When I was younger, before all the bad shit happened (read: anorexia followed by years of intense bullying which only reaffirmed that if I was just thinner, things would be better) I thought depression was purely episodic. I thought it only occurred during grief after a death, that it was a really intense sadness that hung around for a couple weeks and then disappeared.
Seven years later, and I’m still depressed. Because depression can be chronic too.
Earlier this year, I think I experienced my first manic episode. Not irritability or hypomania, true mania. I was buzzing. I couldn’t sleep and didn’t need to, I was planning and fantasising wildly, I spent two weeks pay in five days (as a normally frugal person who spends half of every pay on therapy), I was over-committing to everything: I was go go go, fast fast fast. Talking and thinking faster and louder. I’ve never been formally diagnosed as bipolar, and although I recognise patterns of mania in myself, I definitely identify more with borderline personality disorder. I’m also not a psychiatrist, no matter how often I read the DSM, and like to believe I mostly know what I’m talking about. Something to know about me: I try to keep my intelligence kinda hidden because it’s gotten me into trouble before, and at the risk of sounding like a total dick, I am pretty fucking smart, and pretty fucking confident I know a decent amount about mental health.
Anyway, prior to that weird little manic week, for the first time in those seven years, I actually felt content. I can’t use the H-adjective, because that word alone always seems to trigger another wave of numbness for whatever reason, but it was like my mind just wanted to tease me with the possibility of a depression free life. I was satisfied with work, with my savings, with a few tentative plans for the future. I felt at ease, not anxious, not stressed, not fearful. I wasn’t overly focused on my eating disorder, and I was actually sticking to meal plan. I had come up with a vague sort of self-soothing routine which involved touching leaves on every tree I passed on my walk to the park, and stopping to meditate and practice yoga before returning home. It was a very mindful couple of days.
Then the mania hit.
Then the anxiety peaked.
And now the sadness has returned.
For some reason, I’m welcoming it back into my life. It’s an old friend, safe and familiar. Even when I am a danger to myself, at least it’s familiar. But this happiness thing? That’s foreign territory. And I don’t like it. I don’t like the mania, I don’t like the anxiety, and I definitely don’t like the BPD emotion surges.
Depression is my friend. It keeps me from feeling all of my feelings, in the same way my eating disorder helps me avoid things that need avoiding. Depression also keeps me from having nice things, like recovery. It keeps the metaphorical marble rolling down the same metaphorical ruts, the same neural pathways strengthening, the same core beliefs coursing through my mind every moment of every day – I’m worthless. I’m undeserving of life and love. I let everybody down. Killing myself will release the burden I put on other people. I’m fat, and ugly, and stupid, and useless. I’m never going to get better. I never make any progress.
I cling to these thoughts because I don’t know any different. I’ve never found lasting comfort in any of the suggested places. Yes I’ve tried yoga, and mindfulness, and art therapy, and writing, and regular therapy, and inpatient treatment, and day treatment, and medications. They don’t work for me.
Intuitively, I know that none of these beliefs are the truth – just as I know that according to my BMI I am not overweight. But even when my BMI fell to 14 and I was on the verge of involuntary hospital admission I thought I was fat. So why should a stranger telling me to smile lift my mood? Why should someone saying I look upset, make me any less upset?
Chronic depression, in fact, any depression, is not just sadness that passes. It’s sadness that stays. That fills my entire being with darkness and despair. It whispers harsh words in my ear, and ways to escape. It twists every object in my house into something I could use to hurt myself. I become dangerous. I become bitter. I hate my depression. I hate everything it’s done to me. But for some reason, I cherish it too.