For the last week I have been hanging out with people I like a lot. And it has been fun.
If you’ve never been depressed, you may not get why this is a note-worthy thing. Let me elucidate.
People think depression feels like sadness. For me*, it was never about sadness. It oscillated between complete panicking overwhelmed meltdown and a kind of dead numb disinterest. Sadness would have been welcome. You can do something with sadness.
I used to think I was prone to depression, until I actually got real diagnosed depression. That’s not what I was prone to. I’m not sure the thing I’m prone to is that much more healthy, but I could still function. It’s more of an angry, reckless restlessness, a need to run and fly and scream. It leads to a creative place – it makes me write, it makes me want to dance and do things. It puts fire in my belly. It’s uncomfortable, certainly, it’s not really pleasant. I guess it’s more like a sort of existential angst, I start wanting to go looking for meaning. But it’s VITAL. And that’s the difference.
I got depressed and I lost all of that. I lost that fire in my belly, I lost my creative impulse. I kept trying to write, because that’s what I do, right? And I’m just about good enough that I could pull it off sometimes anyway, but there was no joy in it, no passion. I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I lost my people mojo. For as far back as I can remember I have had the ability to connect with people, to act as a nexus, to inspire people. I’ve always had lots of friends, and a house (and life) full of people coming and going. I am interested in and energised by people. I suspect this deep-rooted interest is where my empathy comes from; I can almost always see where someone is coming from, even if I think where they end up is terrible.
But that was gone. My ability to enjoy being around people totally vanished. Even people I liked. Again, I kept trying, I’d reach out and connect, and something in me would go, this is fun, right? Isn’t it? It definitely used to be fun. Are we having fun yet? But I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t access that at all. I’m a pretty out-going, gregarious person by nature, but that was gone. I’d go to social things, and just sit there with a blank head, no quick retorts, no sense of humour, no interest in any of it. So eventually I just stopped going. And then eventually, I stopped getting invited.
If I’d been sad, if I’d been curled in my bed crying and grieving, I think that would have been better. But a lot of the time I could more or less fake more or less okay. So I went to work, and I occasionally hung out with people, and I posted on LJ, and I did things, and because I was still sort of there, people assumed I was more or less okay. At least, I think they did. I wasn’t obviously in crisis, so there was nothing to worry about, right?
Here’s another dirty secret about depression. It’s boring. It’s so mind-numbingly boring. It was boring for me. Numbing and grey and terribly terribly dull. I kept battering my head against it, and it just swallows your fight up like a thick fog. And it’s boring for other people too. No wonder people didn’t want me around. What makes a person interesting, by and large, is their interest. Their interest in other people, in the world, in their hobbies, in SOMETHING. Depression mutes that interest, and you just become a boring piece of happiness-swallowing fog. The ones who love you still love you, and want to help, but I felt like it just made me bored and boring. In this weirdly numb and simultaneously excruciating way. I knew I used to be interesting and interested but I couldn’t access that any more. I had nothing interesting to say, nothing interesting to share. And almost no interest in anyone else. That does not make for good companionship.
Now, if you’re currently suffering from depression, that paragraph up there is going to hit you in all those nasty insecure places. Because depression likes to lie, and it’s excellent at it. At least mine was. A really good liar skates as close to the truth as they can; in fact, the best liars take the truth and just twist it slightly to suit their purposes. And that’s what depression did. I have a wise and wonderful friend who once told me that the problem with depression is that it’s just as smart as you, but has less scruples. You can’t win by argument, because it is exactly as good at arguing as you are, but has less compassion. You can’t win by logic, or by persuasion, because it knows all the weaknesses in your abilities, and has no compunction about exploiting them. It tells you that you feel this way because you’re boring, and no one wants to be around you, but neglects to point out that the causality is the other way around – it is the reason you’re boring. It isolates you from the people who care about you by convincing you that they don’t even really like you any more. And then when it has you all alone, it hits you in every hurting vulnerable weak place it knows. AND IT KNOWS ALL OF THEM. It makes you be harder and crueler and less forgiving on yourself than you would ever dream of being towards anyone else. It highlights every single tiny thing you’ve ever done that was wrong, or stupid, or hurtful, and blows them up to be the only things you can see.
