Yesterday I came to terms with the fact that my depression is back. I had discovered my checking account had been used fraudulently, and my reaction was a familiar but long-lost friend. “Well, that’s it then. Everything is pointless and there’s no hope.”
Back in the mid-00’s I spent a lot of time with this friend. I spent time in the hospital trying to make him go away. I talk-therapied about it. I prayed. We’re well acquainted. He went away a long time ago. I was optimistic enough to think I may not see him again.
It’s a testament to how much he, my depression, is back that I met his return with lackadaisical dearth of emotion. “Guess I’m depressed again.” Shrug. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
What follows is my personal experience with depression, in the hopes that it might help others understand, or to feel less alone. Please understand this is my own personal experience with depression, and not meant to represent a universal experience. Each set of symptoms and circumstances are completely different. Disclaimer done.
If you want to skip all this and learn ways to help/behave toward people with depression, scroll down to the section called “Best practices around depressed people.” Fine. Be that way.
- Feeling like things are essentially hopeless, and things will always be as (objectively) bad as they are right now. To my credit, I’ve had a series of unfortunate events in the last several months so things are objectively kinda sucky. My switch in thinking went from “Just gotta push through it” to “I guess I live here now” and is/was one of my biggest symptoms of depression. This symptom is worth paying attention to. It’s the one that tricks us into thinking there is no point. Thinking there is no point leads to self-destructive behavior. To be clear, I am not at risk of self-destructive behavior. I am familiar with this feeling and know for a fact it isn’t the truth. When it waves over me, I can talk myself down. Many others can’t. So this is a big one to watch for.
- Things that used to bring me joy don’t bring me joy. Yesterday I tried to sew a thing. I love sewing things. Only I didn’t enjoy sewing the thing. I gave up on sewing the thing. I don’t care if I ever sew a thing again.
- Normal tasks feel insurmountable. I have to get gas on my way home. I’ve been thinking about it for two hours because I don’t have a lot of time between leaving work and getting home before my kid gets off the bus. I might be late. It will be fine. She knows how to get in the house and knows to wait for me and knows my time is tight on Wednesdays. But I can’t stop rehearsing it in my brain. This is illogical. I know it is illogical. But I’m still rehearsing the stop at the gas station.
- Difficult tasks ARE insurmountable. Fraud on my checking account? Having to call the bank and work it out? Get a new account number and card? Go without access to money for a day? Nope. Go home and get into bed and ignore it? Yes.
- Tiny things bug me a lot a lot a lot. My seam ripper is missing. I literally own store full of seam rippers. But my personal one, with the white handle, is missing. I am not only upset, but I am angry about this. I spent a lot of time looking for it. If you have it, give it back. But for real, I just lost it, and I can not deal. This speaks to my control issues, which go into major overdrive during my depressive periods. This morning I cut my own hair. This was also about control issues, and it made me feel better. I don’t recommend this method of coping.
- I can’t wait to sleep. I love sleep more than the average person in general, but usually I keep myself up until midnight or 1 AM doing things I enjoy. Lately there aren’t things I enjoy, so I just put myself to bed. Sleeping too much or too little are symptoms of depression.
- Everything is exhausting. Sometimes life in general is exhausting, but keep in mind that I’m the person who earned an MBA while working full time with 2 kids under 8, AND graduated early. I’m not the type to shy away from long hours or hard work. Lately I can’t even do a sink full of dishes without needing a nap afterward. Just kidding! I haven’t done the dishes in weeks. I don’t have the energy for that.
- I’m pretty sure I suck at things. Evidence does not support this. I’m currently applying for jobs and while I recognize that I am qualified for many things, my gut is telling me “but you’ll probably blow it.” A little bit of this is common, and job hunting is soul-crushing in general, but this sense that there’s no way I can manage things like email campaigns–things I have a proven experience with–are not realistic or reasonable.
- Escaping through alcohol/drugs. I’ve been coping by drinking wine. There, I said it. I guess that means I have to stop. Bleh.
What depression doesn’t mean (in my version):
- I’m not sad all the time. In fact, I’m not sad much at all. I can even laugh. And smile and still mean it. Today I’m in a fairly decent, sociable mood while also feeling like everything is pointless and avoiding responsibility because writing an email is impossible. (Ironically, blog posts where I can say what I want are not impossible.) My mood can, and will, change on a dime and for absolutely no reason. Hey, it’s annoying to me, too. Feeling in general that the hopelessness is meh, no big deal, means that I am a pretty healthy depressed person. This was not true of me in the past. It won’t be for most others. I’m gauging myself to make sure it doesn’t get worse.
