With depression, every day is a long day.
I'm constantly surprised by how tired I can be after a day of doing nothing. My brain can exhaust me in a way that my muscles never can. A day alone with my thoughts leaves me completely worn out, but I invariably find myself looking at the clock at midnight or later. I wonder why I'm still awake, but when my head hits my pillow, my thoughts race. I'm constantly completely drained and yet sleep never comes easily.
Every facet of my life suffers when I'm in a low. My relationships, friendships and work suffer - depression saps me of the ability to be proactive while stripping me of the confidence to react to anything in a productive manner. It's a weight that slows me down and keeps me in place mentally and often physically.
But I'm lucky. I have a good job with insurance that makes treatment affordable. I get paid time off to attend appointments and I have sick leave. Perhaps most importantly, I have co-workers and managers that support me, maintain coverage when I need to be out, and offer whatever help they can offer. Most people don't have these things, especially in the United States.
Depression crosses all political lines, and all stories are welcome, but it's no secret that the United States' bootstraps philosophy stigmatizes depression and pushes those struggling with mental health issues further to the margins. Health insurance is too expensive, difficult to obtain and woefully insufficient to provide adequate treatment to those with profound depression or begin treatment when mental health issues are more manageable. Union membership continues to dwindle and with it, workplace protections, benefits and livable wages are stagnating or regressing.
In a perfect world, politics wouldn't be part of the discussion, but to borrow a phrase from Carol Hanisch, the personal is political. My situation is better than most but it's still inferior when compared to other western nations. We need lower health care costs, better workplace protections and we need them encoded into law. People are suffering. People are dying. It doesn't have to be this way.
As always, I have linked to each contributor's full story. Clicking on each name will take you to their full story. I will be continuing to publish Depression Stories volumes until I have no more stories in my inbox; e-mail me your story with the subject line "Depression" if you would like it included in a future volume, and remember to indicate whether you would like your story to be anonymous.
*some names changed
I started feeling worthless around 13. I remember being home alone one evening and taking a knife out of a drawer and just starting at it for a long time. I've never cut myself, and I've long considered myself a failure for not being able to follow through with something I've been so obsessed with for so long.
Over the last 20 years my depression had ranged from mild to completely physically and mentally debilitating. I've been on 10 different medications, and while some of them have helped, I am absolutely non-compliant with meds. I'm starting to accept that is just something I will always have to deal with.
I was a smart, happy kid. Strict parents, but happy. I loved high school, and I was relatively popular: For good grades and fine arts, mostly. I didn't date much (hadn't figured out I was gay just then), I had good friends, and knew I was going to go to college.
Then my mom got sick, and she died two weeks into my freshman year of college. We buried her on 9/11. I don't remember chunks of that day, and that's probably for the best. I didn't know she was going to die. Cue feelings of abandonment. And suddenly I couldn't get out of bed to go to class – so I just laid there for days.
I was the strong one in the family, so I took care of everyone else. It took years and years to get exhausted from that. But in the mean time that I wasn't dealing with my grief, anxiety came. Crippling social anxiety paired with panic attacks, bouts of weeping, and feeling numb and cold and useful but not loved. All from the girl that kept it together – for everybody, all the time.
I sought therapy and was medicated, but that baseline of pure sadness and hopelessness and worthlessness never went away. Didn't matter how much I drank or how many drugs I did. But they made the pain go away – for a little while at a time, at least.
It's been almost 13 years and I'm back in therapy now after a nearly week-long disappearing act I pulled over Christmas that scared my friends and family. I cry in my sleep sometimes. I take pills when I shouldn't sometimes. But while I have a couple of people who listen to my troubles (and I truly love them for it), I feel like a burden to them. It's a terrible spot to put somebody in, to have to deal with my shit and the fact that I can't get it together. They've got their own shit and feelings to deal with.
I don't believe the voice that tells me this is a liar: "They'll only cry for a little while. They'll miss you, but they won't have to feel obligated to deal with your shit. And you won't have to feel like this forever. It can be over."
