I remember the first time I realized that depression was a real thing, and that I had it. It was right before the movie The Hours came out, and I was listening to an interview with Julianne Moore on NPR. She was describing her character, and how difficult it was for her to bake a cake, when I literally stopped what I was doing and and thought, “It’s hard for me to do stuff, too.”
Not that this should have been a grand revelation. I had road-tested several therapists and the drugs they prescribed. I had always been miserable. But I had believed that my misery was uniquely mine, a status I had achieved as a result of an impoverished childhood followed by years of stupid moves. I didn’t want to think of it as an illness, because I didn’t believe that it was. And now, several years later, I know that it’s not that simple. Depression may be an illness, but it’s not the kind that can simply be cured. Antidepressants come with another whole world of side effects that may or may not be an improvement over one’s condition. And one’s condition is a complicated mass of physical symptoms, genetics, world views, sensitivity, thought processes and spiritual beliefs. Survival is matter of navigation.
For me, the most difficult part of all is that I’m such a harsh judge of my own behavior. I’m constantly telling myself how I should have done things differently; how I should be more grateful, more frugal, more active. Everything I do is wrong. Or else the way that I do it is wrong. If I were to spend a day being grateful, frugal and active, I would end the day by telling myself that I should have been more compassionate, helpful, or assertive.
With all this criticism in my head, it’s no wonder I avoid other people. Even the most friendly advice sounds like rejection to my fragile ego. And I feel like the planet is overly populated with perky people who go about their business of buying and breeding like they know they only have six days left to live. They wouldn’t understand why I have to be so depressing. Years ago, a friend invited me to do something, adding, “… and leave the abyss behind.” I was crushed. I would give anything to be able leave the abyss behind, but it’s chained to my ankle. The polite thing to do would be to pretend you don’t see it.
Or even better, acknowledge it and admit that you have an abyss of your own.