depression is a dirty word
Basically, I’m in a good mood right now, so I can barely bring myself to write this. I’d rather be writing the next post, a happy post, which is filling my head tonight. It’s hard for me to even explain or convey the feelings of the last three weeks, because I don’t feel that way anymore. Of course, that’s the nature of it, that’s part of it. But if I don’t do this tonight, I never will; I will let it pass and I won’t think of it again…until the next time.
So here it is…
An extraordinary thing happened to me on Sunday. I felt better. Suddenly. In a giddy way. In a laugh out loud, can’t stop giggling way. It was bubbling out of me. Literally, as I was talking to another manager (about work – barrel of fun, right?), I started laughing. Then I couldn’t stop smiling and practically giggled my way through the rest of the conversation. The closest I can come to describing it is a sugar rush. And I don’t get it, I don’t understand why. I can almost believe that my brain was holding back on me these last three weeks, like some kind of brain conspiracy. Like it held back on my regular dosage of some chemical or other, and then dumped it all into my system at once.
I said in the smelly post that I was in a down-swing. I realize that is a really technical term and some of you may not have known what I meant. I’m not sure I know what I mean, but that’s what I call it. So, the basics: it happens once or twice a year; it starts so slowly that I don’t know it’s happening until I’m in it; now that I’m more aware, it typically lasts a few weeks, but it used to go on for months; I don’t know what causes it, and it might be purely chemical; it often disappears in a flash. In the last four years, I have really worked hard to control it. I’ve been more aware of what’s going on, and I’ve worked hard not to succumb, for lack of a better word. Actually that’s quite an accurate word.
Okay, let’s just bite the bullet and call this thing depression. I feel a little ridiculous saying it (today), but…I don’t know. I am not sure I qualify. I’ll stop myself there – we’ll get into that later. For now, I’m just going to use that word.
I can’t describe the feeling very well, but I’ll do my best. For me, I often visualize my life in terms of water. In this case, I’m floating on the surface like a duck (this is making me laugh now, but it wasn’t so funny last week). The thing is, that water is pretty deep; in fact, I think it’s bottomless. And there’s a whole world going on under there. Anyway, for the past three weeks, there was a current running beneath the surface, and that was the depression. All kinds of things can be happening on the surface, good things, happy things even, and you can experience them and enjoy them. But all the while, there is this current of unhappiness just below the surface, and you can feel it pulling at you, even as you’re trying to enjoy what’s going on up top. You can’t get away from it because it’s there; it’s as deep and as wide as the water. And the pull is very strong. It tugs on every cell of your body, like they belong to it and it wants them back. It wants you.
Let me stop for a moment and clarify: this is what it’s like now. When I feel this coming on, usually within the first week, I won’t allow myself to give in. I reach out to people and try to plan activities instead of shutting down. I say yes to invitations instead of no. I make myself do things. Believe me, it’s a strange feeling to be having fun and be happy to see people, and to still feel that unhappiness clawing at me. Basically, I can appreciate an activity and have a nice time, but the level of joy I’m used to is not there.
Likewise, I don’t know that I can describe to you the difference in how I feel now. The easiest way to explain it is just that the current is gone. I feel like I’m back to my normal self and I can look at it and see it in a clearer light. Before it was more doom and gloom; it felt much more dire, almost tragic. On Saturday, the little duck me was just trying to stay afloat. Today she’s swimming and splashing; she’s looking all around her and seeing a bright new world. Even writing about it now, it’s like the difference between telling someone how you broke your arm three years ago and telling someone how you broke your arm yesterday. The immediacy is not there; the recollection is there, but the pain is missing. Only, my loss of vividness didn’t take three years; it happened overnight. It nearly feels like I just don’t care anymore, whereas yesterday it was everything. My mood has altered that much.
This has been going on with me for a long time, but I don’t know how long. Mostly, I didn’t recognize what was happening to me at all, I just knew that there were crucial moments in my life when I seemed to self-destruct. Which made me sad and uncertain and unhappy and filled with low self-esteem. Go figure. I don’t feel it coming on, and for the longest time I never realized what had happened until it was over – until I didn’t feel that way anymore.
It’s the reason I left college. I quit in the beginning of my third year, and all I understood then was that I was falling apart. I had one session with a counselor, which made me feel a little better…but not really. I cried the whole time and talked primarily about the pressure I felt, about pleasing other people and not failing (and I don’t mean grades), having no idea what I wanted, but at the same time feeling the pressure of not disappointing other people. It was all about the “other people”. That was probably the worst one of these I’ve gone through in terms of how I felt before it went away. But then it was a situation like my alcoholic van-mate – once I was out of school, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. The pressure was removed, and I was no longer faced with having to dig myself out of this deep hole that I found myself in. In short, leaving school cured the symptoms rather than the sickness. By the way, that decision has stalked me through the rest of my life, mentally and emotionally. Fun side effect.
