The surprising thing is how boring depression can be.
People that don't suffer from depression can sometimes think it's all sadness, but oftentimes it's just…nothing. Lethargy, apathy and boredom. I sit on the couch, pointlessly clicking away on the internet, playing a half-hearted game of 2048 until I'm sick of the effort and put it down, watching whatever I've decided is going to keep my mind semi-occupied. It's all just so mind-numbingly boring, but at the same time, depression makes changing my circumstances feel so daunting, and in any case, it saps my motivation and desire to do much of anything.
Depression pushes people away, or maybe I push people away because I'm depressed. It's hard to tell sometimes how much control I have over my interactions with other people because simply being present in life is exhausting when I'm in a low. It ruins relationships with significant others (I can attest to that, and so can my significant others), with family, with friends, with co-workers, everyone with whom I come into contact. There's also a cycle of blame that spins constantly, landing (what seems like) randomly on everyone around me and more than sometimes on myself.
I spend a good deal of time thinking about how much blame I deserve for deteriorated relationships. I become a shell of myself, barely interacting with people who care a great deal about me and want me in their lives. Is this failing relationship caused by true incompatibility? Am I utterly unable to maintain this relationship, or is it just easier for me to retreat into myself and leave this person, metaphorically, in the cold? Are the two materially different? Whether I'm physically incapable of giving the love, affection and attention that a significant other deserves to expect from me, or just unable to fight off the stifling nothingness that is depression, the end result is still the same for everyone involved.
Can I blame someone that hasn't experienced depression for not being able to handle mine? Hardly, when I can't handle my own. I can't expect a person to maintain a relationship with someone who, at times, seems determined to wallow. It's not fair to ask someone to be a part of that, to take the poor treatment that comes with being a partner to someone fighting depression – and in my case, it is poor treatment.
I can be surly, and mean, and unresponsive. I'm easily annoyed by the same things that attracted me to this person in the first place. Whether the depression is my fault or not, I can bring a partner's day down to my level without any real effort. That can be dealt with for a day, or a week, or even a month. But I hold no grudge against someone that's fought to stem the tide for longer than is probably healthy finally giving in and letting themselves be swept away from me.
It's not just that I can't shake the doldrums; it's that, at times, depression is its own perverse comfort. Coming out of a low is both relieving and uncomfortable. I suppose it's like being pulled out of the water into a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. I'm not going to drown, but there's no guarantee that this is going to be any better, and I may drown in the end anyway.
Even more trying is the pressure to interact with others while subduing depression, or at least pretending it doesn't exist. This causes emotional strain on two levels: it's tiring to hold up a happy face when there's nothing to support it, and there's the perception that everyone else has it together. When no one talks openly about depression, it's easy to feel like no one else is dealing with it.
There's an aloneness to depression. We all know it's out there, but it's so abstract. Profound depression happens to other people, people that have had it much harder than me. We tell ourselves (and often we're told by other people) that we don't deserve to struggle so hard, which both makes us more depressed and makes it harder to seek help.
It took me years to visit a therapist; it took me until today to even get in touch with someone capable of prescribing medication. It's so hard to seek help at your lowest and so easy to ignore it when you're feeling good. I'm trying to learn to take advantage of the good days.
The response to the first compendium of depression stories has been overwhelming, and one of the overriding themes in the submissions I've received has been how hearing others' stories, even stories of desperation and despondency and pain, has helped people feel like they're not so alone.
I'm going to keep accepting and publishing stories each week as long as I keep receiving them. If you would like to share your story in a future Depression Stories volume, e-mail me with the subject line "Depression." I am happy to publish stories under your name or anonymously.
[Clicking on the name of each participant links you to their full story.]
*some names changed
My first suicide attempt was the night of my 13th birthday. There was 3 more before my 25th birthday. I am one of the lucky ones. There is a family history and my mother was very proactive in getting me help and advocating for services after that. My friends always knew when I went into the hospital, and were very supportive even though they don't understand.
My depression is very cyclical. I knew every Fall it would arrive. First the insomnia. I would be up for days without the help of medication. Then the lack of appetite, inability to concentrate, isolation, and paranoia would arrive. I've tried every medication out there. The side effects landed me in the hospital a few times. I resist them unless I get suicidal then I only stay on them long enough to make those urges go away.
