This is a piece I wrote in the middle of a particularly dark, yet familiar-feeling, depressive episode a few months ago. I have now had the chance to re-visit when I am now in a better place and have done some fact-checking for my depressed self and am pointing out the cognitive distortion traps I fall into. Please keep in mind that this piece deals with some of the darkest moments of my depression and it may be triggering.
Naming the beast and taming it are nothing as compared to living with the beast. There are some pretty standard things that tilt me over into a depressive episode (not that there always has to be reason). My brain chemistry seems to be ready and waiting and there is a moment of something shattering (a relationship or something even lesser), failing and I plunge right over. I know when it is in full swing because I cannot stop crying. I cry at home, I cry in the train, I even cry at my desk at work. I call my mother and cry, I see a friend and I cry. I have not stopped crying for the last three days.
Note to Past Depressed Self: Just because something felt like or was the trigger for an episode in the past, does not mean it will be in the future. There will be a point when you will learn to not value yourself solely based on work or relationships. Setbacks and failures do not equate to anything more than that. Of course your brain is more susceptible than perhaps most others, but just because something happened earlier does not mean it will happen again.
Also, cry wherever you want. Public transportation sob fests are not the worst thing you can do. Crying is cathartic, let it happen. And drink lots of water.
This is day 3 of my episode and I don’t know how long it will last. It can persist for weeks, or a month. I don’t know how long I can last. What I do know is that my depression tells me some pretty devious lies. Like right now it is telling me that I should not live, that my life is always going to feel this wretched. I have not eaten in three days, I skipped out on work today (answering emails from home is better than having a breakdown during a team meeting, huh?). I have reached out to pretty much every single online chat resource available to me.
There is a rational side of me that knows this: I am loved (even if not in all the ways I want), that I have value, that my brain lies to me, that life has gotten better as I have grown older. Also, that depressive episodes are recurring and I have to learn to live with them, to weather them. As a friend says, to live with the demon.
Note to Past Depressed Self – The good thing is, you know your brain tells you lies. The not so good thing is that sometimes you still believe them. Of course you never know how long it will last, but factually, the duration and intensity has become shorter and less. That’s progress for sure. You have also lived through 100% of the past ones. So you know it is not endless even if in the moment it feels like it. You have more techniques in hand to get through the days and giving yourself a break (allow yourself to rest, to be a little late for a few days, fake it a little).
Food, that’s hard. There’s no cooking, no patient making of lunchboxes. But you have the ability to make a slightly better choice, whether it is a banana or some dry fruits. Do it, do it in the same way you take a medicine for a fever, you don’t do that because it feels good to swallow that pill.
But the lies that depression tells me are easier to believe. I am 30 and failing. I have never had a lasting relationship. I am financially unstable. I am not of much support to my family. I have friends but not enough, that I will die alone, that I am not enough, I will never be enough, never was. I am not lovable, I am broken and wretched, nobody can tolerate me for long periods of time. Frankly, there is enough evidence for and against the last point, depending on how I see it. My depression tells me that dead is better than this feeling.
Note to Past Depressed Self – It is many, many months later and so much has changed. I go to work and I set goals, meeting them, fail, fall down and get back right up. Well sometimes a few days later, but I still do. I have been in a significant and meaningful relationship and it has given me a lot of joy and comfort.
It has also taught me a lesson I always knew but was not willing to acknowledge: romantic love, like all forms of love in my life, can be a balm for when I am hurting, but it is not an all-powerful antidote. I used to imagine there is no way I could feel depression in a meaningful relationship. That is not accurate. But I do feel loved and joyful in being able to share it with a partner, to know someone else, just like my family, is trying to walk with me when I am struggling.
Plus, not everyone has to like you and you do not need that. Your value does not come from other people’s approval. That’s a lie society teaches us young and early and it is exactly that, a lie.
But dead is being devoid of feeling, it is not relief. I know where the lies come from, they come from an abusive childhood, they come from trauma, they come from a history of depression. But that is long gone and I am still here. To be frank, in the middle of a depressive episode I never know how long I will be here. So I read this and tell myself to wait it out.
Waiting it out is rough. Depression is rough. Recurring major depression is really rough. I am never sure I will survive any episode. But for the last 30 years, I have somehow. But even though I can’t see it at all, people in my life tell me that I am not allowed to leave them, that I must live, that they love me. If I were someone else, I would be able to give them compassion and kindness and be able to tell them with conviction, that they need to live. But what do you do when your own brain turns traitor?
Note to Past Depressed Self – you treat your brain as you would any other traitor (except a little more kindly since this lives inside you). You let it know that you know it is telling you lies, you let the lies be said and then to go away. You cannot fight the lies, you cannot fight your own brain but you can choose to not pay it any attention. Not every thought deserves attention and this is an approach that helps me in my day-to-day life. You put all your loved ones as obstacles between any bad ideas you have about hurting yourself. You let them know so when you aren’t able to take care of yourself, they do. You do not let the traitor win.
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