The second worse one, and the last bad one, was about four years ago. When it was over, I realized that I had just spent four months doing nothing. I would go to work, work as few hours as possible, go home and sit in front of the computer for hours, and then go to sleep. Then I’d get up the next day and do it all over again. That one lasted four months. Can you imagine that – spending four months virtually the same way, having that same day over and over? And that’s all I wanted to do. Play a basically mindless game and be lost in it for however many hours that I was awake and didn’t have to be at work. That one ended the same inexplicable way: overnight. I simply woke up one morning and felt good again, like myself.
It was after that when I started to examine what was happening. And when I started calling it a down-swing. I’ve ruled out manic-depressive. I don’t have the manic, never have had the manic – not manic. I don’t think lazy people can be manic. It does not compute. But when I’m feeling this way, I always think, “Okay I’m in a down-swing right now – I’m just down.” One way I can mark it is by communication. I would realize that I hadn’t called my parents for weeks, even months. That would be an indicator for me – when I don’t communicate with my family and don’t want to. Basically, when I began taking mental notes, I realized that these periods were characterized by general withdrawal. My little duck just shut right down. But I still don’t fully understand – if I could figure out what causes it, I would put a stop to it. But at least I began to recognize a pattern of behavior. And I can control behavior.
One of the problems is that when it’s over, it’s over – I don’t think about it anymore. I’m only dwelling on this one because I told myself that I needed to write about it. I’m making myself write about it. I know it’s been happening at least since I was college age, because I clearly remember that episode. There is one other time that made an impression on me because I had a roommate and she called me out on it. She was angry and she basically said to me, “You come home and you just sit, you don’t talk to me, you barely respond to me.” She said that she was supposed to be my roommate and my friend, and she wasn’t going to be treated that way. She was not putting up with it. Did it put an end to how I felt? No. But I started paying attention and making an effort, and so that one didn’t last long, either.
I tried once to discuss this with someone and that person told me that I’ve never been depressed. I was told that, had I ever suffered an actual depression, then I would know that what I’m feeling is not an actual depression. And it was said very adamantly, almost angrily. It was said scornfully. So, okay…wow. That didn’t feel good. What I felt was negated and dismissed; I felt belittled. I didn’t have a response because that wasn’t the answer I was expecting. I was expecting – I wanted – feedback that would help me. And talking about things is how you understand them better; it’s supposed to help you get a grip on things.
The reason I tried to talk about it at all is because it’s bothersome; it’s a concern and a worry. There was a time in my life when I really just thought that I was incapable of success, that I was incapable of following through or achieving anything because I would ultimately self-implode. And to this day, I have never really felt successful or accomplished or worthy of anything, really. There are people who have college degrees and are doing the same job as I am, and yet I do not feel that I’m worth anything because my job is not important enough. That has less to do with the job than it has to do with my own feeling of self-worth. How much of that is linked with the depression? I don’t know, but I’ve got to wonder. Any kind of success, any kind of growth…am I so afraid of achieving success that I create this depression on purpose so that I will fail? If I think I’m so undeserving of having anything good, then maybe I sabotage myself.
I ask those questions because this does occasionally coincide with times when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Particularly in terms of knowing that something needs to change, but being afraid of change. And that’s basically what I’m going through now, is facing an unhappiness with certain aspects of my life, but being too afraid to move forward. I’m feeling uncertain. Of course, now that my little down-swing is over, I see it with different eyes and I’m quite excited with the possibilities. This is confusing to me.
Anyway, I thought up a good defense for myself and tackled the talk again, much later. And I got the same answer a second time, almost verbatim. So, I whipped out my analogy. I said, “Say I lose my hand and someone else loses their arm. The arm may be a bigger loss, but does that mean my lost hand amounts to nothing? They are both losses, just different in magnitude.” I did not make my point, and I did not push it after that.
So why bring it up with that person again? And why include those interactions in this post? I feel the need to, that’s why. I feel compelled to relay them, to defend myself again. I think it’s because there is a part of me that believes this person is right – that I’m being melodramatic. A brat and a cry-baby. That I just need to suck it up and stop being such a whiner. Even as I feel the need to write about my so-called depression as a part of some strange and self-created therapy, I also feel the need to defend myself to you as readers. Despite – or perhaps because of – the fact I’m not with you and I don’t know what’s in your head right now. Because you might be thinking the same thing.
I suppose it’s part of the insecurity of needing to have my feelings validated and to be told that I’m a normal person. That it is okay and it’s not a negative reflection on me. You see, if it is not depression, and if it’s just me being a big baby, then that means it is fully within my control. That means it is a personality flaw. And nobody wants to be told that “it’s just you”. That there’s no good reason for you to feel or act this way. You’ve never been depressed! It’s just you! Sucks to be you, Michelle, seeing as how you’re broken and all.
- Are You Depressed or Just Feeling Blue? (everydayhealth.com)
- Depressed? Be kind, compassionate (news.bioscholar.com)