Depression doesn’t always look the same. Sometimes it is most clearly described by how I feel when it lifts. When I’m depressed I’m not actually myself and when the depression lifts I wake up and I’m me again.
When I’m depressed, I am physically exhausted by social contact and social situations, but at the same time I don’t always want to be alone. One of the reasons social situations are so difficult is because social anxiety is a symptom of my depression, and depression is fueled by my social anxiety.
Over the past few weeks, interactions with others leave me drained. Probably because half the time I’m spending with people I’m hyper aware of whether or not I’m behaving appropriately. Because depression blunts and numbs some feelings and amplifies others, I’m constantly monitoring myself and thinking:
“Am I acting normally? Can this person tell I’m acting? Am I smiling enough? Am I smiling too much? What should I do with my hands? Stop picking at your skin! Remember to make eye contact! Not too much eye contact! Stop fidgeting! Is my facial expression appropriate for what they just said? Make sure your face is responding like a normal person! That was a joke, laugh. But don’t laugh too much. Did that sound stupid? Do they hate me? Did I make a mistake? Is my facial expression appropriate? Oh my god, did I even hear what she just said? Smile. Act normal“
After a short interaction I’m exhausted and I want to flee to a place where I can just be. This usually means being alone. I’m completely relieved to be alone. I often hibernate under quilts and blankets where I feel safe.
But then the loneliness hits. I text. Texting is much easier than phone calls or in person hang outs. When I’m texting I just have to think about the words and not all the other complex social dance behaviours that I’m sure I’m completely mangling. Texting is safe. Texting breaks isolation, without crowding me or making me self conscious.
When I’m lonely and depressed, I start to believe I’m literally the only person on the planet who doesn’t have plans at that moment. All logical reasoning to the contrary is dismissed by my social anxiety brain. I start to think that nobody likes me, that I’m boring or annoying, that I’ve said terrible things to offend everyone I know. I feel jealous about the plans and social gatherings of others. And yet, ironically, I often cancel plans or say no to things I am invited to. The contradiction of depression is frustrating and impossible.
Depression is panic attacks in crowded places. Panic attacks about choosing food, or anxiety about eating around other people. Depression is feeling “fat” when my body hasn’t changed. Depression is anxiety that everything I say or do might get me into trouble or make my situation worse. Depression is reading my emails over and over and over and over, obsessively, worried that I made a mistake, said the wrong thing or was oppressive. Depression is paranoia that the email was accidentally sent to the wrong person, somehow ruining my life. Depression is knowing I have to do something at work, but feeling incapable, afraid and ashamed to ask for help, thus procrastinating and avoiding.
Depression zaps energy. I’m literally exhausted almost every minute of the day. It’s not something that can be fixed by more sleep. Though less sleep makes it much worse. My body feels heavy and I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. My bed feels warm and safe in the mornings, but physical pain and stiffness in my body prevents me from lying down for too long. Sometimes I’m drained and have to lie down after taking a shower in the morning. But somehow I push through it.
I feel like robot, automatically going through the motions of my day. I check each task off against a mental list. Breakfast, check, kids to school, check, commute to work, check. Each day moves through a series of tasks to be completed. I’m always counting time until the next time I can be alone and rest. I’m often watching the clock, but I’m never comforted by it. Then after about one day of a weekend alone, I’m lonely and waiting for my kids to return. It’s a terrible feeling, like you have nothing to look forward to, but are always looking forward to something unimportant. Maybe the next day will be brighter, maybe the next _____ will break the cycle, maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.
Depression is being unreasonably and intensely irritated by innocuous things. Like the sound of someone chewing near me. I could scream. My whole body is tense, I can hear every sound. Depression is losing patience in a split second, in situations I would normally be able to cope with. Depression is feeling frustrated when people repeat themselves or take a long time to get to the point of their stories. Depression is hating myself because I know I’m not being as kind as I should be. Depression is losing my temper at my children, when they are barely doing anything wrong and my rage is uncontrollable like a volcano, then dissolves into guilty desperate tears. Depression is intense compassion fatigue. Not having enough energy to have empathy for others and then beating myself up with self judgment afterwards.
Depression means rarely living in the moment. Depression is being caught in a tangle of awful memories from the past, or absorbed in worries or thoughts about the future. Or more often, ping ponging back and forth between memories and worries. In the moment, there is often zoning out, disassociation, numbing and that floating feeling of being something less than human, unable to connect with anyone. Feeling like my essence of humanness is just beyond reach.
Depression is either crying too much, or (this time) not being able to cry at all. Depression is either all the feelings right at the surface every single minute, or all the feelings pushed down and boxed up into controlled spaces inside me.
Depression is the darkness in the Fall and Winter months. Depression is waking in the dark, coming home from work in the dark and forgetting what the warmth of the sun feels like. Depression is like sitting at a dirty window, watching the normal world proceed just outside my grasp.
Depression is feeling suicidal, obsessing about death and dying. Sometimes it is destructive impulses, or sometimes, wishing I hadn’t been born at all. Sometimes it is a passive thought of just not wanting to be alive. And then the torturous, trapped feeling of knowing that suicide is no longer an option.
Depression is boring. Like this blog post feels boring.
It’s a world without light. Depression is obsessive, recurring thoughts. Depression is feeling like a bore to others, feeling self-obsessed, immature and uninteresting. Depression is feeling unlovable and like you will always be alone.
Even if I know that depression lies, it’s not so easy as just snapping out of it.
When I’m depressed I’ve learned that the best I can do is to stay as safe as possible, sleep regularly, eat and drink regularly, self care, be patient with myself, lower my expectations of myself and just do my best.
Because depression always lifts. It’s not forever. But it feels awfully bleak.