After the past several suicides of famous people suffering from depression, there was much in the news and all over social media about the need to talk about and address depression. Which is a good thing. It’s important for folks to know that they’re not alone and to educate those who don’t experience prolonged or cyclical depression so they can understand just how hopeless those of us who do live with it feel at times.
I thought I’d take a few minutes to share with you what my depression is like. Not just the emotional aspects but the physical, as well. I’ve been battling with depression for the vast majority of my life. For many years, I would get trapped in a depressive spiral for several weeks, at least twice a year. About six years ago, I had a breakdown that lasted for several months. It was the first time since I was a teen when I seriously considered cutting myself or doing more serious harm. I nearly lost my job because I was either crying or lashing out at others. And then crying. It took me a couple of months – or more, I don’t remember – to finally go see a therapist but we definitely didn’t connect and I didn’t make it to a third session with her. Eventually, with the help and patience of my wife and a couple of good friends, I pulled out of it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had fewer, less severe episodes. I think it helps that I’m very introspective and self-aware so I know when a bad patch is coming. And I’m pretty good at mentally touching base with myself and working to figure out what’s triggering my feelings. I’m not saying it makes everything better but what it does do is keep me actively engaged in my depression. What I mean by that is that I’m able to focus on the triggers and talk myself through the reality of the situation, even as I’m experiencing the emotional aspects of it. And I do allow myself the freedom to experience them. I find, for me, that allowing myself time to cry and rage and wallow in my sadness makes it easier to control my emotions when I absolutely have to.
I also have to give myself permission to almost completely cut myself off from everyone else. A big component of depression, for me, is the need to be alone as much as possible – which isn’t often since I work full-time outside of my home and have a wife and son that need me. Luckily, I don’t have a lot of contact with people at work and I’m able to put my headphones on and have some mental alone time. The biggest difference tends to be how much interaction I have with the online communities that I’m a part of. Most times I just can’t summon the energy to type out a comment or scroll through posts. It’s just too much. Actually, that’s how nearly everything feels – it’s all just too much.
My depression is exhausting physically and mentally, as I’m sure it is for most folks who experience it. As I’m sitting here, typing this out, I can feel the way my body responds to my heightened emotions. This is pretty much how my body feels all the time when I’m depressed. There’s tension in my scalp, my jaw muscles feel tight and I have to concentrate to make them relax. The center of my chest is tight and so is my upper belly area. I feel that sort of tightness in the throat that you feel when you’re crying or getting ready to cry. And I’m tired. My eyes feel dry and sluggish and my eye lids feel a bit swollen and heavy. Mostly everything feels tense and tired. I just want to go lay down and stay that way for days.
I’ve learned that the best thing I can do that will really help me to begin to move through the cycle is to admit that it’s happening. After a few days of general sadness without much happening to cause it, it will click that I’m heading into a tough time. Once I come to that realization, I know that I need to tell my wife. She suffers from clinical depression and, when not on antidepressants, is almost constantly suicidal. She understands and she also knows that when I tell her that I’m feeling really sad what I’m saying is that I’m struggling and I’m going to need her to be patient because I’m going to be all over the place for a while. My son is very aware of my emotions, too. He’s quick to give up some hugs when I seem to need them and also quick to accept my apologies when I unfairly yell at him.
Beyond TJ and Micah, I have friends whom I trust to not overreact but to offer support as I need it and to casually check-in every once in a while in a way that’s not patronizing or overly emotional. Which, for me, is the best way to go. I don’t feel any pressure to unload if I don’t want to but if I do, I can fire off a good, long rant or cry or whatever and once I’m done, that’s it.Â There’s no pressure to open up more than I want to or than I’m capable of at that moment. There are no feelings of guilt if I just don’t feel like sharing anything and I don’t feel judged if I end up sharing way too much. It’s perfect.
It took me longer to find an image to use for this post than it usually does because there were so many that touched me – that felt like I feel when I’m in this place. And all of the ones that touched me were so very similar: someone sitting in a dark place, knees drawn up, head down, and arms around their head. I don’t know why I was shocked to see so many images of the same basic pose, but I was. It made me feel a little better knowing that so many others experience these emotions like I do. But I guess that was really the point of wanting to write this in the first place: so other folks who deal with cyclical depression know that they’re not alone and there are people out there who have figured out strategies to get through it.