I’m Living With Depression, Not Fighting It



mhw2017

My depression has evolved as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve
realized that the way I live with it needs to evolve too.

Posted on October 07, 2017, 14:31 GMT

Wesley Allsbrook for BuzzFeed News

I’m sitting in the bathtub. The water is hot-tub hot
and neon orange, and the steam floating up smells like
citrus. I have given myself permission to use the bath bomb
that’s been in my closet for months; I’m trying to cheer
myself up. It isn’t working. I’m still crying.

Crying is my constant today — a true inconvenience, since I
finally have a job again. I’d been out of work (or
“freelancing”) for 10 months, a lifestyle change I’d entered
into enthusiastically and by my own will, but which resulted
in a depression so bad that, after seven months, I was in a
psych ward. I left that ward with new meds, a clearer mind,
and one goal: to go back to work. I did, and it was good. It
is good. Except I missed a day of my meds, and it
turns out one of the meds I’m on is notorious for a swift and
devastating withdrawal.

So here we are. Crying, crying, crying; only the triggers
change. 11 a.m. and I’m crying in bed because the weight is
back, pushing me down. My tiny voice beats against it like
useless arms: Get up, get up, get up. 1:30 p.m. and
I’m crying because I know I said the wrong thing in that
email, and I know that colleague thinks I’m a moron, or —
worse! — rude. 4 p.m. and I’m crying because the boundary
between good and not good is so delicate, so thin, I can’t
imagine a future in which I don’t pass through it
absentmindedly and unintentionally; because failing to leave
the apartment is a telltale sign things are not good,
and, well, so is crying all day. 6 p.m. and I’m crying
because I’m sitting naked in a half-filled bathtub, listening
to the third song on my “CRY FOREVER” playlist, and realizing
that the lyrics I’ve relied on for 15 years have nothing to
give me anymore.

Sometimes in the morning, I am petrified and can’t
move
Awake, but cannot open my eyes

When I heard these lyrics for the first time, the first words
Jenny Lewis sings in the Rilo Kiley song “A Better
Son/Daughter,” they were a revelation. I was 16 and reckoning
with a sadness I didn’t understand, and I was missing enough
school to both worry my parents and inspire some lighthearted
teasing from friends. “Oh, you decided to come in today?”
they’d say, eyes rolling, and my gut would churn. Oh, you
know, terrible headache. Stomach flu. Bad period. Anything
but sad.

Jenny sings about the weight, how it crushes and terrifies
her, how her awful phone calls with her mother don’t help,
how all she can do is stay in bed and try to remember when
things were better. But the 1:40 mark is when it really
begins. Here is the crescendo, here enter the drums in a
pounding waltz, here Lewis’s voice is clear and soaring:

And sometimes when you’re on
You’re really
fucking on
And your friends, they sing along and
they love you
But the lows are so
extreme
That that the good seems fucking
cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its
absence

And here is where I used to scream-sing like the lyrics were
a conjuring, eyes shut, arms thrashing, heart trusting that
all of these words were, or could be, true:

But you’ll fight and you’ll make it
through
You’ll fake it if you have to

And then after Jenny and I sing through the list of
everything that will change when I get better, when I’m
happy, she closes the song, her voice still clear but tender:

And you’ll fight it
You’ll go out fighting all
of them.

Here, now, is where I’m stuck. When I sang this song at 15,
18, 21 years old, it felt like what I was doing was fighting.
Maybe it was. It doesn’t feel like fighting anymore.

I’m finished with the idea that depression is a battle
I can win. I say this understanding that it might be exactly
what others need in their journeys through their own
depression, and that at some point in my life it was exactly
what I needed. But today I’m 31 years old, and it’s just not
cutting it.

I think about the words I clung to, on LiveJournal and then
Tumblr: Fuck depression. Kick depression’s ass.
If you have depression and you got up today, congratulations,
you’re a goddamn warrior. Depression is awful, but
these messages made me feel that at least it gave me
automatic membership in a (very sad) army, and that we were
all fighting together. This is true on some level — finding
others who live with similar thought and mood patterns has
made me feel far less alone. But depression is also
inherently solitary; no matter how often I speak or read
about it, at its worst it’s just me and my brain.

The battle against depression was compelling when I saw
depression as a clean narrative — a low, then lower, then
rock bottom, fight, fight, fight, and then, finally, victory.
Linguistic nods toward war are everywhere in articles meant
as self-help for the depressed: “Eight Ways
to Actively Fight Depression.” “Conquer
Your Critical Self Attacks.” “Combat…
this internal enemy.” Exercise, and maybe you’ll defeat
it. Battling to overcome depression is fine once or
twice. But I didn’t realize it would be a perennial fixture
in my life, ebbing and flowing with the seasons. Now I hear
“You’ll fight and you’ll make it through” and I don’t feel
energized. I feel something along the lines of “Ugh, not
again.”

