This blog post was written on March 10, 2015, a week after learning that the 13 year old son of another Mount Holyoke alum had committed suicide. It was simply heart breaking news.
It is not very surprising that my thoughts turned to depression on my commute into work today. It has been heavily on my mind for the last few months, and even more acutely the last week. Depression and I are old acquaintances. We have met many times over the years, both personally and professionally. The first time was when I was twelve. Depression does not discriminate based on age.
When I think of Depression, I picture it as a dark mist. It likes to twirl around your ankles when you vulnerable and under stress, waiting for an opening to seep into your pores. It can be even more patient and insidious, and start to shadow you when things in your life are fine, when your guard is down, biding its time and sinking in so slowly that you almost don’t recognize its presence until you are going under.
Depression sometimes looks innocent when it first arrives. An old friend who wants to hang out in pajamas, watch TV and eat pints of ice cream and drink wine while you catch up and take a break from your hectic lives. It can feel like an old comfortable quilt, or the lure of a warm bed on a dark, cold morning. But it rarely stays so friendly.
Depression starts to spread its dark tendrils deeper and deeper into your soul and whispers lies and distorted truths. It tells you that you are worthless, that you have no friends, that no one loves you. As it takes deeper hold of you, it starts to tell you darker lies—that everything is your fault, that everyone around you would be better off without you and that your pain will never cease. You start to feel like you have entered purgatory on earth. Colors wash out, food doesn’t taste as good and the only relief is when you sleep.
Depression is a jealous beast, like an abusive lover. It isolates you from friends and family, from the activities you usually enjoy, from food, from sleep—it wants to be your main squeeze and it draws all of your mental and physical energy inwards, so that the primary dialogue in your life starts to be between you and Depression. It does not want you to spend time others who might make you laugh, who might mention a book or a concert that diverts your attention for a moment, who might encourage you to see a therapist or a doctor.
I am one of the lucky ones—I have spent time with Depression many times over, but with the help of time, family and friends, exercise, sunshine, good therapists and at times medication, I have come back to a place where colors are vivid, food tastes good, I can take pleasure in things and enjoy rich satisfying relationships with others and with myself. I am incredibly grateful for the times I have shaken off Depression’s strangling embrace—if I had given up and given in to the pain when Depression wanted me to, I would have never experienced all the moments of true joy and wonder that I have had in my life. I know from personal experience that it does get better, but I also know that when you and Depression are alone in the dark, and Depression is whispering its horrible, painful lies in your ear, it is hard to remember that.
I still need to be vigilant about my old acquaintance. There are no guarantees that Depression won’t try to come back and visit. Depression is certainly a persistent suitor. Learning to recognize that dark mist and ask for help before Depression moves its hand from my shoulder and into my soul is a skill I continue to develop. I haven’t won the war yet, but at least I finally understand what battle I am fighting and how high the stakes are.