- I’m not mentally weak. In fact, I’m kicking ass for being able to identify and name all of these symptoms, recognize them as illogical and harmful symptoms, and self-monitor to make sure they aren’t disproportionately impacting my life. Can you do that? No, you can not.
- I’m not seeking attention. And actually, I don’t want to talk about it. So why am I writing a blog post? Because writing about my life is cathartic, which is why it is so easy while other things in my life feel hard. I share because I find it connects people, and I still want to connect. Also, if I feel like I need to explain myself I can just send them the link and not have to repeat myself. Repeating myself feels really impossible and exhausting.
Best Practices around depressed people
- DO NOT make suggestions. I know you mean well, but hold off on advice. Just don’t. At best you’re adding things to our already overwhelming To Do List. Yes, let me work in that gym workout between not doing the dishes and not returning phone calls.At worst, you’re being judgmental. No, you are. You’re saying “You’re not doing depression the way I would. I would do depression better than you. You’re not very good at this, or you would not need my advice.”
Depressed people already have an entire inner monologue of negative self-talk basically any time they’re awake. The slightest hint that verifies this (in their depressed mind) magnifies it infinitesimally.
You think you’re being helpful but you’re not. You’re being kind of a jerk. And if you read this and still insist on giving advice, you’re an egotistical jerk. That’s like the worst kind.
- What to do instead: Just help. Some advice should be heeded, like when you think a friend really needs to seek medical help. Call their doctor for them. Make an appointment, then drive them to it. I’ve done this before and you may feel like a bossy asshole, but it’s way better than to sit around telling people to do things they already feel are impossible. So make it possible. If you think your friend would benefit from a healthier diet, bring over some premade meals. If exercise would help (hint, it does), swing by on your way to spin class. (Is spin class still a thing?)PLEASE NOTE: your friend/loved one is under no obligation to feel grateful for these things, and you can’t make someone do something. But chances are it’s something this person already wants to do but feels incapable, so making it easier to accomplish really might help. I know that I always appreciated the ways people went out of their way to help me feel better, even if it didn’t accomplish what they’d hoped.
- Don’t “cheer them up.” What we’re feeling isn’t very rational. I explained about the seam ripper. Telling me to put things in perspective, or count blessings, or telling jokes only makes things worse. And quite frankly, is mainly done for the benefit of the person forcing the cheer. Because it makes you uncomfortable to be around someone who isn’t in a great mood, so you’re insisting that someone change themselves for your own comfort. Kind of a dick move.
- What to do instead: let it be. Sometimes I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed and not very great but I still just want to hang. Or I’m at work and getting through it. Forcing me to change how I’m feeling is stressful and makes it worse. Quiet acceptance is like a million dollars, and super rare. When a person feels safe to feel what they’re feeling around you, you are being the best friend you can possibly be.To be clear: no one expects you to be a doormat. If someone is being mean or abusive, leave. There is never an excuse for that. If, however, someone is just generally grumpy or downbeat, let it go.
- Don’t ask too much. “Hey, can you do me a favor?” No. “Can I borrow your–” No. “Want to come to the Mariners game?” No. The last one wasn’t an example of asking too much, just that it might be too much for your friend. Give them space to set their own limits, and don’t ask a lot of favors at the moment. I’m not asking you treat everyone with depression like a special butterfly or expect nothing from a relationship. Just recognize the other person’s limits and respect them.
- What to do instead: If you truly want to help, get proactive without being asked. It can be as simple as letting someone know you care about them with a heart emoji text or as elaborate as bringing over $200 worth of groceries–which actually happened to me, causing me to experience the first genuine rush of joy I’d felt in nearly 10 months of my first depression. I don’t know why the groceries got me, but they did. Thanks, Dora.Keep in mind that if you ask someone who is depressed if there is anything you can do, the answer will probably be no. This is because we really don’t think anything someone else can do will help. But maybe it will and we just can’t see that through the veil of our depression. Drop off a cup of coffee. Offer to watch their kids for the afternoon. Paint their nails. Stand outside their window holding a boom box. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is okay, too–no one is asking you to solve their depression, but if you feel compelled, get active and don’t wait to be invited.
What I’m doing
Because I know you’re gonna ask.
- Taking medication. Yes, it does help. May consider upping dosage. Not opposed to idea.
