turn it back up, the faster it seems to be turning down. I tell myself that I'm not scared of the dark, that I'm not bothered by the storm, and sometimes I'll smile a little to myself despite the rising sense of dread, because aside from this metaphor, I'm actually not afraid of the dark, and I love storms.

But then the first metaphorical raindrops begin to fall, useless tears that wet my face and leave traces of salt drying on the lenses of my glasses. Each tear I shed is more than just the overflow of sadness, though. It's more than the sense of shame and failure that washes over me as the darkness shows me all the shadows of my daily life.

  • It's the little things, like when I was irritable and asked for space, didn't get it, and yelled at the kids.
  • It's the moments when I'm so focused on myself that it becomes harder to see and feel for others when they need me to.
  • It's the financial things I wish I could do for my mother that are still out of my reach. It's the thought of her dying before she sees me get where I'm going.
  • It's a long, sad estrangement from my father, and the little girl inside that still hurts no matter how much I tell her not to.
  • It's a failed marriage.
  • It's people who have walked away from me.
  • It's people who didn't believe in me.
It's a sad sense of wrongness, of otherness, because I'm trying to be happier. I'm trying to "stop dwelling on the bad things," and I'm seeking desperately for "the bright side." And it isn't working, and I'm so lost in the dark that I can't find the bright side anymore.

And the seed of depression grows.

It doesn't take long, even when I fight it. Even when I call for help, even when I'm honest about my struggle ... even when I'm so desperate to get out of the pit that I'm almost begging for someone to just take my hand and pull me out, because I'm drowning.

As dark as it is then, and as scary as it's starting to be ... at that point I can still cry out for help, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't have to ... sometimes someone will notice and reach for me, wrap an arm around me and hang on tight to keep me from slipping away.

If they don't ... I can tell myself it's not happening, I can pretend it isn't there. I can "do something nice for someone else" or "just get out more and try to keep busy." And I do things to "get my mind off of it." I step up my service to my children and my family. I step up my journaling, and then I take it one step further. I confess my thoughts and feelings to someone who, I believe, cares about me - because I'm not all the way in the darkness yet, and so far, I still believe that there is someone who cares about me.

Sometimes someone will notice that I'm pulling away, that I'm struggling, and that even though they're trying, they can't pull me back. Sometimes, they'll just come into the dark with me for a while, and wait beside me until it passes. Sometimes as a coach, sometimes as nothing more than a silent companion, a reminder that darkness is not all there is.

But if that doesn't work...

In the recesses of my mind, there's a soundtrack playing, and no matter who is there, I can't turn it off. While I'm cleaning so that I can give my family a safe and comfortable place to live (not spotless, mind you, but clean), depression tells me that it's not enough, that it can never be enough. That it doesn't matter anyway because no one else even notices or cares. Depression whispers like a lover in my ear, "This is unacceptable. Not enough. Never enough." When I'm cooking, feeding the hungry bellies of my children, Depression sneers like a demon, "You can't cook. Why do you bother?" I like to cook from recipes; it feels encouraging to use a well-thought plan from someone who knows better than I do. "But you aren't even close to Rachel Ray. Who do you think you are? Bobby Flay would vomit. Loser. You can't even follow a recipe."

The crazy thing is, that happens even when I get it right, even when it's delicious and everyone says so. Even when the house looks spectacular and someone notices. I still only see the darkness, no matter how desperately I'm searching for light.

I know it's wrong. I know isn't helpful or productive, I know it's hurting me. I know that my depression is inside me - that it's my hand digging the pit deeper and deeper. But what YOU don't know, what you can't see, is that my hand is possessed. It doesn't obey me anymore, and no matter how hard my mind screams "Stop!" my hand just keeps on digging. I can't just choose to make it go away. Believe me, if I could, I would.

It's usually been a while now, and I can tell that I'm alienating people, even the ones who tried to stay with me, even the ones who give their all trying to keep me in the light. I can hear their frustration now when I talk to them. I notice that they take longer to answer texts from me than they did before. So then I begin to doubt them, even as the "sane" part of me acknowledges how frustrating my depression must be for people who can't understand it. I'm even annoyed with myself at this point, on top of everything else.

So I withdraw again. I cut myself off, and then I'm alone in the dark with no one but my own thoughts for company and nothing but the sting of self-imposed loneliness to wrap myself in. It starts to look true, that thought that no one cares about me at all. And I begin to wonder again, "If I never came out of the pit, would anyone even notice? If I let it take me this time, would anyone even care?"

Since I'm hurting too much to ask now (although sometimes I have asked, the wrong people, to the detriment of my own mental health), I just imagine the answers to those tough questions.

  • "No, no one would notice. They don't notice you when you aren't withdrawn, they don't come into the dark to get you ... of course they don't notice."
  • "As a matter of fact, they'd probably be relieved. It'll be good to not have to worry about you feeling sorry for yourself all the time anyway."
This is pretty intense, I know. I've cried several times just trying to write it, so that ought to give you a glimpse of what it's like to live in. A small one.

It doesn't always get that bad. It isn't always that dark.

But when it does get that bad, and the darkness gets so thick that I can't see even a glimmer of light through it anymore, that's when I write a letter, in a frantic attempt to talk myself into believing again. I write letters to my girls, to their dad ... to Dana. To other people. And I make myself read them, make myself imagine what those people would feel if they had to read them. Most of the time, that's enough to break through - most of the time, that's enough to light a sudden flickering flame.

Of hope?

No, I'm not there yet. The flame is nothing more than duty - it's nothing more than a sense of obligation that ties me. I have to stick around, I have to come out of it. Not always because I think those people will be hurt or saddened, but sometimes it's as simple as the thought that if I gave up, that would burden them too. I don't always come out because I find someone that I'm convinced loves me enough to be bothered. It's not always because I'm convinced that quitting this thing called life would hurt someone, because the truth is that when I'm in the darkness, I don't believe there's anyone who would care. I come out because despite it all, I care.

I don't come out of the dark because the dark goes away, or because I suddenly change my mind and choose happiness again. I come out because humans are created for life, even the pitiful ones like me who can do nothing better than to sink into pits of depression like helpless worms with no will to control their own pain. I come out because even when I'm in the dark and cannot see myself as anyone's "loved one," I still have loved ones of my own. I come out because of articles like this one.

Because even something as sad and scarily heartbreaking as a suicide letter can be the thing that sparks new life, new hope born of the ashes. And like a phoenix, as the ashes fall away and that tiny little spark of hope flickers to life again, I keep on trying, one minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time.

At least, until the cycle begins again.

But for now ...