Imagine having a brain that perceives any glimmer of happiness not only as a disruption but also as a threat to the status quo.
When said status quo is a destructive combo of isolation, loneliness, and misery, why would you even want to maintain it? Now imagine living like this for years during which your one concern is how to end it all, i.e. take your own life.
If you’re one among the 300 million humans affected by depression around the world, this may well sound familiar. If you’re not, it sounds unfathomably messed up but it’s a measure of how the brain of a depressive works: It drives you to self-sabotage.
And if you humor it, there’s a very good chance what you fear the most, like driving people away, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is where I’m at.
Fail to notice what’s going on and you suddenly find yourself sliding down a slippery slope of doubt.
Nothing undoes me faster than kindness, human warmth, and total acceptance, all of which were in short supply during the five years I lost to depression. If I say lost it’s because the disease felled me and rendered me incapable of doing much of anything. This caused immense resentment in my household, created financial pressure, and destroyed my sense of self.
I had no idea who I was anymore and I’ve now spent over a year putting the pieces back together. At first, I was going it alone, slowly emerging from this mental mess and rebuilding a life word by word in print and in public. I’m a journalist by profession, writing is vocation, I had tons of material so I grudgingly turned the pen on myself and set out to debunk a few myths about depression.
As I know only too well after living for suicidal ideation for years, stigma and silence kill. I am one of the lucky ones but only because someone else died and showed me a future I didn’t want. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this and it sends chills down my spine every single time.
It’s a particularly twisted version of survivor guilt; I am resolutely alive and doing a little better every day but my brain hasn’t caught up yet.
It keeps fighting me.
Chronic depression means the enemy lives within.
It’s also easy to conflate the parasite in your head with yourself even though you’re not a diagnosis, no one is. And yet, depression turns you into your own worst enemy; if anyone offers you a hand to hold, you could potentially turn into their enemy, too.
The way the depressive brain works is insidious.
First, it reminds you that you are unworthy of human warmth. Since this most vital need of yours wasn’t met for years, its long absence is perceived as evidence of your unsuitability for human relationships. And of course you’ve had plenty of time to internalize this alienating belief.
Shifting perspective is as necessary as it is urgent lest depressive propaganda should pull you under again, taking those who care about you down as well.
This is a real risk and one I’m actively pushing back against with all I’ve got; those who have showered me with benevolence deserve the same from me. They too took a risk, one not everyone is able or willing to take or handle. And so did I, especially as my illness is what caused others to walk away from me, blank me, treat me as if I had become invisible.
The last few months have shown me how gentle, joyful, and fulfilling life can be when you let fellow humans in. This, to me, is the most precious gift and one I never expected to be on the receiving end of.
Please understand no one can fix you but you.
If you have the financial wherewithal to afford professional help, it’s always a good idea as it’ll take some of the pressure off your loved ones.
If you don’t as continues to be my case, communication is key to not letting depression wreck you again or hurt those who care about you. The willingness to tackle this openly and let others know what you’re going through can help them understand they have nothing to do with it.
In a similar vein, when another human helps you navigate depressive overwhelm, do make a point of letting them know and thank them for being here.
This matters hugely.
Seeing someone wrestle with their demons in real time is disturbing and painful. Not only does it remind us of our fragility but it also has the potential to make even the most well-intentioned among us feel helpless.
And when we care about someone, this pervading sense of helplessness can crush us and cause us to take a step back or even walk away.
Even though depression isn’t contagious, our self-preservation instinct sometimes kicks in.
It’s very much a normal human reaction and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of although those of us who walk hand in hand with darkness don’t always have it.
And no, this doesn’t mean we’re doomed, neither as depressives nor as someone who shares their life with a depressive. It means we need to communicate better and remember that distress always passes; it may stretch but it is finite.
Rather than let my brain have a field day, I started getting into the habit of taking stock of all the newfound goodness in my life and focusing on it until I was able to set fear aside. I do this daily, as many times as needed, and it does help.
Whether it’s the result of childhood trauma, failed relationships, or deceitful friendships, some of us are simply terrified of being loved because we learned long ago that love hurts.
But with patience, time, dialogue, and heart, we can unlearn this and stop anticipating danger where there is none.