And I don’t get to decide when it sets in.
This morning it stormed twice – once outside my bedroom window, and then inside my head.
As the rain fell, I began to cry; the kind of crying that causes your lungs to seize up, forcing you to steal thin slivers of air in between gasps.
I was inert with a suffocating pain, sitting at my dresser unable to move or string a sentence.
I wasn’t sick or injured, hadn’t received any bad news or had a fight with my SO; in fact, everything was fine. Except that I was struck with depression.
Without reason or warning, it had wrapped itself around me like a vice, all at once sucking the life from me and sewing its usual thread of ugliness into the deepest corners of my mind, making the simple act of existing a gargantuan task.
Unlike a physical wound, there was little I could do to stop the bleeding as I walked to work, tears streaming as quickly as the rain from underneath my oversized umbrella. Instead, I honed in on the sound of my heels hitting the wet pavement beneath me and waited for the dark cloud to lift before I knew I’d have to put on my brightest smile and exchange pleasantries with my colleagues.
There’s rarely an explanation for why depression hits me when it does, but it’s always a few steps behind me – sometimes a faint figure in the distance, sometimes breathing down my neck on the walk to work.
On days like this, I can lose hours staring blankly at the computer screen, grasping for thoughts that flicker just beyond my reach, like moths darting about in the darkness. Conversations are a welcome distraction from the self-defeating monologue stuck on repeat in my brain, but leave me drained in the same way an intense workout session does. Alcohol, food and sex take on heightened appeal, momentarily drowning out the numb nothingness churning inside, though I know better now than to buy into them. Motivation shrivels like fruit left to rot in the sun. And above everything, I’m stopped short with a profound sense of worthlessness and isolation, so loud that it rings in my ears, throwing me off balance.
Even still, sometimes I’m good at covering it up.
I’ve presented at meetings, joked with friends and even attended social events during the thick of some of my worst depressive spells, stealing to the bathroom to wipe away tears and secure my smile in place a few minutes beforehand.
I used to think of depression as something that happened to people who couldn’t get out of bed for days, stowed away from the world behind thick curtains in small, darkened rooms, until a doctor suggested to me that I was, in fact, depressed.
And there are people it hits that way. But it’s more of a chameleon than we give it credit for.
It scratches itself under the skin of bright, smiling faces, and hides behind bubbly personalities and among cabinets lined with trophies earned by high-achievers. It doesn’t care whether the world’s at your feet, if you have a lot of friends or love your job.
And unlike a stomach ache or a broken arm, it can’t be cured or mended.
It can, however, be kept in check, with unrelenting self-care, awareness and support.
Laughing, going to work, having friends and appearing happy aren’t signs someone isn’t depressed. And being depressed isn’t a sign someone’s angry at the world, or ungrateful for what they have.
When I’m a shitty friend, a flaky employee or a moody partner, it’s not because I’m choosing to be. I’m trying my best, and using all the resources I have to give the most I can; and sometimes that’s not as much as I wish it could be.
Depression isn’t a bad mood, and sometimes it isn’t even perceptible at all. But the worst thing you can do, is brush it off as a ‘bad day’.
Though it still creeps up on me sometimes when I least expect it, I keep my depression in check. I avoid things I know will make it worse when I feel it coming on, regularly see a therapist, and write about it, because we still have a long way to go to fully acknowledging mental health.
Nothing can ever make depression vanish for those who live with it, but asking someone if they’re okay on a day they’re not themselves can go a long way to reminding them it is worth weathering the storm, no matter how hard the rain’s falling, because the sun will eventually come back out.
Image via tumblr.com.
If you’re struggling with depression and need to speak to someone, call the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance on 800-826-3632 for anonymous, confidential advice.
Comment: What do you wish people understood about living with depression?