*Warning to the pure of heart and to the puritanical of speech: I use a bad word in this post. Twice.
This is not a post about a Beatles song. This is a post about depression, titled for the song I associate so strongly with the experience.
Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.
Strawberry Fields Forever.
and this one:
Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn’t matter much to me.
The bit about apathy – and the bit about nothing seeming real, and most especially the bit about sinking – ring true to me, when I think of depression. But the part about living with eyes closed is what I really find striking. You see, depression is easy to misunderstand. All you have to do is equate it with sadness, as is so perfectly explained in this post. But that’s willfully, woefully naive. In my experience – and believe me, I have a fair bit of experience when it comes to depression – sad isn’t an adequate descriptor. I would say tired, cranky, empty, listless, hungry, broken, apathetic, grumpy, confused, out of focus, and (to quote a Herman Cain parody) “crazy as a shithouse rat” are all equally valid ways to describe my own experiences with depression. Actually, feeling crazy comes a little later, as I start to remember that I do, in fact, have a mental illness, and that some of the things I’ve recently said to my long-suffering spouse might have been a tiny bit unfair. Then I also feel chagrined. Ashamed. Repentant. Which is sort of silly, because it’s not like I grew this thing on purpose, the way one grows an extra long toenail. Depression just sort of appeared. More like a wart. Fellow depressed people of the world, I apologize right now for that simile, which I will no doubt later regret.
I am not, as it may now be apparent, a huge fan of my condition, although I do think it has made me a better person, as it has increased my capacity for empathy a hundredfold. I’m pretty sure it also once cost me a job that I loved, and it has damaged some of my closest relationships, and there have been points where I wondered if it would in the end cost me my life. I’m not sure I’d call it a positive life experience, all things considered. Then again, it has made me realize that I have a wonderful and supportive group of family and friends, and a really great nurse practitioner who specializes in women’s health and talked me into trying Lexapro for the first time, which was life changing (and if you’re like me and don’t like to take medications, consider this: I think that antidepressants saved me. They were well worth trying. And I don’t even like to take aspirin).
But this is maybe the most important point I can make about having depression: when I am actively depressed and yelling and crying and anxious and unable to get out of bed, I feel (quite strongly, actually) that I am being perfectly reasonable. Because in that moment, I don’t see that I have depression. I see that life is overwhelming, that it’s frustrating, that I’m exhausted and sick for perfectly valid reasons. It is a Herculean effort just to go to work, and so I tell you: in that moment, when someone well intentioned and loving says something along the lines of “cheer up,” or “just keep trying,” or “it will get better,” every time someone asks me what I’m sad about, or tells me that I just need to stick to a schedule or take some herbal supplement…I find myself harboring secret hopes that they, too, will someday go a round or two with depression. Not a long round. Certainly not as long as some of mine have been. Just long enough to gain some insight, so that they will never force another depressed person to listen to their well intentioned bullshit again.
You know what does help with depression? An SSRI and an understanding spouse, and probably not in that order. I’ve been fortunate enough to have both of these critical supports in managing my depression, which is a chronic condition that I like to pretend I don’t have. I do this in two ways: by not talking about my depression, and by repeatedly going off my meds. My psychiatrist, not surprisingly, finds this less than endearing. But this is the nature of stigma and mental illness: we all like to pretend we don’t have a mental illness, even though so very many of us do.
and so finally, I leave you with one last line from Strawberry Fields:
That is you can’t, you know, tune in but it’s all right – that is I think it’s not too bad.
Sometimes – and I am so grateful that this isn’t one of those times – it really is bad. But on the whole, my life with mental illness (or, as I like to think of it, the last decade and a half) has turned out alright. Since I’m changing my habits one month at a time, I figured I’d keep the shortest month of the year the simplest: I’m changing a habit of thought, rather than action. I will no longer think of depression as something to be hidden away. I will in fact share it with the entire internet. As my finger hovers over the “publish” button, I’m not even nervous about such disclosure to all of the people I know and many people I really don’t – what I feel instead is hope. Hope that if enough of us claim it, out in the open, without shame and even with humor and good grace – the stigma surrounding mental illness will go away.
For me, this seemed like a good day to step forward and say that this is a part of me. And I am not ashamed.