This is my closest story of suicide success. I tried suicide three other times but this is the closest I got and I do not know how I survived. I sat in my car in the garage with the engine running and the door closed with plenty of time before anyone was due home. I was living with my dad at the time. It was after a breakdown (i was around 26? it is still a blurry time) and during the time they were trying to figure out what was going on with me. The last thing I remember is being in the car and the next thing I remember is my dad waking me up and I was in my bed. I was so confused. He was wondering why the keys to my car were in the middle of the floor and why I was sleeping. I asked what time it was and he said 6:40 and I asked if it was morning or night. I have wondered many times how I got in the house. I do not remember. I wrote in my journal each time I tried and left whatever I was last thinking to whomever would find my musings. Basically it read the same; I am no good to anyone, I make everyone unhappy, and I love you all but I just can't make it because there is too much pain. Was there an angel watching out for me? Was I just meant to be for the beautiful daughter I have now? Did my deep survival instincts kick in? I don't know. All I know is the story is the same for anyone who is depressed. Our bodies and brains are so foggy during this time that it makes it so we cannot fight the heavy blanket that is depression. So many survive and the ones that do not are accidents. I believe that we as humans cannot truly take our own lives because our survival instincts take over but there are times that it cannot fight what was started. We don't want to die. We just want to be free from the body aching, mind screaming, heart wrenching pain that must be endured when depression hits. Please reach out for help. You are not the only one. There are many who understand and they want to help. Please let them help. You are loved.
I know I have struggled with depression for a long time. Coming from an abusive home with a family that doesn't believe in psychology had lasting effects on me. My younger sister tells me to just get over it, it wasn't that bad, and "other people had it way worse when they were kids". That doesn't make my experience invalid. I lived in fear of my father and it still haunts me sometimes. Me and my mom think my sister doesn't remember a lot of what happened when we were kids. I remember a lot.
Middle school and high school were the worst times for me. I was suicidal for many years, but I brought home good grades because I was terrified of what would happen if I brought home bad grades. People made fun of me all day at school and I would come home and my dad would tell me I was stupid. He would tell me I was lazy because I never cleaned, but I was the one who did most of the housework. I just couldn't do it around him because he would yell at me and tell me I wasn't doing something "right". He once slapped me in the face and dragged me by my hair for not doing something "right". My parents also fought tirelessly but they stayed together "for the kids". I remember wishing my parents would get a divorce at 5 years old. I told people this and they were horrified, but I hated living with the constant fighting and yelling. Instead, my parents waited until I was in my 20's to get a divorce. I was pretty mad that they waited so long.
My dad isn't solely to blame, my mother had a way of driving him crazy by spending all of the money constantly. She never tried to keep him from hurting us. I know she was also afraid, but I will never forget watching her watching him hit us and doing nothing to stop it. He was no kinder to her, though, and apparently she had to endure things that she will not talk about. I don't want to know. My dad isn't like he was now and I have done my best to forgive him, but I don't know if I ever can fully. He has apologized several times, but I will never forget him hitting me, whipping me with a belt, watching my sister pee on herself over a bag of groceries because she was so scared of my dad and then him yelling at her for peeing on the groceries. I will never forget the house being trashed, things being broken, like my nosy bear lunch box that he shattered when I was in kindergarten.
I know I've been depressed since as early as middle school, not that I really understood what that meant at that age. I couldn't go to my parents with this because we were never a family that talked about feelings, we still don't really. I assumed that during high school I was just like every other depressed teenager with major highs and lows. The problem was after my teen years were over the depression still hung around, but I chose to ignore it.
All through college I kept myself so busy that I literally had no down time to really think about how shitty I felt. Once college was over the reality of it all sunk in and instead of actually dealing with the depression I self medicated with alcohol. The problem was that every time I got completely drunk I would sit in my room and cry. It was almost like in order for me to get out all of those feelings I had to be intoxicated. It really was such a vicious cycle. Sometimes I'm surprised that I'm still alive when I think about how much I used to drink. I went on like this for about four years when I decided to make a change.
I made up my mind that the only way I was going to be happy was if I moved away. In my head the source of everything that was making me miserable was the city I was living in, now I know differently. So, I picked up and moved to New York. The first couple of years living here was great, I felt like things were better and I was better. Then things settled down and once again I found myself back to feeling like that useless person that didn't care about anything.
