How does a person experiencing chronic depression function every day? How do they talk themselves into getting out of bed and beginning their day?
For years, I would lie in my bed and wonder why I should even bother. Before I sought help — which in itself took far too long to manifest — the days were filled only with thoughts of death and dying. And when my brain got on that topic, it was difficult to shut it off. I was told by those who didn’t know better, “Think more cheerful things!”, or “Maybe you need to count your blessings.”
If it were that easy, that simple, don’t you think everyone experiencing depression would try those things?
At the time, I was a shut-in, a recluse by choice, because simply facing the day was far too painful and difficult than I had the resources for. I would leave the house only to go to work, and I could manage for those few hours to “act” like I wasn’t dead inside. As soon as I departed from the workplace, however, it came crashing back like a tsunami of dread. And sometimes I wouldn’t be capable of crawling from my bed. It was not unusual to call in sick to work to the point where I was in danger of being fired. In that mental state, I thought, “I deserve to get fired. I don’t deserve to make a living.” This is not self-pity, this is the chemical imbalance in my brain fomenting depression.
This went on for months and years. There are portions of my past I simply don’t remember. Depression isn’t just a black cloud that constantly hangs over your head, but a black shroud that envelops you and keeps you from seeing, breathing, living.
I knew I couldn’t go on like that. So with excruciating slowness, I forced myself to function. It wasn’t easy. A Sisyphusian effort. Eventually, I moved from the location where I found myself. I decided to get a dog, knowing how being near canines had always helped me as a child. So I adopted a black Lab, one of the more social animals of the species. I knew that sometimes I had to “trick” myself into functioning, and a dog was one of those tactics. When you’re deeply depressed, you don’t turn to friends and family, because you believe there’s something horribly wrong with you. You don’t want to burden others with your troubles. They’re yours. You own it, and it owns you. Like the worst of an abusive relationship, you are held captive…and while it may appear like a choice from the outside, only you know the truth.
The dog was helpful. She forced me to face the world daily, whether I wanted to or not, because I had to focus and care for a living being outside of myself, and my innate sense of helping others was strong. For four years, I grew stronger. Then I adopted another dog. Finding meaningful work happened. I began to crawl out of the massive darkness within. There were days I backslid, screaming as I fell into that endless blackness inside me once more. But each time, a cold nose and a wagging tail was my guide back to the light. In 2006, I fell ill twice, both necessitating lengthy stays in a hospital. During one such episode, I died. Twice. Revived both times. But I had lost the use of the right side of my body, all my memory, and many other functions I had taken for granted. It would be a long three years in recovery. My dogs were there for me at every hesitant step.
It’s been since 2010 that I’ve felt like I’ve come back from that abyss, both the medical version and the mental version. I found that, in recovering my motor functions, I also recovered my will to survive, to live. I credit my dogs with much of that. But I also realized the mental state I’d been living with for so long, and sought help. Then began that journey of learning how to live positively, with intent and purpose.
There’s no certain “cure” for depression. But there are ways to help yourself. You have to be the one to ask for the help, because the very nature of depression keeps us from reaching out. Unless someone recognizes what we’re going through and intervenes, it’s up to us to help ourselves. The first steps are baby steps. Once you remember what it feels like to laugh, be happy, and to find joy in every day, that becomes your motivation to continue. But it doesn’t happen on its own.
Depression is not shameful, though it would have you believe differently. It’s an illness that is silent, and will eat you alive from the inside out. Don’t wait. Do it today, before you’re talked out of it by that darkness.