This isn’t to say I’m against survival. Survival is
great. It’s why, when facing the urge to kill myself five
months ago, I chose a hospital instead. I’ve just been
wondering if the language with which we describe survival
isn’t a bit alienating to those who need it. If surviving
depression is living in spite of the overwhelming urge to
stop, then survival is inherently an absence of action. At
its core it is — to be frank — the rejection of suicide. For
me, now, this kind of survival resembles more of a shrug than
active combat.

I suspect we spin depression into heroism so that we won’t be
punished for living with it. 

Something in my body resists the insistence that what I’m
doing is a daily act of heroism — not only because daily
heroism sounds, frankly, exhausting, but also because I know
what the truth of my living through a depressive low looks
like: dirty hair, blank face, puffy eyes, stained pajamas.
It’s mostly waiting, and trusting that the low will pass. It
isn’t marketable or twee or inspirational, at least not by
conventional standards. It’s hard to meme.

Actually, that’s not true. Depression makes fantastic memes,
they’re just the kind
that might make others uncomfortable. Which gets to the
root of my aversion to the narrative of fighting, my growing
cynicism regarding mainstream treatment of mental illness in
general: I suspect it’s built to make those not living with
it feel better about it. From this point of view, I can hear
anger in Jenny Lewis’s list of recovery, so focused not on
the depressed person but on everyone around them — she’ll
smile, laugh, listen; she’ll be, as the title says, a better
son, a better daughter. Now, when I listen to it, I hear
resentment. Anything else I can do for you?

I suspect we spin depression into heroism so that we won’t be
punished for living with it, let alone discussing it. The
triumph comes prematurely, as if to move past the ugly
reality of depression as quickly as possible. The
single-minded focus on victory elides the overwhelming
likelihood that the battle will return, and return, and
return.

I don’t blame anyone for preferring the victory, whether they
live with depression or love someone who does. When facing a
decision to either sit and cry with someone or cheer them on,
the latter is usually the more appealing choice. For me, it’s
also the hollow one. Depression is scary, and when I’m in it,
I want someone to see that fear, believe it, and share it, so
that maybe I might feel less of it. Maybe that’s selfish. But
for me, now, it feels like the only way to move forward.

After six hours in the waiting room on the day I chose
the hospital instead of suicide, the doctor who finally
admitted me placed her hand on my knee and said, “It was
incredibly brave of you to come in today.”

It was kind, and it helped. Being in that bed was scary, so I
suppose getting there was brave, but I was no more scared in
the bed than I was at home. I didn’t feel strong for having
gotten there. I’d never been weaker than I was that day.
Please understand: That’s not me putting myself down. That’s
me realizing that I don’t have to spin my weakness to accept
it. While waiting for my husband to come home that morning,
waiting to get in a cab to go to the hospital, I wrote in my
journal, “Maybe I say: I can’t do it. I can’t do anything.
Please, someone else, feed me and watch me and protect me,
until I can. Is it possible? It’s probably better than
killing myself.”

Recognizing my weakness was a lot of things — embarrassing,
uncomfortable, freeing, healthy, good. Never a battle.
Never a fight. If anything, it was an exhalation. Maybe
believing in the fight works for others; it worked for me for
a long time. It doesn’t anymore, and that’s fine. My
depression is a part of me, and it evolves as such. The way I
live with it needs to evolve too.

It’s 7 p.m. and I’m sitting in my robe, on the couch,
with my MacBook on my lap and my cats sleeping on either side
of me. (They always know.) I open a new tab on my browser and
search for a video which has been, in recent years, a more
effective salve than my old coping skills.

It’s called “Jessica meets
Vanessa, and assures her she’s fine” — the best title I
can imagine for it, and I’m in the business of writing
headlines. Jessica is a toddler meeting her newborn sister,
Vanessa. Vanessa starts crying, and Jessica shifts to hover
over her, her little voice repeating, “You okay, you fine,”
until her crying stops. It is 47 seconds long and absolutely
perfect.

In an essay which contains the fact that I couldn’t care for
myself, that I wanted to kill myself, perhaps the most
embarrassing admission is this: I’ve watched this strange
family’s home video more times than I can say. Walking to
work on a morning when fear almost kept me in bed, wrapped up
on the couch on a night when I’ve bailed on all the plans I
really thought I could keep, standing at a party and paranoid
that everyone can see what’s wrong with me, Jessica’s mantra
loops in my mind rapidly, continuously.

It isn’t a rebranding or dismissal of my weakness; it asks
nothing of me. It makes no promises it can’t keep. It isn’t
triumphant. It’s modest and reassuring and kind: You okay,
you okay, you okay; you fine, you fine, you fine.

To learn more about depression, check out the resources at
the National Institute of Mental Health here.

If you are thinking about suicide, talk to someone. You can
speak to someone by calling the National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and or by texting HOME
to 741741, the Crisis Text
Line. Suicide helplines outside the US can be found
here.


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