I Write Advice About Dealing With Depression, But I Actually Suck At It
They say the truth will set you free.
This morning I got out of bed, pulled on leggings and shoes, brushed my teeth, packed a lunch for my daughter, poured boiling water into instant oatmeal and sliced up an apple for her breakfast, and walked her to the bus.
Then I came home, took off my shoes and coat, and got back into bed, pulling the covers all the way over my head. Bright sunlight filtered through the blankets and I burrowed deeper into the warmth of my makeshift cave, closing my eyes and promising myself it would only be for five minutes.
The awareness of all I needed to do today weighed heavily on me, but it was more than that: it was all the things I knew weren’t going to happen today that kept me immobile under my comforter (what an apt word, comforter) as if I could deny the reality of my life by refusing to participate in it. My broken relationship is not going to be magically healed, my bank account isn’t going to receive a mysterious infusion of cash so I can pay all my bills and hop on a plane to a quiet beach somewhere, my father is not going to show up at the door and reveal that his so-called death was all a terrible ruse.
No, this day will go by much like every other day has in this latest season of change and disappointment. I’ll get my work done, barely, never getting ahead but just keeping up. I’ll make a list of chores – buy more cat food, do a load of laundry, collect eggs from the chickens out back, review and approve a meeting agenda, shop for tomorrow’s dinner – and cross them off one by one, all the while reminding myself that forward motion is good, that all I can do is my best, and that none of us knows what the future holds.
I tell myself all of these things because I’m supposed to be some sort of expert in dealing with depression. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’ve written dozens of articles about anxiety and depression, consulting psychologists and quoting their best advice. I know what I ought to be doing. I should make my bed as soon as I get up, so I’m not tempted to get back into it. I should drink plenty of water, go out into the sunshine, and do some exercise to get my endorphins flowing. Exercise, I’ve often advised people, is an amazing natural anti-depressant.
Many days – in fact, most days – I do all of these things. I get up early, make the bed, and drink a glass of water. I ran over 700 miles last year. I mentally pat myself on the back for each thing I do that I’ve ever advised anyone else to do. I stand outside myself, as if I were my own personal reality TV show (albeit a very boring one) and think, “I’m doing a great job. I’m strong. Nothing can keep me down. I will survive this.” I paste on a smile and fill up my schedule, because keeping busy helps.
A few weeks ago I asked my therapist if he thought I was depressed. I wondered if my usual self-care tactics were failing me, and it was time to think about trying medication again, though I was never sure it helped in the past. “You’ve got a lot to be depressed about,” he answered. In other words, if I’m depressed, it’s not due to a chemical imbalance. It’s purely due to the currently-pretty-shitty circumstances of my life.
Sometimes I look at my social media profiles and wish my actual life was as good as my virtual one appears. My Instagram feed is full of sweet pictures of my girls, my cat, and even my last boyfriend (I can’t bring myself to call him my ex, just as I can’t bring myself to delete those posts). I even made some motivational videos recently and posted them, as if I had my shit together enough to inspire anyone else. It looks pretty good from the outside.
At the beginning of this year, I deactivated my Facebook page for a couple of weeks. I did it for multiple reasons, but a big one was that I didn’t want to be tempted to scroll through other people’s pages, comparing my real life to their curated ones. I’m sure people have done that with me, as well, when I post pictures of vacations, or brag about my kids. “Compare and despair,” they call it in recovery circles. I wanted to remove myself from the game, to not be on either side – neither envying nor being envied. I felt like a fraud, pretending my life was so great. On the other hand, posting the depressing or cryptic updates that would be more genuine is probably equally obnoxious: a misdirected cry for help.
As I write this, my bed is (finally) neatly made, and I’m sitting up at my desk. I’m all the way dressed, right down to wearing shoes, as you’re supposed to do when you work from home. I had a good breakfast of scrambled eggs and avocados – healthy fats are good for your brain – and I’m going to go for a run once I’ve filed this story. The sun is shining and the Vitamin D will be good for me, as will those endorphins. I’m back on track, doing everything right.
And still, I’m sad, on a bone-deep level that feels like it will never go away. This is one of the lies that depression tells. I know this. I am going to feel better. I know this too. And yet, I don’t really believe it. All I can do is the next right thing, over and over and over again, until this fog lifts.
Writing this reminds me of something I’ve known for a long time, but always manage to forget – or more likely to bury, because I don’t want to know it. It’s that the best way to deal with depression isn’t to make your bed, or drink enough water, or soak up lots of sunlight, or break a healthy sweat. It’s something much harder than that. It’s to be honest about it.
Lutheran pastor Emily Scott (and, full disclosure, my former pastor) once said something that struck me so hard, I wrote it on a Post-It and keep it on my desk: “The last thing I want to talk about is the only thing I have to say.”
Whenever I get brave enough to be honest – when I talk about the thing I really don’t want to talk about – that’s when my words seem to resonate with people the most. That’s when I feel authentic, and that’s when I start to feel hopeful. Being honest pokes a hole in the dark tunnel of my depression and lets a little light shine through.
The truth always brings light. And the truth, today, is that I feel like I shouldn’t be telling anyone else how to handle depression, or anything else. I feel like an imposter and a failure. I feel hopeless and scared. But also, underneath all of that, I feel a tiny thrum of joy that just might be working its way up to the top of all my sadness, where it just might explode into a raucous drumbeat that carries me forward.
Image via shutterstock.com.
Comment: Do you struggle with depression? How do you deal with it? And do you ever feel like a fraud?