Unfortunately, this time it was much worse than before. It almost seemed like there was a trigger that I could never pinpoint. I was crying all of the time, even at work. I would lock myself in a bathroom and just cry until I got it out and could go back to my desk and focus on work again. I wasn't eating at all, I lost 20 pounds in one month. I didn't want to be around anybody socially and when I was I felt like I had nothing to say because I honestly didn't think I had anything to offer. It was like I was walking around with a dark hole inside of me and I didn't know how to fill it.
I was always over emotional about almost everything. At least that's what my mom always said to me when I'd get upset over something. I figured at that point nobody would want to hear my problems. I should just get over it. I was a good kid in school. Since I had very few friends, I stayed home a lot. I was a band geek. I was teased about anything and everything. It was an amazing day if nobody picked on me. On the really horrible days, I'd sit in my room and see if it were possible to smother myself with a pillow. Then I would be scared of how I felt.
I was sexually abused as a child and my mother was physically abused by my father, right in front of me. My idea of how relationships worked was not healthy. I felt like I had to do everything in order to please everyone. I just wanted to be loved.
I've had insomnia off and on my entire life. When I was 20, I finally went on medication for it. by this point, I was starting to make poor decisions. I started getting boyfriends and then would cheat on them. At parties, I was the one dancing tables and taking my top off… the life of the party! I had credit cards and maxed them out on shit I didn't need. Then I'd become so upset awhile later that I'd come home from work and hide out with the tv and sleep all the time.
I met a man who was emotionally abusive and we were together for 2 years. By this point, he'd convinced me that I was sick and make me believe I was a burden on him because he had to take care of me. Since I knew I had some problems to deal with, it became really easy to let him control me and there were so many days when I couldn't get out of bed, whacked out on Xanax because it was easier than getting up and doing anything. Eventually the anxiety over my relationship and the heartache I felt caused me to spend a night in the hospital, full of sleeping pills. I wanted to be done with it all. luckily, that plan didn't work out.
i had a dislike for myself since i was very young, a dislike re-inforced by my mother whom had made it her life mission to have me be as messed up as humanly possible. since i was 3 she had me in and out of therapist offices and doctors, and had me on as much medication as she could get. i was a zombie because of this, and anytime doctors started to argue and express interest in lowering my doses she would take me out and get me a new doctor or therapist. her attitude towards me was very negative. i was either too nosey, to talkative, to curious, to hyper, to childish. so she had me diagnosed with all kinds of things like aspergers, tourrets, ADD, ADHD, autism. i was on a coctail of pills till i was 18. and by the time i was a 14yr old in highschool i was understandably negative about myself. in my mind, i wasnt "normal" unless i was brimming with pills. something was wrong with me and i was undesireable unless i had these chemicals in me altering who i was. one of the many pills she had me on were anti-depressants which then promptly made me suicidal and caused REAL problems. her wish came true and i actualy developed a REAL condition, and now that i actualy needed help she dismissed it and said it was merely a grab for attention. so i even became ashamed of my depression on top of myself. i suffered in silence and coped with self harm, and fantasies of dying. thinking i was such an awful messed up undesirable human, that it was for the best. then fast forward to today, i am now handicapped from a car accident i had at 19. now im depressed again because what little self worth i had before has been utterly crushed by feelings of being a burden on everyone. and again i cant talk about it because i need to "get over it" or "think about what i have" and i hear these dismissive, hurtful things that seek to deny the existance of my internal struggle as if its ungratefulness. im just about 25 now, and i worry ill never not feel shame for being depressed.
why do we do this to eachother
Another day of silence, another cafe, another romance novel that she likes to pretend entertains her. She sits with her back to the rest of the room and her face toward the window, shivering in her unbuttoned wool coat every time the door jingles open and cold drafts ride in on the backs of bundled-up customers.
The novel isn't engaging enough to distract her from the chatter and laughter of a group of fellow students sitting a few tables away. Their easy camaraderie hits her like a punch in the gut every time she breaks her focus to enjoy her tea, and she dives back into the story with greater determination and less success each time her mug clunks back down against the heavy wood table.
Holiday season is the hardest time for her. The combination of cold, darkening days and looming exams weaves tension into every waking moment, made so much worse by the fact that she has no one to share it with or help her relieve it. The novels become constant companions during the days, and she spends her nights worrying because novels are far from textbooks. Then she reads some more, and the worry slinks away.
