You know what I’m talking about. The daily battles, the never-ending struggle, the unreliable victories…. Not outwardly visible, yet terribly real all the same. The enemy is not the same for everyone, and any individual may face several foes at once. The world frowns at the scars left behind, the wounds old and new, sometimes physical and sometimes emotional; society expects top performance from its members day in and day out, without fail. There are no excuses. But these wars are a plague sweeping through the ranks, silently toppling the very people who support the movement. We’re all left to struggle onward, pretending nothing is wrong, expecting judgment from our fellows and never realizing that they face their own demons.
Right now I want to write about depression, because in my life it’s like the Hydra–every head I cut off gives me two more to fight. It’s cancerous and deadly and it has infiltrated every part of my life and my soul, and I sense that most of my other battles are, in fact, side effects of the war I’m waging with the real enemy: depression.
For me, the worst part of being depressed isn’t alternately wanting to sleep forever, and not go to sleep at all. It isn’t that I don’t feel like doing things I know I should do because they’ll cheer me up, and it’s not that I haven’t done anything with my life. The worst part isn’t even that I cry sometimes because I wish I could stop existing, life is so painful.
The part I hate the most is that I can never expect to be free of it. I have very good days sometimes. I have even had months of relative happiness, and I know I can exist without being so low I want to die all the time. But my highs are other people’s average. What I can accomplish on a very good day, I know I should be accomplishing on a pretty regular basis. My small dips turn me into a slow-moving zombie, and the big drops serve to smash to pieces most of what I’ve built up over the course of my good time.
There are times I can predict I will have to work harder to stay afloat and I can prepare accordingly. Winter is one such time. I know it’s going to be a rough season, so I try to keep from getting too involved in the thoughts that surface when I’m starting to feel depressed. I try to keep myself busier, try to get outside more…. I can handle that.
But life is nothing you can predict in the long run. People come and go, we all experience blessings and trials, and surprises abound on an almost daily basis. If I can’t figure out how to cope with all the changes, especially when they’re negative or otherwise stressful, how am I to keep the depression at bay all the time?
The answer is that I can’t. I can improve; I can have more good days than bad, and my goal is to get there eventually. But I know that I will never, in this lifetime, be completely free of this monster, this disease. I will always have to dedicate some part of my energy to keeping it at bay, or recovering lost ground when I stumble and fall. I am going to have days, for the rest of my life, when I feel useless, pointless, and so very weary of being alive. I am going to wonder what I am doing with my life, I am going to spend entire days in bed, and I am going to cry on someone’s shoulder and plead with them to find a way to take this burden from my shoulders.
Right now, as I type this, my mind is drawn to the last couple of days, with their extreme highs and extreme lows. I picture myself sitting in the car, riding home from an evening with friends, unable to lift my head off the seat back. I feel the pain I squeezed out through my tear ducts, too drained even to sob. I remember how dead I felt inside when my tears dried, and I can still feel the urge to pull back, away from my boyfriend, away from anyone who cares about me. I don’t deserve to be alive, I don’t want to be alive. I don’t want people to comfort me because then my mask will crumble and I will have to reveal the bloody sores on my soul. I don’t want to remember that they’re there. I want just to be tired, and sad, without the sensation of being sucked into a whirlpool of darkness.
What is so troubling to me is that I have things to be excited about, finally; the last two months have been incredibly trying for me and I have had precious little to look forward to. And now, things are starting to change; I’m glad for it, but depression respects nothing and no one. It urges me to sabotage any chance I have at forward motion, because…being depressed is, at times, like having an abusive friendship I can’t seem to escape. I know there’s no real justifiable reason to remain, but for all the misery, it’s comfortable. Somehow I’ve bonded to it and it’s painful to try and rip free. Forward motion requires effort, and it’s so much simpler to lay my head back upon the pillow of thorns I’ve been sleeping on.
I hate this war. I’m tired, and I don’t want to be a soldier. I want peace, and tranquility, and I want to be happy without the shadow of future pain, just for a little while. No single weapon I have is enough to keep me on the winning side, and my armor is terribly fragile. I feel broken, and unwell, and yet I must hold myself together for all the people watching who will call me a failure if I fall apart. I must stay on my feet, for if I fall down I will be trampled by life’s changes.
I know I’m not the only one. I know that there are so many people who may not struggle specifically with depression, but whose battles are equally terrible. I know that even the strongest of us don’t always believe that about themselves. I know how lonely it is, and even hearing someone tell me I’m not alone is only a small comfort at times. There are others who know the type of struggle you face, but a hard reality is that you are the only one who is walking your specific journey. Others can relate to feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, and so forth; and in that, we are blessed if we come together to try and strengthen one another.
But it must be understood: your journey is real, your war is real, and your scars are real. Do not let anyone tell you that they aren’t. Don’t listen when people tell you there’s nothing wrong with you, or that you can simply “get over it.” If you let them convince you, you will spend your life wondering why you’re defective, why you’re not as happy as you’re supposed to be. But you won’t be free to fix the problems, because you will be pretending there are none.
It’s okay to acknowledge your war. It’s okay to talk about how you are a soldier fighting in a battle that you hate. I’d even argue that it’s necessary. Who you talk to, and how, is your choice. You know your needs better than anyone else; use that knowledge. Do what you can to give that enemy a name and a face. Let the light shine on it so you can see what you will need to do to fight it better than you have before. Let others know it exists, and let them know you expect support and encouragement rather than ridicule. You aren’t making excuses for yourself; at some point you do have to decide if you are willing to fight or not, and it may be an ongoing process, but offering a reason for your brokenness is not meant to make other people pick you up and carry you. It is meant to invite others to understand, to forgive, to offer advice.
Unfortunately, too many people are still under the impression that it is wrong to be at war with mental illness. Too many people think that it’s not as big of a deal as it is made out to be, and will accuse you of exaggerating. Some people, while meaning well, will offer unhelpful and often hurtful advice in the form of “hey, you can definitely just get over it.” They think you just need some encouragement to see that you can step over that hurdle, not realizing they’re completely misunderstanding the nature of your struggle.
But don’t let those people force you into silence. Find an outlet, a place to dump some of the weight you carry. Find those who will love and support you. Focus on loving yourself, even when it seems impossible. It can be done.
I hope that we can bring awareness and understanding to society. I hope that someday I will be free of the added pressure I face to keep up the facade of “being okay.” I hope that someday I won’t have to feel guilty for being unable to get out of bed. I hope that someday I can stop wondering if I should just never have children, because I’m afraid I’ll just screw them up because of my depression.
I hope that you find a moment of peace today, a respite from the fighting long enough to see some sun peeking out behind the clouds. I hope it gives you something to cling to as you head back into the darkness. Soldier on. We’re all worth it.