June 25, 2013

In Defense of Depression

This afternoon has not been an easy one, and the voices in my head would like me to believe that it's my own fault. If I had done all the laundry, run the dishwasher, cleaned the house, washed the floors, spent more time playing with my kids or taken them on an educational outing, then I wouldn't feel a desperate need to do something, ANYTHING to get away from the accusations in my head that I am less than, worse than, not enough.

Since depression is hard enough to comprehend when you have it, I'm sure it's even more baffling if you don't. Shouldn't a bad mood pass quickly? Why can't the person just choose to think about something else -- or just take one of those medications that are always advertised on TV with line-drawn dark clouds of monsters clinging to the victim? Those commercials baffle me. My monsters have never been cartoons. They are more like the watchers that attach to characters in Babylon 5, invisible but able to strangle its host. The days I dread are the ones when I feel more like Miracle Max in The Princess Bride as his wife Valerie is chasing him around the house chanting, "Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck!" Though the image is funny, I assure you the reality is not. There is no escape from my thoughts and no door I can close so I'm insulated from hurt inflicted inside.

Starting in middle school, I began writing to myself in the third person. Scolding about things I'd said or done, ways I should have been better. No matter the behavior, I didn't measure up and I made sure I knew that to my core. I thought if I made myself feel bad enough, I'd do what I was supposed to do to avoid feeling bad. I know now what I didn't know then: shame and guilt are never motivational.

One night in high school, harassed internally and wanting anything in that moment that would make the pain stop, I opened the bathroom closet, grabbed a bottle at random, opened it and downed the handful of pills I found inside. Suicide may be selfish to the observer, but in that moment I was fully convinced I was doing my family a favor. Someone as incapable, unintelligent, unattractive and valueless as I was better off gone.

The minute I swallowed the pills, clarity returned. I was in terror that I might die without my family knowing why. I wrote a feverish letter explaining it wasn't their fault, but mine. I was terrified to sleep, not knowing if I would wake up or not. I did eventually fall asleep, exhausted physically and emotionally, and woke with only a stomachache as a consequence. I called the poison control hotline in private, and though the woman told me I would be OK, she also said I needed to tell someone what I'd done. My mom happened to be gone, and telling my dad was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It is rare to see my dad cry, but he did that day. I promised him I would never attempt suicide again, and I have never thought of breaking that promise.

It doesn't mean the negative thoughts and feelings are gone.

I still dread late nights when my brain is wide-awake. It is so quick to start cycling through unproductive, accusatory thoughts. I have a habit of trying to distract it with mindless computer games, familiar books, or anything that will tire it out enough so that I fall asleep the instant I climb into bed. I am afraid of wakefulness.

People I know with depression are some of the most courageous people I know. They fight through a host of enemies inside themselves more brutal than they will ever meet in the real world, and they know that a minute can feel longer and more bruising than a month of physical training. Getting anything done at all that they 'should' is a tremendous victory--yet they will be unable to celebrate it, because getting something done so often makes the internal attacks even worse.

Please honor those you know with internal demons. No, they won't reel off a list of what they've accomplished that day, but standing to face the day so often takes everything they have. Make no mistake, though, they are strong and determined.

They wouldn't be breathing if they weren't.

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