I was trying to think of a metaphor I could use to describe depression. There’s an obvious problem, with it being utterly indescribable. All this bullshit about clouds that rain only over you, and darkness that doesn’t recede, isn’t really wrong, but it doesn’t fully capture the essence of depression. Which, just to eliminate the impression that I am some uptight teenager writing about her angst and disguising it as a mental illness because it is the current “trend” (which is fucked, in my professional opinion) is an illness I have lived with for a long time.
Depression is not just sadness. And if you still think that then you need to return to the 18th century and tell that to some psychopathic psychiatrist who will proceed to admit you to a shitty asylum where you can rot away so I never have to hear your opinion again. Institutions aren’t fun, but they’ve certainly improved since then, so all the best with that.
My depression is chronic. It has been that way since I was twelve. This means I can never truly escape it, even if it lifts momentarily and I can think again, and maybe get some high distinctions at uni, maybe even start to draw again. These are signs my depression has lifted, but not that it has dissipated. Because in my experience of depression, once you feel it so deeply and strongly, it never really leaves.
Depression is not sadness. It’s emptiness. It’s self-hatred and loathing and deprecation. It’s a physical heaviness that consumes every limb. It’s constant exhaustion and fog and an inability to think. It’s constantly wanting to hide, run, die, and sleep. It’s avoiding conversation and social events because of the lies and possibilities your mind constructs. It’s trying to do things that would ordinarily make you feel better but you’re so overcome by anhedonia that nothing works. It’s an inability to laugh at jokes, and smile at strangers. Or being so unbearably exhausted and unmotivated that you simply don’t have the energy to try anything that you just know would help. It’s sleeping into the late morning, or all day, to relieve some pain, but staying up late because the thoughts are so, so loud. It’s glancing at pills beside your bed, pills that are supposed to help you, but you wish would lead to your demise. It’s questioning every moment you have where you could have made things better – the shoulds, coulds, and woulds. Worse, the should nots, did nots and have nots. It’s endless lists which are perpetually added to but nothing is ever crossed off of because there is simply no energy to assign to menial tasks like cleaning a fucking toilet. It’s hurting yourself, over and over and over, to relieve some mental and emotional pain or to feel something beyond undeniable numbness – and yes, that is a contradiction. Yes, self-harm has multiple functions. Surprise! Depression also kicks my sarcasm up a few notches when real conversation is out of reach, but I actually kind of like that. And if you can’t hurt yourself, it’s hurting everybody around you instead. Let them feel your pain. Feel it, see it, deal with it. Depression makes you careless and hopeless and worthless; just less than everyone else.
It’s feeling like you constantly need punished, and despite telling yourself over and over and over that you deserve nice things, and peace, and love, and to participate in the bullshit upper-class propagandist version of self care that is too out of reach for you at the present. Self-care for me is normally brushing my teeth twice in one day. Eating real food and not just coffee. A two minute meditation. My depression is real, and no, I do not have enough energy or mental strength to get a massage. It takes all my energy to drag myself to university, and as a high achiever, my grades have never really suffered from mental health but I constantly think about how much better I could be doing, if I just did better.
It’s taken things from me – opportunities to build on my intelligence when it feels my intelligence is hijacked, and also socialising, repairing relationships, doing things for enjoyment. Finding a purpose. I am lost, and I am empty, but I am not sad. I am chronically depressed, and it has not gotten any easier. I still want to die, I still hurt myself, I still struggle to lift myself out of an unknown darkness that hits at any time, even when I’m at my happiest. I regret every single thing I have and haven’t done because of the lies and traps and beliefs constructed by my mind. I regret every moment with friends I missed, because I was so sullen nobody wanted to spend time with me. I regret every relationship I shattered with bitter words, and how I refused to repair them because I thought I was better off alone. Because nobody will ever love me, or trust me, and I will never be able to love or trust in return.
That’s a true picture of depression. It’s not about sadness. It’s deeper than that. It’s not even an emotion – it’s a sensation, mental and physical and heartbreaking.