Sometimes it comes on me like a wave. Sometimes it’s more like a tide creeping in, moving so slowly it’s imperceptible. Surely not, I think. Surely I’m mistaken. And then, a little later, it’s up past my knees and I am surrounded, just hoping I’m not about to drown.
I’ve had episodes of depression throughout my life, some brief, some lasting months and months. Sometimes they’re triggered by events, sometimes they just seem to happen. I’m fortunate because they are so episodic. Years may go by between them, during which time I do my best to live in the present and not worry about the return of my old friend – a return as inevitable as the tides.
Even as a small girl, I experienced occasional feelings I can only describe as extreme bleakness, when the universe would seem cold and meaningless, and the only comfort I could find was in the presence of my mother, whose kindness and love shone like a lighthouse beacon over the dark ocean.
People who never get seriously depressed may have difficulty understanding what it means. It may sound self-indulgent, weak-willed. I’m so depressed, I just can’t cope with the world.
I am not an expert on anyone’s depression except my own. But I’ll share my experiences for what they are worth.
I have never attempted suicide, but I can understand why people do. Some folks say anyone who commits suicide is selfish, because of the pain they leave behind for their bereaved family and loved ones. But you may not understand how awful clinical depression can be.
Many of us have no difficulty accepting the idea that someone who is in unremitting physical pain should have the right to end their suffering. Well, psychic pain can also be unbearable.
Imagine that everywhere you went, or every time you even thought about doing something, you dragged behind you a ball-and-chain labeled, “What’s the point? Who cares?” That’s been my experience.
When the thoughts in your own mind become your enemy, the sensation can be unbearable, because this is an enemy you can’t escape from. So what do you do?
During my spells, I sought therapy a few times, and was not helped. I read philosophers; I read the Bible. Nothing really resonated. Nothing worked but time. After a period of weeks or months, the gloom would recede and I would move on.
A year in my teens, a year in my twenties, a year and a half in my thirties. I’m sure I seemed normal on the surface, but inside my mind were gloomy, obsessive thoughts.
Then, after a long stretch of years without a single visitation, I was confronted with the unexpected death of my mother. Suddenly the water was over my head, and all I could do was break the surface now and then to gasp for air.
Depressed people are constantly told to “tell someone,” but that isn’t the simple solution one might hope. When I shyly broached the subject of grief or depression with acquaintances, many felt compelled to foist on me their spiritual views – or their absence of spiritual views. Truly, there is nothing worse than listening to someone preach about their particular religion when one is depressed – unless it’s listening to an atheist proclaim that nothing is out there, nothing at all.
Often, the people closest to you are not really able to help, either. It’s difficult for them because they absolutely do not want to believe that even though they are giving you their love, it isn’t enough and you remain seriously ill.
What can you do, if you know someone who is suffering? The one suggestion I have, beyond urging them to seek professional help, is listen. Just listen. Don’t tell the person to cheer up, to fight it, to snap out of it. Don’t offer easy answers. Don’t preach. Offer caring and hope, and leave the dogma for another time.
And if you yourself are suffering, talk to people until you find someone who hears you. Get help, but don’t expect to be instantly cured. All you are trying to do is to gain the strength to endure a little longer, until things really do get better. Which they definitely can. (If you’re suicidal, call 988.)
There are no magic solutions, but there are definite possibilities for help. Pharmaceuticals work for many people (not everyone). Counseling is the answer for some folks, faith for others. Support groups can be a tremendous comfort.
And remember, you don’t always have to be cheery. Depression does not represent a defect or a failure on your part. Some of the most brilliant, creative people in history – authors, artists, musicians – were seriously depressed. It’s all right to embrace the darkness occasionally. The world is a cruel place and only a fool would be perennially blissful when confronting the horrors that exist in our reality.
So, fellow depression sufferers, I salute you. For continuing the fight, for still walking the path, for seeking meaning and goodness. Those things aren’t everywhere, but they will pop out at you from unexpected places.
Animals, nature, exercise, music, classic books with happy endings, and people who listened. That’s where I found my moments of joy in my darkest times.
And love. Try spreading it, not just expecting it.
For, as some British guys once said, in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Gail Binkly is editor of the Four Corners Free Press.