There's a dirty little secret about long-term depression that only people who have suffered will understand:
It never completely goes away.
When I say depression, I don't mean a short period of time when a person feels down and out. I not referring to a set of weeks or months where life throws a lot of hard things at someone, and in return he or she feels sad and defeated. I'm not talking about the natural reaction to a bad break up, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Let's face it, life is tough, and at some point or another we are all going to have spans of time when we are not at our best.
Instead, I'm talking about the kind of soul-crushing, mood-altering state that lingers for weeks and months on end, tainting your every perception of life, preventing you from fully participating in your life. For that is the true danger of depression: not the sadness, not anger, not the resentment, it is the true and utter lack of interest in the people,activities, or things that make you... you!
The clinical term for this is anhedonia, the inability to appreciate the pleasure in life. I've talked about depression before on this blog, and my own efforts to counteract the hold it had on my life for a long period of life.
I was depressed from roughly 2005 to somewhere around 2008 when it broke. I can't exactly explain what made the difference, but in Thanksgiving of 2007 I was in what should have been a fatal car accident. I had written about it at the time and as I reread that post tonight, one line stuck out:
"my faith has been in shambles for years, I don't consider myself a mainstream christian, but my faith in god has always been there.... but for once I finally got it. Plain and simple. I matter. I'm loved, I have a purpose."Being loved and having a purpose, made the difference,
Even then it took me a few months to fully find my way out of the muck and mire, but in March of 2008 I wrote a post in which I recognized that while my life was still not perfect, I had finally found purpose and happiness, although I couldn't have stated exactly when that change occurred. What's interesting is even now, almost 6 years later, I read those words and they resonate. I read my conviction, even then, that my call in my life is to help those in their time of need, and I know that one way or another, I have found my way.. Having a purpose for my life that resides in the pure knowledge that I am a worthwhile creation, built in love, made all the difference.
Thanks in part to the efforts of people like Wil Wheaton and Jenny Lawson, there has been an increase of awareness in society regarding the detriments of mental health disorders. The danger of depression is that it alters your perception of reality. It heightens some truths (usually the painful ones), while lessening the impact of the positives. Short term, a person can bounce back and regain a normal life. The problem is suffering under this mindset long term can cause damage, irreparably in many cases.
It's like having strep throat. In most cases, when treated early, it is a fairly innocuous bacterial infection that may give the victim a few days of discomfort, but responds well to antibiotics. Once it has been eliminated that patient is not likely to suffer long term effects. However, in some cases, if the infection is left untreated, it can wreak havoc on the entire body. It can cause, amongst many other complications, rheumatic fever which will in turn lead to long term problems with the heart and joint pain. The key here is the time factor, the longer it is in the body, the worse the long-term consequences.
Depression alters your ability to correctly interpret and perceive the world around you. Depression can impair your ability of self-reflection and judgment. It reminds me of the Claritin Clear commercials.
The world simply looks different than it does without the depression lens. You don't just doubt your worth as a human being, you actively believe it was never there. And worst of all? The idea that you might be strong enough and capable enough to get out of that pit and join the rest of humanity seems unthinkable.
If you're lucky, like I was, you eventually DO get out of that hole, whether it be thanks to medication that helps with the medically proven chemical imbalances in your body, the support of your loved ones, counseling and therapy sessions, or simply a matter of time. One day, life starts making a bit of sense again. Or, as a friend of mine put it, "I feel like I can finally feel again" (p.s. totally recommend her blog post, it's so accurate). Life starts making sense, hindsight is 20/20; if you are smart, you learn from your mistakes and you keep moving forward.
But no matter how far you go, no matter how much you grow, no matter how happy and content you may appear, the rheumatic fever of depression lingers.
Over time I have simply grown accustomed to its presence in my life. I recognized that the lingering traces are NOT, and this is important, are NOT an indication that I am still suffering from an active depression. Nor am I weak for continuing to feel its pull. I go on and live my life, and all things considered, I am truly happy. I am content in my surroundings, even if they are not all I wish. My song came on the radio again the other day, and I was struck with how far I have come in the past few months.
But depression lingers. It stays in the shadows, biding its time. It waits until nights, like tonight, when my defenses are low. I can't give you a rational explanation for why Im a bit bummed out. I have a lot of promising opportunities in my future, I have found an amazing church that I truly enjoy visiting as frequently as possible, my grandfather is doing fantastic with his treatment, my finances are secure, I am having more opportunities to spend time with friends. Yet down and out I remain. While such a mood is normal and typical for a person in the scheme things (especially in context of female hormonal changes), what might seem harmless for someone without my history, is a rough and tumble battle. Depression is there, testing my borders, pushing on the walls, trying to find give. The lies are whispered over and over, trying to take hold. The good news is at the moment I am in complete control of the situation, and depression isn't winning. Not tonight. I can feel the thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness and all those other -lessnesses wanting to take over my mind, but for tonight, I am strong enough to recognize the simple truth: depression lies.
I haven't posted in a very long time. There are several posts I am due to write (the top of that list being the conclusion of my dating cleanse); the motivation has simply not been present, plain and simple. My two self-imposed rules of blogging are simple 1)always be honest 2) only write when I feel the inspiration, to ensure rule number 1... and to keep this enjoyable. Things have been crazy IRL (that's in real life for all your non-internet savvy folks), and I continue to ask your prayers for my family as we deal with my grandfather's treatment for lymphoma in addition to my grandmother's very complicated recovery from back surgery (for which she is now back in the hospital to get a repair on one of the rods that is now infected). I'd also appreciate your prayers for a vague 'direction' request as I contemplate my life's journey going forward. As always, details will come when they are available to give.
For tonight, I go back to my fight. I share it here for two reasons ... the first is selfish- it's therapeutic for me to write. It always has been.
The second, in the slight chance that someone who is hurting stumbles across this, I hope I can give you a glimpse of hope that it DOES get better. Not all at once, and not in the same way it was 'better' before you ever rumbled with Mr. Depression, but it does get better.
Depression lies, and it's just a big old mean bully who is trying to knock you down. Don't let it. Please.