I’ve mentioned my struggles with depression before, and my intention to write further on the topic. Of course, depression itself gets in the way of that writing, just as it gets in the way of other writing (like fiction, email, even Twitter and Facebook), just as it gets in the way of everything else in life.
The past year has been one of the worst I’ve ever had, as far as the consistency of my depression is concerned. It has been vicious and unrelenting. Add in some related physical issues and we’re talking good times.
Now, lest you fret you’re keeping company with a human sinkhole, I’m not. I’m actually pretty cheerful, even in my worst moods; my ability to laugh at anything, including and especially myself, keeps me alive.
No, in my case, depression doesn’t make me a droopy sad sack, all glum and self-pitying. It just obliterates my energy to do things, and more importantly, my volition to do them. There are days I get up motivated and ready to write/exercise/clean the apartment/etc., then I shower and have breakfast and BLAM, it’s gone. There are also days I never have coffee because I can’t muster the volition to brew a pot.
The past couple of years, I’ve learned a lot about depression, its causes, its effects. I’ve had it at least since my teen years, probably longer, but for most of that time I was oblivious, and even once I found out, my understanding was shallow. Even though it took its toll on me every day, I didn’t recognize the full impact it can and does have.
My shrink told me once that patients of hers who’ve suffered both cancer and depression say they’d rather have the cancer. That’s a mind-boggling thought, but when someone has an affliction like cancer, they can still enjoy the life they have. You hear stories of people who find joy through illness because it shows them the importance of life and every moment is to be cherished and all that.
When you’re depressed, you don’t get those types of epiphanies.
When you’re depressed (really depressed, not bummed out or sad or moody), you lose your ability to enjoy life. You lose joy itself.
People don’t get it. They always give helfpful advice like “Just go outside in the mornings, go for a walk,” or “Just write for fifteen minutes every day, even if you don’t feel like it,” or “You should get out and be around people more often,” and all that stuff may be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s do-able, no matter how easy it may seem.
You know how it is on your really bad days, the days you can’t focus and you can’t make yourself do anything or care that you’re not? Those days you just don’t seem to have enough energy to do what you need to?
Welcome to daily life for someone with depression.
Like I said, people don’t get it, and it’s hard to hold that against them, when it’s tough enough to get it even when you have depression. Every day I feel like I ought to be able to just take action and put the depression behind me. Every day is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m gonna write today, and exercise, and put on my dancing shoes, and then I’ll just keep doing that every day. Why not?
Well. Why not indeed.
I came across a great piece written by a woman with Lupus, Christine Miserandino, called “The Spoon Theory.” It’s a great look at what it’s like living with disability, and while I would never presume to cast my experiences as being anywhere near equivalent to those of someone with Lupus or similar afflictions, the basic analogy she sets up rings precisely true even for my daily experiences.
If you know anyone with depression (or who is otherwise disabled), please read this.
Dear Tim, I appreciate what you wrote about depression. All my life, I thought I was just moody, creative, drama-prone and ‘deep’. Now, at 50, I realize that I’ve been dealing with depression my whole life. Psycothymic is one diagnosis, as it comes and goes in intervales of about 12-18 months. Medication and therapy have helped sometimes. It steals joy, it totally does and I hate it! As much as “The Zen Path Through Depression” says to love and embrace it, I cannot/will not. I completely understand everything you said and have experienced the exact same feelings. So now, do you just accept the depressed times, or do you try to escape the down feelings? And you are so right, nobody gets it. Know that I GET IT! Thank you for writing about it!! Susy Porter
Thanks for sharing this Tim. Both depression and other health issues can be so debilitating and what makes it worse is the number of people who don’t get it. Since I read the Spoon Theory a couple of years ago, I’ve been using it with friends and family coupled with comparing my normal days to a day where they are afflicted with a terrible case of the flu (the pain, exhaustion, apathy etc.) And days where I actually complain about things are days where those symptoms are about 50X worse or so.
I have so many things I want to do, to get done – but its hard. Sometimes I want to give up, but I look at my little girl, think about all the things I have done since being sick (managed to complete not one but 3 degrees) and so I keep on trucking. But yeah, its hard. So very, very hard. I recently read that a doctor who deals with my condition and with AIDS (as well as other chronic conditions) said they’d rather be diagnosed with AIDS – Quality of life is much better save the last two months of the disease. And yet being told that I should just suck it up, or that if I just got up and did things anyways I’d be fine… Yeah, understanding is lacking in a lot of folks. But I understand Tim. Totally and completely. While depression is different, there are a lot of similarities too. Take good care! xo