I was depressed as a teenager. There were good years and bad years. I felt like a deflated balloon. I hated myself, I hated how I looked, I was a gigantic fatty compared to the twigs I went to school with (we lived in a high income area and were NOT high income), no guys were interested in me. A lot of my memories are vague, drained of color. I just felt bad most of the time. I hid it pretty well, though my mom clued on long before I thought she did. I did well in school, I had a lot of good friends, I was heavily involved in choir and the school newspaper. I had hobbies.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (psychiatrist called it "agitated depression") and Dysthymic Disorder at 19 (low-grade constant depression over the course of several years). I took Prozac and went to therapy and it helped. I went off Prozac after 12-18 months. Things tanked again a couple years later. Apply Prozac, go to therapy, feel better.
Things tanked again when I was about 31. I went for the go-to Prozac/therapy one-two punch. It didn't help. The nurse practitioner I was seeing seemed to think it was making me worse. I felt anxious, agitated, anger I felt like I couldn't control. I cried a lot. My forearms felt like they thrummed with energy. She mentioned bipolar. I balked. Prozac worked so many times before, why wouldn't it work now? She said "kindling effect." It seems bipolar symptoms can sit dormant for years and burst forth because of an antidepressant. But I don't get euphoric. Bipolar II, she said.
I'm currently going through one of my worst depressive episodes that I can remember ever having. I am almost physically incapable of doing anything but sleeping. I go to work, but my brain is in such a fog I can barely get anything done. I'm alienating my husband because I don't want to burden him with my feelings, which in my mind are not important. More like they are those of a whiny loser who can't handle her life, which is actually a really nice life by the way. I can't escape the spiral, as I call it. I feel like it's sucking me deeper even though I've had my meds adjusted. I'm convinced everyone hates me, no one cares, and if I were to discuss how I feel, they'd be so disgusted by me they'd never speak to me again. I have wished I had the courage to stab myself in the throat or drive my car into a cement divider. Most days I just want to stop existing.
I've been in treatment for depression for about the last ten years of my life. My symptoms include feeling as though nobody really likes me or loves me (not even my family), obsessive negative thoughts, general anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. I have been taking a combination of antidepressants which have greatly reduced the majority of my symptoms. I no longer think people hate me and enjoy social situations, flying is not the terror inducing activity it used to be and most importantly: my mind is quiet and peaceful. I don't have to think of things that upset me and realize the things that I found so mortifying May not have even been so bad to begin with. I believe I have suffered with depression since the age of 10 and would have depressive episodes every few years. I could always pass off these episodes as a consequence of a particular event, at around the age of 20 was the first very bad depressive episode I had which had no external explanation.
I'm currently in the midst of the worst depression I've ever experienced, I'm going on two years.
I was first introduced to depression when I discovered that my younger brother had been self-harming, and had a plan to take his life. It was 10 years until I finally understood him, until I could relate to the dullness and fog and sadness that he tried so hard to describe to me.
Most days I guess I seem like any other person, cheerful and happy, and honestly in those moments I am truly happy. The difference is, on my way to work that morning I saw the train coming and for a split second I knew I could jump. Every morning I see that train, and every morning that little thought pops into my head. I don't want it there, I don't want to kill myself, but for some reason I always come back to it.
My depression really started ten years ago, when I was 16. I never thought I would still be struggling with this at 26, but here I am, now up to 60mg of my generic Prozac. I thought it was a phase, something I would outgrow. Of course I don't seem like the whiny emo wristcutter that I was in high school, thank God, but I definitely still feel like it some days. I always felt guilty for being so depressed on the time when literally nothing that bad ever happened to me. I was never raped, abused, overly picked on in school, etc. But I never felt good enough, I have literally no self esteem and if someone doesn't like me I completely beat myself up over it. I assume I'm just not good enough. Over the years I become more and more introverted and awkward, and never awkward in the endearing way they make it look on New Girl or whatever. Genuinely awkward and embarrassing. Every time something happens that brings me to my "I just wish I could fall asleep and never wake up" mode, I get more and more fragile and I just keep waiting until the day I actually break.