- Celebrating small accomplishments. Yesterday I came home and announced “I did my whole day!” Then my spouse and I hugged. Because I had gone to work for my whole shift, called my bank about the whole thingyhoo, and taken my daughters to their lessons after school. All in all, not a very eventful day. And considering how much stuff a non-depressed me would have accomplished in the same time period (gotten a quick law degree), it would be easy to beat myself up. But I didn’t. I called the bank, dammit. Good for me!
- Patience, grasshopper. The flip side of celebrating my accomplishments is giving myself a break when I don’t feel like I’ve been my best self. I get impatient. I let people down. I read about haircuts instead of marketing my business. It happens. It’s okay. I’ll get it back.
- Checking in with others. I’ve gotten very good at alerting my own family to my moods and needs. Sometimes I request time alone. Sometimes I ask for adorable pictures of cats. I don’t leave them guessing, and let them know what might stress me out. Not only do I give myself space to feel what I’m feeling, but I’m also giving them the opportunity to be helpful in the right ways. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking my family to walk on eggshells when I’m in a bad mood. But I will let them know that loud noises are a good way to get on my nerves at the moment so it doesn’t turn into me screaming at them for not meeting my unspoken expectations. I give them the same allowances when they’re having a rough day or weird mood. I don’t know why so many people try to hide bad moods. Acknowledging them and dealing with them in healthy ways is so much more productive then trying to stomp them down and hide. It allows us to recognize that they’re temporary, and try to identify and fix causes instead of symptoms.
- Writing. It helps, and it’s something I can always seem to do, no matter the mood. Knock on wood.
- Saying no. I have a dumpster in my driveway along with lofty ideas about filling it with junk from my house. My friend has an old tire and I suggested she throw it in my dumpster. She asked if she could drop the tire off with me at my work for me to bring home and throw away. I said no. Relatively speaking it would require very little to do this. But the idea feels disproportionately difficult. I’m still wrestling with getting gas this afternoon. I’ll let you know how that goes before I start agreeing to logistical things like the tire. (How do I get it to my car two blocks away? Will I have to leave my store during business hours to meet her on the 9th floor of my parking garage to make the exchange? Can she even find my parking garage? See? Already too hard.)I’m also getting better at saying no to customers, which is difficult. My entire business is based on meeting customer needs and making them happy, and I love doing it. Still, I’m recognizing that just because someone wants something doesn’t mean that I must provide it. Classes are on hold and consignment is gone. Yeah, it’s a bummer, but I was running myself ragged trying to be all things to all people. Some requests simply aren’t reasonable for a business my size.
- Puppies and kittens. I’m staying away from negative media. The Internet is for puppy and kitten related research. Does a kitten look adorable in a teacup? Yes! It does! Science.I listen to upbeat music only, watch comedies or reality TV that isn’t depressing (Top Chef much?). I’m avoiding the Handmaid’s Tale, book and TV series. I don’t even know who our president is. It’s very easy to feed Mr. Depression. So I starve him. I can’t even listen to Hamilton. And I love Hamilton. Oh well. He’ll still be dead next year when I’m feeling better. (See? I have jokes.)
- Exercising. Well, I’m not but yesterday I did wear yoga pants with very good intentions. But then the whole bank fraud thing happened and that blew all my good intentions for the day. (See: patience.) But yes, I know it will help, so leave me alone.
- Family time. I love the crap out of them, and my kids are especially delightful when I’m spoiling them and not asking them to do chores. So I’m spoiling them and not asking them to do chores and instead we lay in bed and watch movies and laugh. It’s FINE because the chores can wait but now they’ll remember laughing in bed together when they’re 8 and 9 and not how depressed mom was. And I still make them do chores on my more tolerant days. Plus it’s hard to spoil kids when you’re broke, so we’re not talking iPads, we’re talking let’s split this thing of M&Ms. See how defensive I am? That’s my depression being insecure for me. Anyway, low-key family time that doesn’t involve any planning or me at work is awesome times. I enjoy my husband. He’s cute and he makes me laugh.
There are probably things I didn’t think of but this is already long and I have this whole getting gas situation to get through. So there it is. I will be fine. I will get through this. I’m dealing with unsustainable amounts of stress, so I am also taking serious steps to remove major stressors from my life, some of which are in the works. I expect this to turn around with positive life changes, some of which are beyond my control, and if not I know how to get myself the help I need. So like I said, I’m functional. Less so than normal. I’m fine. Less so than normal. But overall, don’t worry about me. I’m okay.
I mean it.