The group behind her quiets, and she shoots a glance over her shoulder to see that they've begun pulling out textbooks and notebooks and plugging their heads into their laptops. Time to go, she thinks, shutting her book and stuffing it into her bag. She ignores the voice that says she is fleeing from the reminder of what she should be doing, if she cared more (or at all) about her grades, and also of what she wanted but was too…something…to go out and get.
She leaves the mug in the dish bin and buttons up her coat, ignoring the many pairs of eyes that follow her. She used to get so excited when men looked at her because it was confirmation that she wasn't that pizza-faced teenager anymore, that she had actually grown up to be as beautiful as everyone had predicted back before she turned thirteen. But it wasn't long before she figured out that attention meant nothing if she didn't know what to do with it (or was too chicken to try and find out).
The bells on the door jingle as she pushes her way into the cold, her coat wrapped tight around her.
I don't remember my first encounter with depression. As far back as I can remember, I've experienced bouts of hopeless, profound sadness. As insane as it sounds, at the age of eleven I barricaded myself in my bedroom for a week, because I had become obsessed with Dawson's Creek and had spiralled into a deep depression because I didn't actually know Katie Holmes or live in Capeside. By the time I had reached high school, I was a publicly cheerful, oft-depressed and at best, numb teenager.
For years, nothing would excite me. Most days I would wake up, go to school, go to work, complete somesort of thoughtless extra curricular activity and then lie in bed, sleeplessly, waiting for the next day to come. I avoided telling my parents or a doctor that I suspected I suffered from depression, for fear of discovering I didn't suffer from anything - this was simply as good as things could get.
My boyfriend and I broke up in November, essentially because my own anxiety and misery had rendered me undateable. I went to a doctor the following week.
Somewhat ironically, this is the most openly I've ever discussed my depression and the most I've written since I completed my journalism degree a year ago. I almost applied to intern at Jezebel.
Thank you for this.
I'm seventeen and riding in Vera's Blue Chevy Sprint. Foot on the dashboard, cigarette lit, white hands outstretched toward the Springsteen music playing from the tape deck, and I'm sneering. We'll drive all night for no other reason than to move very quickly, our voices trying to keep up with our bodies, our easy laughter cutting through the night as grown men in BMW's speed by us just to catch a glimpse of our faces before pulling over to weep from the sight of what they wish they never lost.
It's been twenty-eight years since I was that girl; but when I remember her face, it looks no different than the one that now stares back at me in the mirror. I'm not sure if people really do change or simply surrender to something – a mysterious fact allowing them to move through their lives with greater ease. There must be a trick I never learned – a decision I was supposed to make a long time ago, but didn't make quickly enough to create a difference. Why do I feel no different than I did then – still spinning in circles just to make myself feel dizzy? Why do I still want to avoid that same stillness I always avoided?
On one of these driving excursions, we stumble upon a psychic's shop in the middle of West Hollywood. It's 2:30 in the morning, but the red neon sign in the window says, "Come in," and we do. A young woman in a multi-colored kimono greets us in the waiting room.
"One at time please." she says in an Eastern European accent. Vera goes into the other room with her and I sit in the darkness think about what I might ask. I know that Vera hopes to be told she'll be a famous dancer and marry her forty-eight year old instructor. And she'll also want to know that she's made something important out of her life – made her mark upon a significant plane. I, on the other hand, just want to make an exit. As soon as I graduate – in just two weeks — I'm going to move to San Francisco and never look in the direction of L.A. again. I'll be the most sought after stage actress – first in San Francisco, and then the world (but never in L.A.). That's all I want: a play to perform in every night of the week. And a place of my own, with hardwood floors and no furniture except a mattress. And a dangerous, older man with cloudy blue eyes and a haunting past — a lover who will pull my hair in bed and call me "babe" in a voice that sounds like a canoe being dragged over rocks and when I'm feeling haunted he'll lie on top of me and whisper, "It's ok, baby, I'll get the bastards. I'll kill those bastards for you" even though he does not know that the bastards aren't a "who". The Bastards is a place.
Joshua David can be found on Twitter at @joshuaadavidd.
Image via Mislav Marohnić.