Depression & Not Giving Up
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I have been having a minor depressive episode. Nothing crazy. It’s happened before, and the last time it did, I was in therapy. I remember asking my therapist why I was depressed, as if a middle-aged balding man could have any idea why my brain chemicals were out of sync. He didn’t try to tell me why though, he just said, “there isn’t always an obvious reason.” I did not like that answer. I am a literal person. If there is a problem, I prefer a solution, and there he was, not giving me one.
I eventually came out of it, with just as little rhyme or reason as I’d entered. I don’t remember what got me out of it, but I know it didn’t last forever. Depressive states are normal, but sometimes calling depression "depression" makes people uncomfortable. As if there is something wrong. There might be something wrong, sure, but nobody is happy all of the time. Life is a long series of ups and downs and the downs might be really low sometimes. That’s as good an explanation for depression as any.
It started weeks ago. I was feeling overwhelmed with a full calendar, a new job, training for an ultra marathon, and writing as much as possible. I had a client, I had partnership meetings and volunteer obligations and people who demand my attention. I didn’t feel like I had space to breathe, and suddenly, the things I used to love started feeling empty. Running didn’t bring me joy. Writing didn’t bring me joy. Traveling felt like a chore. Being around people, even people I love, started feeling difficult. Most of us can act one way and feel another. I was doing that for a very long time; acting happy and joking and laughing, then crawling into bed with my cat to cry into his soft orange fur, for no apparent reason.
People don’t like crying, just like they don’t like words like “depression.” I guess it makes them uncomfortable, although I don't see why. Some of my favorite people have faced some of the worst things, and having been in dark places, are no longer afraid of the darkness.
I don’t like telling people that I’m depressed, because nobody can do a damn thing about it. My least favorite piece of advice is the unimaginative “move your body” advice. Exercise is helpful to boost the ole mood, sure. But it’s certainly not a cure-all for being depressed. I’ve been highly active most of my life. Many days, I work out twice. And working out feels great, but when I’m in a rut like this, exercise is more a temporary relief than a lasting salve. People are complicated, and taking a narrow approach to any problem doesn't seem very smart. I would love a narrow solution to feeling depressed though. That’s what I asked my therapist for. But it simply does not exist, and anyone who tells you different is a liar at best. So anyway, I don’t like to tell people when I’m depressed because it doesn’t help much, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and it almost feels like a burden to have to explain why, when there is no apparent reason why.
A few days ago, I knew it was bad because I didn’t have an appetite. I couldn’t sleep, despite being exhausted. There was a general feeling of numbness about me, like I could stick a coat hanger right through my ribcage and not even feel it.
Probably, I am over-subscribed. Over tired. Spending too much time in a mode of productivity and not enough time just being. Spending too much energy on things that zap my energy and not enough time on things that feel fulfilling. It would be easy to stop doing everything. To stop running so much or writing so much, or adhering to the high standard I set for myself. But I don't stop, because I know I can't. If I stopped, I'd have nothing to chase and I’d sink even further into this numbness.
It is a raw and vulnerable thing to admit feeling depressed. The world is not always kind, and from the outside looking in, I have a good life. But nobody knows the inner world of another person. We’re all broken and bruised in one way or another, and uncovering that brokenness is nothing short of human.
When people find me online before meeting me in person I wonder what they think of me. I wonder how well they think they know me, and I also don’t really care. I started this blog as a way to cope with my own problems and to hopefully reach others who might be struggling or hurting. People say it’s okay to not be okay, and the world we live in is full of hard corners and sharp edges. It's not only okay, it's inevitable. The fact that we have to articulate that being-sad-isn't-bad strikes me as the ultimate people pleaser. We're all so uncomfortable with pain that we try our damndest to hide it, even though it's eating most of us alive, or at least, it's trying to.
Like last time, I’m sure I’ll escape this depressive state. Like a shadow that cannot live in the sun, depression does not usually persist forever. I don’t have advice. I’m not a shrink and would never claim to even want to be one. But I do know that if I keep doing the things I love, I’ll eventually start loving them again. And I do know the same is true for you.