It’s been almost 3 years now since my last full-out episode of major depression lifted. It started to shift about 4 years ago and lifted when I moved away from my ex-husband.
The last 2 months I’ve been struggling a little. I developed low iron and I was feeling burnt out and stressed. For a short time I was depressed again.
I wanted to write a little bit about my experiences with the difference between depression and a clear mind. Usually the shifts are subtle, but startling, and it’s all to do with darkness and light.
The last few days, I felt startled, caught of guard by the brightness of the colours around me as I drove through the city. Granted, it is spring and the leaves, buds, grass and flowers are growing, but this is something more than noticing natures beauty. Today I was driving home with my kids and I saw a set of traffic lights across a field.
My mind: “Wow, those traffic lights are SO bright, so colourful, so orange yellow, they are jumping out of that field” They looked almost psychedelic and other worldly to me. Yesterday, as I was driving, the green grass looked almost neon and startled my eyes. It’s a striking yet not unpleasant feeling waking up from a time of depression. Suddenly there is light in the world, when you were not always aware of the depth of its absence.
When I get depressed I also struggle with varying levels of disassociation related to my PTSD. Depression tends to blunt feelings at the best of times, while disassociation can leave you numb.
The last few months I described my feelings as “being a zombie.” Going through the motions of my day to day life, functioning on the surface, but feeling like I didn’t care, wasn’t connected, wasn’t engaged and wasn’t happy. Depression feels like living in a world without colours. Everything pleasant is muted because I cannot connect with my feelings or my environment and then I start to feel hopeless. It’s like looking through a dirty lens and being wrapped in a blanket that prevents me from feeling things fully. I can see people around me, I know how I “should” be acting, but it’s an effort to complete the actions in a genuine manner.
For many years, I was severely depressed and this became my “normal” state. I remember in 2012, I had been depressed consistently since 2009, with 2011 being a particularly bad year. In July 2012 I was in England on a family holiday. One day we were at the beach, my family, my cousins and my cousin’s children. It was a warm day, not hot, but sunny and very pleasant. We were walking by the seaside along a rocky beach. I sat down on the stones and I placed my hand on them. I remember the moment so vividly because I was aware that the stones were warm. I sat soaking the warmth from the stones into my hand and I felt alive. I felt something that probably saved my life (again). I felt hope. It was the first moment I truly felt connected with the world around me in all its vivid reality in many years.
That moment was one impetus on the journey towards finding my path away from my abusive marriage. Just those smooth warm rocks and a single moment of the depression cloud lifting and hope streaming in.
People often wonder what moments have changed your life, and sometimes the truth is that the most simple, unplanned moments can elicit major change.
Christmas 2013 I had another moment of hope, it was bittersweet though as I realized how dark my world had been. We were at my parents house and my younger cousin and her boyfriend at the time were teasing me about someone I was dating. I was laughing and laughing because the situation was funny, hilarious even. My children were playing in another room and my older daughter ran in, looked at me confused, then ran into the kitchen shouting “Grandma! Why is Mommy laughing?”
My daughter needed reassurance that I was happy, she hadn’t heard me genuinely laughing in years, maybe never. Connection. In that moment I was connected with the world and I was enjoying my life. During a dark depression I don’t laugh very much, I feel isolated in a room full of people, I feel like a shadow with clouds hanging over me. I sometimes don’t even feel like a real person! My memory is terribly bad after a period of depression. I think I’m functioning normally, but later, because of disassociation, I realize that I didn’t form proper memories of the events. I’ve realized that without connection, sometimes memories aren’t completed and stored correctly.
Seeing those yellow traffic lights today felt similar to the stones on the beach and the Christmas laughter. Yellow shining beacons of hope and connection! Maybe the opposite of depression is connection?
I’m very lucky that my periods of depression are much further apart now and usually very brief. They don’t last long enough for me to truly lose hope. I can always hold onto the memories of those moments of connection.
Even if you are struggling with depression you feel will never lift, please don’t lose hope. Look for small moments of connection in your day to day life. It could be as small as noticing a flower that has bloomed, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face, feeling the cool water while you are washing your hands, enjoying a smile with a friend. I believe you can build on those moments and slowly build a path to recovery.