Years ago, I made an appointment with a doctor in Century City. Over the course of three or four years my body had grown disproportionate and my weight gain had spiraled out of control. I was fat and my weight kept rising. It was a scary confirmation that my depression was out of control, a fact that I knew all too well. My ability to eat, though, meant that I was alive. I wasn’t suicidal and I didn’t kill myself. I often felt I should be dead. The pain was unbearable.
The doctor greeted me in his office and we did a routine exam and blood work. He asked me a series of questions and I told him I suffered from horrible fatigue and could never get out of bed. I’d had this as long as I could remember.
My new doctor knew I suffered from depression and that I’d been diagnosed a few years prior by another doctor. I was in college at the time I was diagnosed, even though I’d certainly had a tendency most of my life. During my diagnosis, my doctor and I discussed the history my family had with depression and suicide. Just about everyone in my mother’s family had been depressed and one had a successful venture with suicide. I had reason to be worried about myself and I was proud of myself for seeking help.
The new doctor diagnosed me with anxiety, which surprised me. I’d always concluded that depression was the cause of all my problems but he’d handed me another issue–something that complicated my feelings about myself and my pain even more. I knew I suffered high-levels of anxiety but I’d never thought much about it. I stressed often and greatly. I often felt unloved, like I was detestable to people. Was this anxiety or depression or low self-esteem? It was hard to figure out; they all merged together.
Earlier, when I was religious, I’d learned to call myself a sinner often and my normal tendency to be introspective, which I now realized was probably something related to anxiety or depression, was tuned up to high-gear while I scanned my mind for sinful thoughts or patterns. I was compounded with guilt daily, because my ability to be introspective and critical was great. But I was guilty over things I couldn’t change about myself and now that I write this, I was guilty about things I wouldn’t change.
I’ve learned to cope with depression and anxiety. Not perfectly, but I’m too hard on myself or so my mom says. I have a new doctor who is regulating my weight and he says I’m too hard on myself, too.
My mother and I have conversations several times weekly. She assures me I’m normal and strong and in a way it’s like she’s telling herself this. At eighteen, she attempted suicide. When she calls me and tells me she’s concerned about me, I know there’s more than just motherly concern. She can feel the change in me. The dive into darkness. The feelings of being overwhelmed with loneliness.
The past two weeks been dark and lonely. Regardless of who surrounds me, how busy I am, or how active I am, I feel it. I feel the plunge and I can’t escape. Depression, some people argue, is something you CAN prevent. You can control your feelings and make your way out of it, they say. It’s a choice and you’re lazy or weak if you can’t fix yourself, they tell me.
Years ago my friend Jordan was frustrated with me. I often cried on the phone with him. I was deeply depressed some days and I was hoping he could help. He knew my pain all too well; his mother suffered from the same thing and according to him, had never accepted help for it.
“Lisa, you need to get help for this. No one, not even your mom, is going to be able to force you to live or try to get better. You have to pull yourself together and get help.”
I didn’t think I needed medication at the time and Jordan was trying to convince me otherwise. I followed his advice and I accepted the medication from my doctor. I decided to try to get help for myself so my dark days would seem a little brighter. For years it helped. Although it took months to see improvement, I started getting out of the emotional state I was in. Until about a month ago, I often thought, “This is what it feels like to be NORMAL.”
About a month ago, I took birth control pills and the suicidal thoughts started again. It’s normal for some patients to feel this way, the package said. So I stopped the pills. My emotions regulated. I was almost normal again.
But some things happened in my personal life that shook me up. I’m a crier and for two hours I lay in bed crying. I was having a breakdown and didn’t know how to make it through. The “normal” answers of how to fix it came to mind, including death. For hours I contemplated what to do and thought pills would be the most effective way to end it. What kind, though? How many? Couldn’t I just check myself in somewhere? Do I call my mom? No, it’s almost midnight.
Then I thought about a very minor thing: I had a work deadline tomorrow. I can’t breakdown. I had to pick myself up and figure out how to feel better. It was simple, but that’s what kept me hanging on that time. With depression you can’t just force yourself to feel better but sometimes, it seems with age the more dark times you go through the more you realize that just by the nature of depression the lows will go away for awhile and until they return you will get several days or weeks of relief. And you’ll do it all over again but you’ll be a little stronger next time. And eventually, maybe, you’ll realize that those who are depressed are often some of the most brilliant artists or the most caring individuals and you’ll see something wonderful in the parts of you you once were ashamed of.
This is what it feels like to be depressed.
For more on depression, read A Woman Of Compressed Power: The Redeeming Side Of Depression, a follow-up piece I wrote in 2013.