This is on older piece that was written a week after learning that a lovely woman that I went to college with had lost her the 13 year old son to suicide. It was heart- breaking news then and still haunts me.
My thoughts turned to Depression on my commute into work today. It has been weighing heavily upon my mind for the last few months, and 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.
I have always pictured Depression as a dark mist. It twirls around your ankles when you are 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. Like an old friend who wants to hang out in pajamas, watch TV, share pints of ice cream and drink wine while you catch up and take a break from your hectic life. 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, nothing gives you pleasure and the only relief is sleep.
Depression is a jealous beast, like an abusive lover. It isolates you from friends and family. Lures you away from the activities you usually enjoy, from food, from sleep. It wants to be your main squeeze and draws all of your mental and physical energy inwards. Eventually, the primary dialogue in your life is between you and Depression. It does not want you to spend time with others who might make you laugh, who might mention a book or a concert that diverts your attention for a moment, or who might encourage you to see a therapist or a doctor.
I have danced with Depression many times over, but with the help of time, family and friends, exercise, sunshine, good therapists and at times medication, I have fought my way back to a place where colors are vivid, food tastes good, and I can take pleasure in things and enjoy rich satisfying relationships with others and, more importantly, with myself. It is not easy to shake off Depression’s strangling embrace but experience has taught me that 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 joy and wonder that I have had in my life. It gets better but it is a journey.
Depression is a very persistent suitor. Constant vigilance is necessary where my old acquaintance is concerned. Learning to recognize when the dark mist has started to move in and learning ask for help before Depression moves its icy 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 the battle I am fighting and how high the stakes are.