Depression isn’t feeling bad, feeling blue, being down. Every emotionally healthy person feels down or sad. Depression is another thing. Depression isn’t the presence of sadness, it is the absence of happiness. It is the inability to maintain any sense of goodness and it is the conviction that you will never again feel goodness or happiness or well being. And that any effort made in those directions is completely futile. That is depression.
I am a depressive, meaning a person that tends toward depression. My default is about 50/50. On any given day, there’s an even chance I’m depressed-ish. This is interspersed with times of deep depression, lasting anywhere from several months to several years. I have been this way my entire life. My first depressive episode, that I can distinctly recall, was around age eleven. My last deep depression was last fall. My last bad time was this past weekend, when I didn’t leave the bed for three days.
It happens. I learn to deal with it. Experience tells me I have developed the skill set to survive and come out the other side. It never gets easier, though. It never is not exhausting. It a matter of mentally willing my brain into another mode. It is me training my mind to overcome my brain, to override the chemistry and genetics and life-long grooves and ruts depression has worn on the surface of my cerebellum.
It is similar to recovering to sobriety. There are periods when I have to take it moment to moment, or one hour, or one day, at a time. When I remind myself “see, that wasn’t so bad” when I return home from an outside adventure, like grocery shopping Â or buying toilet paper. And those minutes and hours and days will grow until I realize it has been days since I had to remind myself things weren’t so bad and that I’m not a horrible human being.
I was a depressive before I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I’m still a depressive. That hasn’t changed. Layered over top of all of the bullshit depression brings with it is a new coat of self-disgust because I don’t have time to waste on fucking about with feeling bad and not getting things done. A day lost to depression is a day I will never get back and I don’t have a tremendous amount of days to look forward to. I have no business wasting them.
The helplessness I feel is magnified when put beside the grit and determination and purpose I have brought to bear in my push against cancer. Depression is purpose-less. It is grit-less.
Getting through, recovering from, moving forward from depression requires self-care and self-care is not something that comes easily to the depressed person. At the very moment I need to be the most gentle, the most loving, the most cared for/care-filled toward myself, my own brain is telling me I am a loser, a failure, a hopeless pile of shit at the center of every bad thing that has ever happened or ever will happen. And that it is always going to be so. It will always be this way. It will never get any better, no matter what I try.
Thousands of people read and like my words? Doesn’t matter. Depression will pick out every tiny imperfection. Depression will remind me I’m still not paid for my work. Depression will remind me I haven’t worked on the book. I haven’t met my writing goals. Depression will tell me I’m never going to finish the book. I’m not up to it. It is beyond me. I don’t have anything to say. And if I did, no one will be interested.
I beat my prognosis! I’ve lived more than twice as long as expected! Depression don’t care. Depression will point out how little I’ve accomplished since I got sick. Depression will point out how long it took to recover from treatment. How much time I wasted sitting around when I could have been doing things.
Friends and family love me! Depression gives no fucks. Depression will make sure to point out I’m never going to have another romantic relationship the rest of my sad, fucked up, pitiful life. Depression will make sure I never forget every person I ever let down or disappointed. Everything I could have done but did not do for someone else. Depression will tell me I am going to get sick again and no will care and I will die alone and miserable in a puddle of my own shit.
My mind knows all of this is bullshit. My mind is observing all of this going on in my head and is like ‘can you believe the bullshit this motherfucker is spouting?’ but the bullshit, it is strong and shouty and loud. And my mind is polite and reasoned and is of the ‘have you considered you might be wrong?’ variety.
I have to turn my mind into a mighty loud thing which also gives no fucks but evidenced-based giving of no fucks, not irrational no fucks given. Missed word count goals for the day? Depression says obviously this means you will never finish anything and you should give up now because you are a loser. Mighty Mind has to say ‘I don’t give a fuck what you say about one bad day, asshole’. Over and over, all day.
I don’t know what people who are depressed or anxious do with all that extra brain space. Is this why some people can memorize baseball stats? Is this why I can’t remember the French word for pencil? Or why I flunked college algebra? Because the part of my brain that could do those things was occupied with this bullshit? I don’t know.
Depression is a monster and it lives inside of me, like my cancer. It can’t be excised. It can’t be gotten rid of. I can’t scoop out that part of my brain. Just like I can’t scoop out all those microtumors. I manage the depression like I manage my cancer. I see doctors. I take meds. I pay attention to my body. I take care of myself.
If you think maybe the phone calls are coming from the inside of your own brain, like maybe you are depressed, get help. Your depression will tell you it is useless. Or that you aren’t worth it. Or that the effort is futile. Tell that part of your brain to fuck off. Repeatedly. Out loud, when necessary. Do what you have to do to take care of you. The world needs you. I need you. We all need you.