IT MAKES YOU BORING. And then it uses the fact that you’re boring to make you think that that’s who you are, and that the people around you therefore can’t possibly like you any more. And the terrible truth is that that might be true in some cases. I definitely lost friends while I was depressed.
But it’s not true for everyone.
And this is another way in which depression is a bitchwhore, because it makes you extrapolate. I had people sitting in front of me, telling me in no uncertain terms that they still loved and cared for me, saying all the right things, being everything that a friend/lover should be during that time, showing up and dragging me out, doing everything right, and I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see it was true. All I could hear was the monster telling me they were faking, or that it would wear off, or that it was lies, they were just messing with me.
And I’ve been on the other side of that, both before and since, where I’m sitting there telling a depressed person that I love them, that I am totally happy to be there for them, that I will do whatever I have to do to help, that I want to be around them, and I can see it sliding past and off them, I can see how they can’t hear me. I remember what that’s like, and I think, what could someone have said to me when I was in that headspace? And the really terrible thing is that the answer is NOTHING. You’re so buried in that shitty fog of numb boredom that you can’t hear anything, you can’t hear the love or the compassion, you can’t hear that it is TRUE.
All you can do as a depressed person is try to recognise that the depression is lying to you, and try to hold onto the faith that it is probably true that this person cares about you, even if you can’t access that right at the moment, and all you can do as someone who cares about a depressed person is keep saying it, keep checking in, keep pouring your love into that empty fog in the hope that at some point it sticks. That sucks no matter which side of it you’re on. It’s a hard shitty thankless thing to fight through.
I want to end on an upnote. And I suppose the upnote is that I am here, and I am writing this. I won. My depression was acute, not chronic. It was brought on by a series of very intense and traumatic things that hit all in a row. It means that I have a way better understanding of what it’s like when you’re in that place, which makes me a lot more understanding and compassionate about it than I ever was before. I’ve been able to put things into place, in my head and in my life, that provide me with tools to combat it effectively when it comes knocking. And it’s coming knocking less and less frequently. I’m lucky.
I know it can be beaten, because I won. I also know that we should be treating it as an illness, not a personal failing. As a disease, not a personality flaw. I did a lot of damage to my relationships (both romantic and friendship) and my professional credibility as a result of being depressed. Because it isn’t understood that way. Because I didn’t ask for help. It took way longer than it should have for me to reach out. There are a lot of burnt bridges, and while some have been mendable, and I’ve started mending them, some are gone forever, and I now just have to find different routes. If I’d been able to reach out earlier, and if the people around me had been able to recognise that this was illness, I expect that there would be less of those. Probably not none, because you’re never going to come through a war totally unscathed, but less.
If you love someone who is depressed, try to remember that – that it is an illness, that you are helping, even when it feels like you’re pouring your love into fog. That they can win, and if you’re still there when they do, they will know. The more you stay, the more you give them the tools and the ammunition to fight back. It’s thankless and horrible, but I am more grateful for the people who didn’t give up on me, for the ones who supported me despite my horribleness, than I can ever express.
And if you are depressed, know this: It’s lying. You’re not boring, IT IS. You’re beautiful and you’re strong, and you are LOVED. And you can win. Sometimes you’ll fall back down, but each time you get up, you will learn that you can get up. Each time you win, even just a tiny bit, you will learn that you CAN WIN. I know that fog you’re in. I know it like I know my heart, like an intimate lover who is very, very bad for you. I know how it feels. And I know that you are NOT IT. Even if you can’t see it, even if you can’t hear me. Believe me anyway. You are a beautiful worthwhile human. Your depression is lying when it tells you otherwise. If you haven’t already, go get help. Talk to a doctor, talk to a friend. ASK, no matter how hard it is.
Remember, being brave often doesn’t feel like being brave, it feels like being broken and hurt and terrified.
I love you. And so does someone else. Go talk to them. And if you can’t think of a single person in the world you can talk to, come talk to me, whoever you are. I know your fog. I’ve lived there too. I won. So can you.
*People react differently to this, as they do to all things, so this is very much about my experience. While I am sure it will resonate for many, I am in no way suggesting it’s like this for everyone.