MY EXPERIENCE WITH DEPRESSION: FINDING MY WAY FROM SHAME TO ACCEPTANCE
FINDING THE WORDS
I’m sitting here in a bright, beautiful co-working space surrounded by strangers trying not to cry. My chest feels heavy, like it’s being pulled down into my stomach by some invisible internal weight. My breath is interrupted by swallowing waves of sadness that roll over me as my mind jumps between memories I’ve spent a lifetime forgetting, feelings I’ve spent a lifetime running away from. This, I suppose, is why I’ve never written about my struggle with depression like this before; why I’ve never tried to put into words what it actually feels like.
It’s difficult to find words to describe something that robs me of eloquence and motivation. I can’t even seem to find my pants when I’m depressed, no matter find words that accurately describe what it’s like for me to feel swallowed whole by something intangible. I’ve sat down to try to journal about it in the aftermath before, but that only ever lasts 30 seconds because once it passes, the last thing I want to do is breathe more life into it by giving it space on the page. I want to hit the ground running, never turn back and do everything I can to stay ahead of it as long as possible. To me, depression has always been a predator to be avoided, not something I want to cozy up to.
I’ve spent much of my life hiding my depression, avoiding the causes, or trying to escape the effects. I used to view depression as a weakness, a failure, a flaw. I was both afraid to admit I struggled with depression to myself and to anyone around me. I was so focused on trying to project an image of the perfect person I wanted to be, I never considered embracing with compassion the imperfect person I am. I was convinced my friends would tire of a sad sack. I thought my dad would be disappointed and would be unable to relate (and I worshipped him). I feared my boss would assume I was capable of less and my colleagues would look at me differently. I was sure my husband would find me less attractive, less exciting, less worthy of the pedestal he put me on. In short, I feared opening up about depression would reveal to the world that I am in fact not an impenetrable, unwavering, fearless badass.
Now that I fully embrace the fact that depression is not my fault, nor is it something to be ashamed of, I’m doing everything I can to help end stigma and discrimination around it and other mental illnesses. Perhaps if more of us find the words to describe our experience, more of us will find our way to the help, compassion and support we need.
NO RHYME, NO REASON
Recently, I had one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve had in 15 years. The irony? My marriage, my body and my career are healthier and happier than they’ve ever been. Most of the time, in the past decade or so, my depression is less severe than what I describe below, thanks to the things I share in this post. I don’t know why this episode was so horrendous, but I have a feeling it was a combination of hormones, entrepreneur stress and being completely off meds that made everything come to a grinding halt. At the end of the day, I don’t know. Sometimes there simply is no rhyme or reason, as much as I wish there was. Making peace with the lack of total control around depression is a whole different post for another day.
MISFIT WELLNESS DEPRESSED
I think most people assume that depression is all about tears and sadness. Maybe it is for some, but for me depression is marked by the absence of feelings. I am not happy or sad. I am not angry or complacent. I feel more like a shell of myself, like an empty body just going through the motions. I am devoid of energy, interest, opinions. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about the way I look or how I feel. I don’t care about what I do or don’t eat. I don’t care about other people, my work or my health. This is so unbelievably contrary to how I normally operate, that it might appear alarming, if I let anyone other than my husband see it.
When I get depressed, I draw inwards. I no longer intentionally hide what I’m going through out of shame, but when my depression is really bad, I have no desire to get dressed, brush my teeth, and do everything I need to do to get past the threshold of our front door. I avoid anything that requires energy expenditure or attention. I also have no desire to be around other people. My husband is the only person I don’t mind having near me. I feel so detached and uninterested in anything and anyone, and he doesn’t take offense or judge my behavior. He asks nothing of me when this happens, because he knows I have nothing to give.
It’s almost as if my brain turns off. I am a less perceptive, less present, less articulate version of myself. It’s almost as if my heart closes off too. I am not a good wife, sister, daughter, friend or human being when I’m deeply depressed. When it is at its worst, I am selfish and distracted. I am incapable of showing up for myself, showing up for other people doesn’t even cross my mind. This is the part of depression I still struggle with the most. I feel pain and guilt and sadness when I recall times I was absent, impatient or unkind because I was depressed. I have hurt my sisters, my friends, my husband by not being there. I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive and forget not being what they needed when they needed it because I couldn’t get my shit together. My people are everything to me. Everything. It is for them that I fight so I can be there, so I can be better for them. I know I’m supposed to say it is for me, but it is mostly for them.
what you don’t know
People that have never suffered with depression always say things like, “you just need to shift your perspective!” or “just make yourself leave the house!” What they don’t understand, is that when you’re in the thick of a depressive episode, these things don’t present themselves as options. There is a complete absence of self-motivating inner monologue and therefore a complete absence of the ability to choose a different perspective or to make yourself do anything. I don’t even see the post-it notes plastered on my mirror with affirmations. If I manage to journal, I feel no connection to the words on the page. I write “show up for yourself today” out of habit, but I simply don’t know how in that moment. There’s no “I really should just get dressed and get out the door and go for a walk.” There is just nothingness. Inside you and all around you. Nothingness.
Most of the time, the depression I deal with is probably categorized as high-functioning. Even though I would rather be in my pajamas watching Netflix, I get up and do my morning routine and focus on doing one productive thing. That one thing almost always leads to others, and before you know it, I’ve gotten through the day. I might not be happy about it, I might feel overwhelmed, tired and flat, but I can get through the day.
When the clouds part, from either form of depression, I am always utterly shocked that the vacant, grey, pessimistic, depressed version of me exists in the same body as the bold, bright, colorful Liz. When I am well, I am present, thoughtful, mindful, kind, funny, even a little adventurous. I am a deeply caring, compassionate, loving woman - a really good wife, friend, sister, daughter, person. When it comes to my work, I am passionate, purpose-driven, accomplished, productive and full of ideas and conviction.
It’s taken me over two decades to realize that light and dark, happiness and sadness, strength and weakness, hope and hopelessness can all exist within the same person. It’s taken me over two decades to realize that there is no shame in falling apart, and putting the pieces back together time and time again requires a kind of strength and resolve I can be proud of. It’s taken me over two decades to realize that though depression makes me vulnerable and imperfect, it doesn’t make me any less of a badass, any less worthy, any less of anything. And the same goes for you.