Not the, “I’m down because someone dinged my car in the parking lot and my boss is an asshole” sort of depression. I suffer from real-live, medication-taking, genetically-predisposed, chemically-imbalanced, go to the analyst twice a week depression.
On my best days I don’t feel good, I just feel not so bad. Happy is a very illusive emotion for me.
The depression can come on in many ways, rapidly or slowly, creeping subtly or like the proverbial ton of bricks. When it’s mild, I can grab hold of myself and shake it partially off – maybe distract myself with some mindless activity or watch a stupid comedy on TV until the impulse passes. When it’s bad, it’s very bad.
At its worst, it feels like my most nightmarish bogeyman grabbing me by the neck and plunging me into deep and murky water. I struggle under the surface and fight and flail, but just like a physical drowning, I finally succumb. The emotion makes my lungs heavy, so heavy I can’t breathe. I feel myself begin to float. I see the light above me, but it isn’t some sort of heavenly white like in the movies, it’s the deepest black hole you can imagine. When my life flashes before my eyes, only the bad parts appear.
Many people who know me are probably quite surprised by what I’ve described. They see me as a generally happy-go-lucky sort of guy. One who cracks jokes or tells stories. I’m so adept at this mask that a great many of them have probably never suspected. But the funny thing is, it isn’t a mask. It isn’t something that I trot out to put a happy face on things. What they see is a synthesized version of what I imagine it’s like to be happy. I haven’t had enough experience with the real thing to carry it off naturally. What they see is me, having a not so bad day. A day when I’m using the jokes and stories not to cover what I’m feeling, but to imagine what it must be like to feel what they see.
While I’ve certainly been exposed to things and people in my life that weren’t helpful, none of that caused my illness. I was born with some bad brain wiring, it’s as simple as that. A bad roll of the dice.
Sometimes I get angry about it, but not in the way you might think. Sometimes I get angry at the constant struggle and how “unfair” it is. Sometimes I get angry about the strain it puts on my family. Sometimes I get angry about having to take medication and go to the therapist. But especially, I get angry with myself. I get angry that I’m not some sort of Lance Armstrong of the depressed who can say, “I’ll be back, whip this nasty illness, and win the Tour de France.” There are no miracles here – just another in a long string of days that I take one at a time, hoping that I can turn it into another not so bad day. There’s not even a cheap yellow band to symbolize the struggle. If there were, I’m sure it would be black.
Sometimes the anger gives way to shame, especially if I’ve let it get the better of me. I’m ashamed that I’ve lashed out or that I was too weak to stop the anger when I felt it begin to rise. Sometimes I’m ashamed of the pain it causes others or that I sometimes can’t be strong for them. Sometimes I’m ashamed of complaining because I know there are many people much worse off than me.
When I’m at my best, I feel proud of myself for holding it at bay, even if I couldn’t do it without the meds and the therapy. I can almost fool myself into thinking it’s all my doing and that I’ve finally got the beast in a headlock, ready to take it down. When I’m at my lowest, the anger and shame come back multiplied by the years it has gone on, fuel for the beast I can’t ultimately vanquish.
Mine is a limited battle where the best I can manage is an uneasy peace. My life is like a maniacal teeter-totter, always hovering at the tipping point and making me wonder which way is up and which way is down.
I suffer from depression, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.