Those of you who’ve been following my blog may have noticed that it’s been pretty quiet around here lately. I’d started with the intent of writing a post a week. I even managed to stick to it for a fair bit. The past few weeks have been difficult, though. It’s damned hard to think of a topic to write about, much less put in the time and energy into word-smithing it into existence, when I’m in this kind of state.
See, I suffer from depression. I have good days when I feel like an actual person, of course, but there are long stretches of bad days in between. If you’re reading this blog, then you probably know me well enough already to know all that, or at least have an inkling of it. Still, I’m not sure if it’s something I’ve ever actually come out and said before, rather than simply moping about the place. It’s a little strange for me to do so. I’m pretty sure that it’s clinical, though I can’t be sure since I’ve never gotten a formal diagnosis from a professional. For the purpose of this post, though, I’m going to assume that it is.
One of the reasons that I don’t come out and talk about it a lot has been the way that I see a lot of society viewing the condition. There’s a lot of condescension and patronizing and blame and general, all-purpose “other”-ing. The general consensus seems to be that the sad sack should just suck it up, pull him/herself up by the bootstraps, and soldier on. After all, they’ve all felt sad before too and they got over it, so shouldn’t everyone be able to do it? “Oh, are you still going on about how depressed you are? Why do you have to be such an attention hog? Jeez, just get over it and shut up already!” Thankfully, I haven’t had to put up with that from the people close to me, but the general sentiment is very much out there in the rest of society.
Honestly, though, I can’t entirely blame people who feel like that. They’re limited by their perceptions and experiences, and since they’ve clearly never felt this kind of depression firsthand they’re forced instead to extrapolate from other experiences. Clinical depression is a lot like getting old: you have no idea how bad it really is until it happens to you. There’s no point of reference. Most people seem to think that being depressed is like feeling other kinds of sadness, like disappointment at being passed up for a promotion, or rejection when you get dumped, or grief when someone close to you dies. It’s not. Believe me, I’ve been there too and they’re just not the same.
Those kinds of sadness, the ones that everyone inevitably suffers at some point in their lives, have a lot in common with pain. The experience, the severing of that emotional tie, is acute and often traumatic. You cry, you hurt, you want it to stop. Some early research via functional MRI, which lets scientists watch brain activity in real time, even suggests that the brain may process emotional and physical pain in the same way. But there’s always a cause, something specific and external, and eventually you get through it, often with the help of friends or activities that you enjoy.
None of that is true for clinical depression, at least not as I’ve felt it for as long as I can remember. Depression isn’t like pain, it’s a lot more like fatigue. It’s chronic and pervasive, a slow crushing weight instead of a twisting stab. When I’m feeling low, I feel exhausted all the time; there’s a reason that depressed people say they can’t get out of bed in the morning. Just thinking is like trying to wade through waist-deep mud. Everything, no matter how small or mundane, feels like a monumental struggle that I just don’t have the strength to win. The worst part, though, is the way that it stifles my ability to cope. The slings and arrows don’t stop when you’re down, they just hurt worse. Stuff that I’d be able to shrug off with nary a care on my good days hit me hard on the bad ones, and things that I normally enjoy are dull and flat. On my worst days, time spent sharing a good meal and playing games with friends has the same emotional uplift for me as collating paper.
But what to do about it? I don’t know. I’ve become so used to simply enduring the bad times that it’s easy for me to believe that there isn’t any other option. Maybe I’ll just always be broken. Then again, maybe it doesn’t have to be like that. Maybe there’s treatment out there that can help me. I’ve taken the first baby steps in seeking it out, but following it through to the end will be another matter entirely. It always is. In the meantime, all I can do is carry on. It’s not like there’s an alternative.