I first started wishing I was dead at about 11 years old, but it took 5 years of self harm, anorexia and suicide planning to actually attempt suicide. I'm now 22 and several attempts, plus a preposterous amount of medication and counselling, down the line, I still wish I was dead, but am usually too apathetic to do anything about it.
My family have a history of well-hidden mental illness. My parents hide their sadistic and abusive nature behind a facade of being well-respected churchgoing pillars of the community. When I first tried to kill myself to escape them, they asked when they were called to the hospital "why are you doing this to us?"
I have emotional instability disorder, which I usually describe as "bipolar with added extras". My parents think I'm just attention seeking, and told every figure of authority in my life preemptively that I was a pathological liar and attention seeker, and refused to let me see a doctor, so the first medical help I got was at university. We were referred for family counseling when I first tried to kill myself, but my parents refused to attend.
Lately, all I read are horror books about the apocalypse.
I'm a horror fan - so it's not like it was going to be "end of the world" or chick-lit. Bur the last few months, it's been novel after novel about the many ways things could end. I read it because it's gory…and comforting.
A playwright friend of mine recently asked his friends what they were really truly scared of. And I responded with some melodramatic bullshit…but I responded with the single thing I was the most scared of. I said that I'm afraid of sticking around here too long. I can make peace with the 31 years I've had, and I can make peace with 31 more…but after that…the thought of anything after that makes me burst into tears. If there's anything in this world that I want, it's a good death. Not painful or drawn-out - just clean, even if it's early. Hell, maybe especially if it's early. The thought that I could die, and then it would be over, truly nothing left - nothing after…I can't think of anything more comforting/ anything more true or beautiful. Because I can't have this forever. I can understand the appeal of an "afterlife", but the cruelest thing I can think of is that I might have to live inside my own head forever. I genuinely wish for death to be a comfort and a blessing. I don't need it this minute. But I do need it.
There seems to be this mythology that suicidally depressed people are obviously suicidally depressed and they can be picked out of a crowd by even the most random of observers. This simply isn't the case.
What would probably surprise most people is that I went through a period where I was that depressed. It didn't show up overnight. I was just under so much stress for so long without any support that I cracked. It happened slowly and by degrees that were almost imperceptible to even me. I knew I was stressed. I knew I was fighting off depression. I believed that if I just tried this or did that- some combination of things would make things better. I could beat this. All the way along, I was seeing my shrink. She hasn't let on that she saw it, so I am not sure that it was obvious even to her. The tough thing is that I am so good at lying. It's one of those skills you pick up in an abusive home. You know how to lie about everything so that no one suspects how bad things are. No one knew I was having a problem- not my husband, not my shrink, not my friends, not my colleagues. No one. It didn't help that while I was suicidally depressed I was still winning awards for my work, still publishing, still showing up on time and giving 110% at my job, still doing volunteer work, still working out, still going out with friends. In fact the more depressed I got, the more I did these things in an effort to stave off the vortex I felt I was getting sucked into.
I tried to just keep pushing forward, hoping things would get better on their own for months. It wasn't until I started to really focus on all the things I would have to take care of in order to take myself out of the equation that I realized I really had a serious problem. I made a list of all the things I would need to do: find someone to take care of the dog, put everything into storage so my husband wouldn't have to go through my things, return my library books, clean out my office, sort out my finances, get a divorce. I even did some of these things.
Then I decided to tell my parents I was suicidal. They didn't believe me. They told me I was just stressed out and tired. I just needed to continue putting one foot in front of the other. "We know you'll be fine because you always pull through." I wondered how shocked they'd be when I proved them wrong.
I've struggled with depression for more than half my life and been on meds during and after every episode (3 total in 30 years). I think what happens is that I am always down and then things happen to bring me further down. Eventually, I go back to baseline—not up, just less down; maybe it's dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder, chronic MDD...all I know is that I'm sad all the time, sometimes more than others. After each of the first two episodes I thought they would never happen again. After the third one I keep my eyes open—I watch and I wait, knowing it'll happen and part of me hoping I don't survive it. I'm tired of therapy, I'm tired of meds, I'm just...tired of life. Cliche though it may be, it's true. I don't have a 5 year plan—it's more like 5 weeks, days, hours, minutes...at low points the only plan is to stop the clock entirely.
Joshua David can be found on Twitter at @joshuaadavidd.
Image via Kristaps Bergfelds.