“Everybody has demons in their closet. But it’s from these demons that we learn and become better people” ~ Dolores O’Riordan – Lead Singer of The Cranberries (1971-2018)
Living with depression is like battling cancer. I’ve been through both and they suck. Equally.
It is not lost on me that I am lucky. My bladder cancer was found early (through a series of tests for an unrelated issue at age 36). I also understand that, as someone living with clinical depression, pulling myself out of bed, brushing my teeth and bathing is a huge deal. Those who don’t suffer from the disease of depression may never fully grasp the weight of those words: getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, bathing. Really. Big. Deal.
It’s not that when I’m in the thick of a depressive state (which can last days, weeks or even months) I’m lazy or enjoy being a disgusting mess. The wiring in my brain simply short-circuits and my ability to care for myself, for life, just disappears. Each time I sink into the darkness I want to evaporate; dissolve into a million finite pieces and duck into an envelope of shame and guilt. Every sigh pushes the envelope out the window, onto the street, in to the gutter. I feel safe there. And yet I still wish a street-sweeper would roll by putting me out of my misery.
It sounds dramatic because it is. Depression is a slow-moving echo of pain, reverberating waves of self-defeat with each passing hour. When I’m in it, I feel like I’m in solitary confinement in prison, but with one big difference. I’m free to open the door.
It’s been a long road, but I’m finally at peace with the neurotransmitters in my brain. My shame and guilt have morphed into acceptance and education, through a long process of self-awareness and letting go of attachment to judgement. I’ve surrendered to the fact that my depression is not a choice I’ve made, but rather a serious medical condition. I now manage my mental health and through several avenues, own my depression. I still have moments of darkness but for the most part – it no longer owns me.
Part of releasing my shame of living with depression is embracing the fact that my specific case is treatable with therapy and medication. It took me years to allow myself permission to let go of the stigma that if I were to be medicated, I was crazy. Call it what you like, this crazy bitch is good.
Each morning before I’m fully awake I stand in the bathroom. My fingers deliver a little white pill to my tongue and I lift a glass of water. I close my eyes as the magic slides down my throat. I am reminded at this very moment of a basic fact – I am mentally ill. I smile, knowing that I’m totally okay with this. Upon swallowing I open my eyes and check myself in the mirror. Before long, I’m ready for the day. My feet step outside without thought and my breath is uncompromised. I am filled with peace and featherweight optimism that I can navigate the world feeling normal – maybe even happy.
Feeling the warmth of the sun and exchanging smiles with strangers after a serious depressive episode is a victory. Once out from the darkness my sanity is resuscitated and I finally begin to feel human again. But like cancer, even in remission from depression, painful fragments remain. They are stray pieces of thread from the tapestry of my happiness. I can never break them free. But I am managing these moments better than I ever have and a huge part of that is because I’ve stopped pretending that I need to be perfect.
So, I live with this patch-work quilt of imperfection and remind myself of the now. I’m learning to be more present and not worry about how I will feel tomorrow or what my day was like yesterday. I practice gratitude in the little things. Getting out of bed. Brushing my teeth. Bathing. I try to be more patient with myself and others who don’t quite understand. Mental illness isn’t my fault, just as lack of comprehension of isn’t theirs.
There were so many moments in my life that nearly ended because of my depression. The romance of my suicide fantasies was palpable. When in the thick of a serious bout, it was a love affair with forever and I was obsessed with letting go. I’m never thinking of inflicting insurmountable anguish after I’m gone; I simply wanted mine to disappear. The pain is unbearable yet so comfortable it felt like home, which catapulted an endless loop of my thoughts of, ‘what the hell is wrong with you‘ and ‘you’re fucking crazy.’
But nobody with depression is lost forever, no matter how desperately we don’t want to be found. Better days seem like someone else’s story and we don’t feel deserving of the happiness up ahead. We just need to keep turning the pages and breathe through the words. The first step is remembering that we aren’t alone.
This post is in no way meant as medical advice. If you or anyone you know is suicidal, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255, or dial 9-1-1 (in the US). Outside the US, please refer to the International Suicide Hotline.