Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things I Wish People Knew About (My) Depression

It's been almost a full month since I last wrote. Wow. I would say that is hard for me to believe, but it's really not--not when I look back at how difficult and sometimes excruciating this past month has been for me. I knew returning to Gettysburg this fall was going to have its ups and downs, good days and bad days. Realistically, staying at home would have also had ups and downs because that is what the reality of living with any mental illness. I was prepared for this. But what I wasn't prepared for was bad days turning into bad weeks turning into a bad month.

I wasn't prepared for this level of depression. I thought I was stable depression-wise, after I changed medications this past spring. I was feeling okay at home, and when I came back to school, I wrote off my symptoms the first few weeks as needing an adjustment period to being back on campus. But now, its past the period of newness and I'm finding myself having a depressive episode at a time when I can't really afford to have one.

I wish people knew how frustrating depression is for me. It comes suddenly, without much warning, and I don't really know what triggers it in me. But the most frustrating part is when there's nothing I can do to make it better--the times when showering, getting up and getting dressed, going to class, doing my homework, being social, going for walks, taking my meds--the times when none of that works. Those are times when I just want to pull my hair out and scream because there's absolutely nothing I can do because I have a freaking chemical imbalance in my brain and I am not in control of that.

I wish people knew everything is 400 times harder to do because I have depression. Going to class? I spent two hours this morning convincing myself to get off the couch and actually go. Doing my homework? That's difficult even on a good day. On a bad day, it just isn't in the realm of possibilities. The mental effort it takes to make my body go through the most basic motions is enough to tire me out for the rest of the day. Often after class, I feel the need to go home and sleep for hours because everything is so difficult. Lately all I've been able to do is the bare minimum to be functional here--class, meetings, immediate graded homework. Studying or working ahead is near impossible.

I wish people knew how difficult it is to not isolate all the time, whether my depression is bad or not. One of the most crucial pieces of my depression recovery is not isolating. Isolating just feeds my depression more and more, but the same time, going anywhere and seeing anyone is the last thing I want to do. Initiating contact with a friend is not an easy task when my depression is bad. Accepting an invitation to hang out is almost as difficult.

I wish people knew I am a bad friend when I am depressed. This means I might snap at you over a tiny thing. It means I might ignore what you are saying to me because I don't care at the time. It means I might not be able to help you when you are struggling. It means I might say mean things. It means I'll forget to text you or text you too much or cancel plans. I am always sorry, even if I do not say so.

I wish people knew I hate using my depression as an excuse. Any mental illness makes functioning hard. I try not to let it impact my every day life--my schoolwork, my commitments, my relationships. But sometimes I really cannot fulfill an obligation because my brain literally will not function properly. Sometimes I need extra time to finish an assignment because showing up to class over-exhausts me to the point where I cannot do anything else. I have depression and it impacts my life. It is an illness and has similar impacts as any other illness, so sometimes I need to be accommodated, which I hate. So don't make me feel bad about asking for an extra to turn in an assignment or to be excused from a meeting--it is always my last resort.

I wish people knew my depression is not about being sad or feeling bad, although it sometimes is. But mostly, its a feeling of nothingness, emptiness. It feels like drowning slowly. Sometimes I am sad, but mostly, its a heaviness and a darkness that overwhelms all of me.

I wish people knew medication does not cure depression (and needing medication does not make me crazy). Medication helps. Ditto therapy. Ditto walks. Ditto food and friends and support. Nothing fixes it. Depression, as I experience it, is not a problem to be solved, not something over and done with. When I first started taking medication four years ago, I was hesitant about needing a drug to feel normal. Don't only crazy people need meds? Now that I understand more about depression and how the brain works, I understand how biological this illness is and how it needs to be treated like any other condition, like asthma for example. My brother has asthma and he has to take his inhaler every day in order to keep his lungs healthy. Its the same with depression--I have to take my meds every day to keep my brain healthy.

I wish people knew my depression is also physical. I get tired, really tired. Sometimes all I can do is sleep because I am so tired. I lose my appetite completely, and as someone who has a history of an eating disorder as well, this is a very difficult thing.

I wish people knew depression causes a disconnect between my mind and body. Part of this involves not being fully "present" in class or in a conversation. My body will be there and my mind won't necessarily be somewhere else, but it will not focus or concentrate. I've sat through many classes this semester where I took extensive notes and walked out having no idea what we covered. Another disconnect is when I struggle to organize my muscles to do what I need. Mostly this involves getting out of bed or getting up to go somewhere.

I wish people knew I struggle to reconcile my faith and my depression. I often feel like less of a Christian when I cannot feel joy during worship. Or when I'm just going through the motions in church or in my devotions and I feel nothing. When my heart just isn't there. These things make me feel guilty and like less of a Christian because Christians are "supposed" to feel joyful. I struggle to reconcile why God is allow me to suffer like this and why he doesn't heal me. I struggle when someone tells me my depression is a result of something I am doing or not doing spiritually. I struggle when people tell me I need Jesus and not medication or therapy.

I wish people knew its okay to ask me questions about my depression and any of my other mental illnesses. I am not ashamed of them because I know they are partially because of biology and how my brain is wired. I like questions. I like helping people to understand what I am going through because it reduces stigma in our society about mental illness, something that is all too prevalent and damaging.

I wish people knew I just want to know I'm not alone in fighting my depression. Most people ask what they can do or they offer to listen if I need to talk, which are nice gestures. But what I need is someone to snuggle and watch movies with, someone to send me encouraging things in the morning or before class, someone to just give me hugs. Someone to eat with. Someone to reassure me. Someone to tell me it really will be okay and I can get through this. Someone to remind me I am stronger than my depression. Someone to tell me they are proud of me for fighting this hard.

Thank you, Jordie, for this reminder and encouragement.