I think, oftentimes, people seem to regard depression and anxiety as “lesser” mental health diagnoses. They’re the “common ones.” The most relatable. The “Oh, well, that’s not too serious. Everyone gets it from time to time” of mental health.
That’s a pretty stigma heavy line of thought.
A depressive episode is brutal. Chronic depression is the underlying, “gentle” version that says “you will never be able to be fully happy.” I live with this kind of baseline chronic depression, mixed with episodes of Bipolar depression thrown in. Even my “manic” is depressed. Depression is my unwanted tag-a-long on this journey in life. It’s my shadow. I can’t get rid of it, no matter how I try.
Depression lies. Constantly. It tells me “your friends and family are sick of you,” “you’ve tapped everyone out,” “no one wants to hear that you’re struggling again,” “stay in bed, there’s nothing out there for you anyway,” “why would you clean your house? You don’t deserve a clean space,” “just cancel those plans with your friends, they really don’t want anything to do with you,” “you’re worthless,” “you’re a piece of shit,” “you’re weak for letting me win,” “you’re pathetic for trying to fight me,” “this will never get better,” “people will be better off if you’re gone.”
Those are my depression thoughts. Yours may be different, or they may be similar. If you have not lived with depression, you may be wondering how one’s mind could be so brutal.
This stream of garbage is constantly flowing in my brain. Sometimes, it’s quieter; sometimes, it’s louder; sometimes, it’s deafening. But it’s always there in one way or another. Even with meds. Even with therapy.
My job is to cope with it. To keep tabs on it. To be honest about it.
The last thing depression wants me to do is open up to someone about how bad it is. It wants me to isolate and sabotage relationships and sit alone in my apartment at 4 AM thinking about every single crappy thing that has happened to me and how it’s all my fault. That it was all deserved. That I am not worthy of friends, family, love, support, laughter, fun, or happiness.
So, I battle. Sometimes, my battle is simply making myself get out of bed and clean up a bit around the house. Sometimes, it’s making plans even though I feel like locking myself away from everyone. Sometimes, it’s having the strength to be vulnerable and reach out to someone even though everything in me is screaming that no one cares, that I’m an annoyance, that I’m a burden.
Sometimes, I win those battles. I use the coping skills I’ve learned, I recognize that sometimes “action precedes motivation” and I’ve got to get up and do shit in order to want to be up and doing shit. Sometimes I can beat back the incessant lies and insults my depression flings at me. Sometimes, I can turn the volume of that constant stream down to a 1 or 2.
Other times, though, I lose. I sit. I isolate. My brain says “Self Destruct: Check Yes or No” and I hover over the options, tempted to go with Yes. To drink. To call out of work. To give all my friends the silent treatment. To just allow myself to spiral.
This kind of behavior landed me in the hospital, though, so I know I have to be careful with that. The truth is, I’ve gotten better most times at reaching out to at least one person I trust and love when things are feeling super hopeless. But that has taken immense practice. In my recovery, I’ve learned the phrase “act the opposite”. Depression tells you no, you say yes.
It is very difficult to do that. Especially at first. It feels impossible when you’re depressed to do anything, let alone spend your whole day fighting every instinct you’ve got just to get through a “normal” day, doing “normal” things, without being in bed. That is completely exhausting.
But, it’s also possible.
Especially after practice. I think of it like a muscle I need to to strengthen.
There are days I slip up. Days (sometimes multiple days on end) that I really can’t summon the energy to use those coping skills. Those days are about damage control. “OK, I don’t have it in me today. I’m going to stay in bed, but I’m not going to get alcohol.” Being in bed all day is not ideal, bit it’s the lesser of two evils for me, in that moment.
This way, I am still doing something. I am not at the mercy of depression. Never fully. I have agency, and I have power to resist it.
The fact is, depression is terrible. It’s uncomfortable. It’s miserable. It’s not easy. Nothing about mental health recovery is easy. But learning coping skills and tools and actually using them when things are really bad is worth it.