To The Individual Experiencing Depression,
My heart goes out to you. I would tell you that I feel your pain, but numbness, flatness, blankness, loneliness, nothingness and worthlessness are better descriptors. Until recently I believed that depression was a sadness that could be easily controlled and that was caused by a tangible problem. I hate to admit this, but I associated it with weakness. To all of the loved ones that I may have been insensitive to over the years, I am so sorry.
My boys and I have had a year jam-packed with activity. It’s been good stuff, great stuff in fact, but it was JAM. PACKED. In a nine-month span: We got a puppy. We sold our townhome, purged said townhome and put our belongings in a storage unit. We moved into an RV and traveled the United States for the summer. My husband’s employment ended and a he started a brand new job. We bought a new house and unpacked quickly, just in time to host multiple holiday gatherings. We experienced the craziness that comes along with the holidays. Just as we wrapped up the holidays, the dreary, sunless days that Minnesota winters are known for began pressing down on us.
In early January, during the first stretch of calm waters following a crazy nine months, I was in my dining room taking pictures of a plate of food for my website. And literally in one click of my camera, I went from being totally fine to not fine at all. I thought I’d heard one of my boys’ voices saying “Mom!” It was coming from the hallway. I set my camera down and walked down the dark hallway to find nothing, of course, because both boys were at school. Without hesitating, my legs took me through the darkness of the hall and into my bedroom. I crawled into bed without thinking, confused. I suddenly wanted nothing. Nothing sounded good.
In the following weeks, things got progressively worse. I saved every morsel of my emotional energy for caring for my boys and scraping by with my work. Everything else was ignored. I canceled nearly every social engagement on my calendar. I couldn’t stomach the idea of holding myself together enough to be around people. I wasn’t very fair or nice to my husband. I did not understand what was going on, so I couldn’t fathom that anyone else could. I didn’t find joy in anything except my boys, even the things I usually love and find joy in.
I was in the grocery store one day reaching for a gallon of milk and in a flash, I experienced a confusing and overwhelming feeling. The way I was feeling inside was so contradictory to the image of someone shopping for groceries that I nearly fell to the floor. I wished for a hand to reach through the gallons of milk and pull me back into a dark, cozy room where I could curl up and feel more nothingness.
Most mornings I would lie in bed thinking, This is the happiest I’ll be all day. The second I wake up, I will start disappointing people, beating myself up, canceling plans, making bad decisions about what I eat and what I say to people and getting irritated with my boys and husband. I’d get out of bed and all of the above would start happening. Those things would pile themselves in a heap on top of me and smother the life out of me. At the end of the day I’d feel ashamed and worthless, stripped of hope or happiness and feeling unworthy of being loved or liked.
Thankfully through all of this I have had the counsel of a friend who has experienced depression at its “finest.” She talks to me nearly every day, encouraging me to take one day, one moment, at a time. Without her guidance, I never could have worked through things so quickly. I’m still finding my way out of the pit. I’m still experiencing darkness and hopelessness, but in much less quantity and intensity. At the advice of this wonderful friend, I have begun focusing on accomplishing LITTLE things and being much gentler on myself. I have started setting goals, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t accomplish them. I give myself a pat on the back for things like eating a healthy lunch or taking my vitamins or going to the grocery store without wishing for a secret hand to grab me out of the dairy aisle.
I’ve done some reading about depression recently and I’m learning that there are people who experience it for years. YEARS! I have had a mere taste of it and I cannot fathom living in this hell for YEARS. If this is you, I will tell you the same things my kind friend tells me every day. Please wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a hug. Find someone to talk to who has been through the same stuff. Go easy on yourself. Set small goals. Take your vitamins. Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Let the sun shine on your face. Do as much as you can, but don’t beat yourself up when you can’t do anything. Know that you are loved and you are not alone.
A few mornings ago I woke up and did not have my usual negative thoughts about the day. Instead, I said in my head, THANK YOU. Without having time to wake up or form a coherent thought, I was declaring gratitude for all of the crap from the past few weeks. My second thought was, WHY would I be thankful?! Then I knew. I’m a seasoned veteran when it comes to experiencing good that follows difficult times. It has happened time and time again for us after the trials we have experienced with our son. One of my favorite Bible verses popped into my head: “We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) Please believe me when I tell you that there is so much truth in this. Your suffering has a purpose. It might not feel like it now, but it does. You will be a better friend and a more compassionate person and you will have more grace with people. You will be able to understand something that many people don't. You will have true empathy for those who suffer silently.
Here’s what your loved ones could benefit from hearing: Don’t ask me why I’m sad or tell me to "suck it up." Don’t take my irrational behavior or mood swings personally. Be kind and patient with me. Let me know you love me. Know that I am just as confused about the way I’m acting as you are.
Depression is no joke. I don’t let my boys say this word because it is so strong and negative, but it SUCKS. And I am sorry, so very sorry, that you are going through this. Things will get better. You are strong and amazing.
Sincerely and empathetically,
One who feels your numbness-flatness-blankness-loneliness-nothingness-worthlessness and sends you the warmest of hugs