Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Living With Depression

Let me tell you a little about living with a major depressive disorder. You might notice, first of all, that I tend to avoid word like “battling,” “struggling,” or “suffering” in this context. Yes, I do battle and struggle and sometimes even suffer, but, through it all, I live, and I think that is the more important part. I live. That wasn’t always as obvious as it might seem.

Even today, it is not unusual for me to have thoughts along the lines of, “Why am I here? I don’t belong here. No one wants me here. They would all be better off if I wasn’t here.” These days, such thoughts are usually fleeting, with minimal impact on my daily life - often even with minimal awareness they have even happened - but they still do happen. There is almost no threat to them anymore because I have learned to better navigate that obstacle course, but they can be a nuisance, and they can be tiring. If I am already tired, they are, of course, more stressful, and more stress means more tired means more stress means … You get the idea. I’m better. I’m far better than I once was, but it’s never easy.

Don’t get me wrong. No one has an easy life. That isn’t what I mean, and besides, still waters do not make an experienced sailor. The rough spots in life are what teach us how to be better, and we all need those lessons from time to time, but there are rough spots and then there are rough spots. When your alarm goes off and you stare at the ceiling, reciting the reasons you really do need to get out of bed … When you’re standing in the shower and suddenly realize you’ve forgotten how long you have been standing there … When you are sitting in the parking lot still trying to talk yourself into going into work long after you were scheduled to begin … I could go on, but there are rough times and then there are rough times. I would never ask for an easy life, but there is a level and a type of tired that I could do without.

On the other hand, since people are used to my being tired, it’s an easy escape route. For an honest person, I lie about my condition all the time. “I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep well. I’m just a bit under the weather.” Before anyone who has had one of those conversations with me gets any funny ideas, I’m not lying every time. There really are any number of totally mundane reasons why I might not have slept well the night before, so I didn’t just let you in on some big secret, but sometimes it is easier. Sometimes I don’t really want to talk about what’s going on in my head, so “I’m just tired” is a convenient dodge. It gets me out of trying to explain things I often don’t really understand, myself.

How do you explain, to someone who has never experienced it, being on-the-edge-of-tears sad for no discernable reason? Even better, try explaining when there is a discernable reason, but you’re fighting to get your miswired brain to understand that it’s an ant-sized reason rather than a herd-of-elephants-sized reason? That can be the hardest part, and it’s often the hardest part to get other people to understand.

You see, we know. Most of us do, anyway, most of the time. When I’m sitting in the dark, rocking back and forth, trying not to scream, I almost always know there’s no real reason for it. When the “nobody wants you here” thoughts are pounding inside my head, I know they’re not true. When the dark is closing in, I know it won’t last. I know, and most of the time knowing helps. Learning the truth of these things is a large part of how I have gotten to where I am. Knowing these things plays a big role in keeping the bad thoughts from having a more negative impact on my life. I know these things aren’t real, and knowing has made my life so much better, when it works.

When it doesn’t work, though, knowing might actually be worse. I know there is nothing wrong, or I know that what is wrong isn’t really that big of a deal, so why am I falling apart? What is so wrong with me that I can’t keep it together even knowing the truth? Now, imagine being a naturally logic-oriented person, and think about how far around the bend that internal conversation might drive you. If I’m not careful, it can spiral into a full moral failure, and the most fiery brimstone preacher cannot be harder on me about my morality than I am. Once we step through that door, all bets are off. It’s going to be a Bad Day, and I just have to hope that no one gets caught in the crossfire.

I spend a lot of time trying to make sure no one gets caught in the crossfire. I feel very strongly about owning my own issues, which can make it more difficult sometimes, but I also think that adds to the strength of my recovery. This is mine and it’s something I can be proud of, and that’s more precious than gold or water on days when you’re sure the world doesn’t want you. I have done this, I did well, and I didn’t hurt anyone in the process. That’s my gold medal. Sometimes that’s my lifeline.

What’s it like living with depression? I suspect that most of the time it’s a lot like living without depression. That’s not really a comparison I can make on anything more than an observational level, since I don’t have more than an intellectual understanding of what it’s like to live without depression, but I like to think I’m an expert observer and there do appear to be quite a few similarities. We do many of the same things in many of the same ways for many of the same reasons. I do have a condition, though, and that means there are some things I have to do differently, or that are more difficult to do. It’s a condition that I can manage, but it is a condition that I do have to manage. Much like diabetes or a heart condition, there are things that I can’t do and things that I need to do if I am going to properly manage my condition. Sometimes these things are more difficult than others, and sometimes we forget to do them. Sometimes we just don’t want to do them, but it’s a decision we have to make. Will I manage my condition, or will I let it manage me?

I’m pretty stubborn. That can be both my bane and my salvation, but it usually ends up meaning I’m not letting something else manage me. If you’re like me, if you’re living with depression or anxiety or anything of that sort, you have to find that lever, that first tool you can use to get a handle on your condition. You’ll gain more tools as you go, but, if you have to start with a hammer, start with a hammer. Take whatever first step you have to take to begin the journey of moving from suffering with depression to living with depression. They won’t all be easy, and some of them will hurt like hell, but they’ll take you to a better place. You’ll get there, along the way. You probably won’t see it happen, but you’ll look back and you’ll realize that it’s happened.

When I was a teenager, there was some genuine doubt over whether or not I would see twenty. I don’t know how many people knew about that doubt, but it was real, and it was not teen angst. I am now forty five, and I fully expect to see a few more decades, at least. You live and you learn. I have the same condition I had then, but I have learned how to live with it. It can be done, you are not alone, and there is help.

If you need help, please get it. Take that first step. I promise you won’t regret it. If you know someone who needs help, please be understanding. You can’t do it for them, you can’t even always make it easier for them to do it, but you can avoid making it worse. Be a friend. I can’t express strongly enough how important that is. Be a friend, be understanding, and be patient. No one knows more than we do how difficult we can be sometimes. We hate it more than you do. That’s part of the problem. We’ll get there, though. We’ll get there even easier if we all work together. Together, we can all make life better.

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