Living with Depression

I do my best, but sometimes it gets to be a lot and I think that maybe I wouldn’t move if a bus were coming at me. Lately has been one of those times. (I don’t feel like going into that right now, though. Go read My Best Friend is Dying and Grief if you really want to know.)

I don’t want to talk about my depression online, mostly because I feel like I’m just whining for attention. Talking about it makes me feel like I’m in high school all over again. I feel like I shouldn’t dwell on the negative when it comes to my depression. I feel like doing so just drags me back down into that pit I’ve taken years to crawl out of. Further, the way I deal with this disability is… not the common method as far as I know and given that I live in the South (albeit a more progressive area) I don’t like to be lectured on what religious beliefs I should be using instead. However, I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’ve learned some things over the years that might be useful for other people suffering from depression to know.

I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember. I didn’t have an actual word for it most of that time. I just knew I was alone and lonely. I turned the frustration I had at the world on myself. After all, moving from one place to the next as a child meant that I didn’t have a nemesis or mortal enemies to blame for why I felt bad. The only consistent thing in life was me, so therefore I must be the problem. Even though looking back now as an adult, being the new kid in every grade made me a prime target for bullying, which might be where a lot of this stems from.

To cope with this horrible emotional hole I was stuck in, I developed several methods over the years.

Day-dreaming: I’d make up friends. I’d make up people who would listen to me and play with me. I had a friend that was only with me when I could remember her name. She was an Elvin princess who liked to hang out with me in order to experience life on Earth. She was from another world and would tell me about how her world was beautiful and full of nature. Earth was pretty, too, but not in the same magical way. The trees in her world had blue leaves and the flowers glowed. I never questioned why she would hang out with me, but I appreciated the company. I do still remember her name…

Writing: After I discovered that reading could be enjoyable, I’d begun putting my fantasies onto a blank Word document. I frequently drove myself to tears writing my terrible stories. The catharsis was good, but still I was wallowing in misery. I never wrote anyone from my real life into my stories because I was writing to get away from them. I don’t know how good my stories were. I’ve got hard disks with copies of my old stuff on them. The technology is so old now, I’m not sure how I would get access. The series I wrote most often included a self-insert character that could do anything she wanted. She was beautiful, tall, long thick hair, and everything I wasn’t. People loved her, she was a force of nature, a hero that saved those who needed saving whenever she saw trouble. She stepped in and did the right thing, whether it was what anyone else wanted or not.

Mental imagery: This was the beginning of when I’d grown tired of living in agony. Life was much like walking through a sandstorm. I could see vague shapes of other people in the dust, but felt like even if I called out, no one would hear, my mouth would only fill with sand, they were too busy with their own concerns and wouldn’t help me anyway. Every day, the wind would pelt me with sand, wearing down who I was and my energy until I was nothing. Many days I imagined just falling face-down and letting the sand bury me because continuing was pointless anyway.

The problem was that something inside me didn’t want to give up yet. Things kept getting worse and worse at one point. I’d been torn apart by a bad relationship, fired from a job, and still needed to pay bills in order to have somewhere to live. I felt like my chest was being torn open by my soul as it tried to escape my still-beating heart. I had my reasons for not killing myself that night. I really wanted to, but I’d deliberately put safety backups into my life. I had a friend living with me and I cared enough about them to not make them be the one to find me the next morning. So, something in me still wanted to fight.

The biggest hurdle to getting better was that there was a stigma against taking medication. I felt like this was all in my head. I should have figured out how to live with myself by now on my own. Everyone else seemed capable of functioning on a daily basis without having to go cry in the bathroom at least once before lunch. Yeah. Depression IS in my head, but it took me far too long to realize that I was ruining my life and relationships by refusing to get medication. That’s my biggest regret. If I’d had better mastery of my emotions, what could I have achieved sooner? I probably wouldn’t have lost as many jobs or lost out on as many opportunities as I have. There are so many things I started and abandoned because I couldn’t follow through. I hate that I wasted so much time.

Enough on that though. I wanted to talk about how I started getting better!

As I said before mental imagery was my key. After getting on medication, I began changing the mental landscape I’d given myself. No longer a sandstorm with a ruined dead tree at the center. I gave myself a peaceful place in the mountains overlooking a lake. I built a tower. At first my tower didn’t have windows, but then over time I opened it up to the light. I like being able to see into the distance. I need the sunlight and the wind. I need to reach into the sky and touch clouds.

Just like I rebuilt the landscape, I rebuilt how I thought of myself. Within my mental tower I began putting bad thoughts into cardboard boxes and taping them up. I’d throw them out the window. I didn’t need these evil things in my head, ruining my paradise. The world is harsh enough. I didn’t want these thoughts cluttering up where I live too.

The final thing was when I asked myself some serious questions. Do I have any basis to say I’m worthless or a hag or any of the mean things I’d tell myself? No one ever said any of these things to me that I remember. So why was I? Who was I punishing?

The answer is that I was only hurting myself and it wasn’t even fixing the things I hated. The people being punished were the ones who loved me, not the ones I wanted attention from. The fact that I wanted attention wasn’t a problem either, but how I was seeking it WAS. Honestly, there were better things I could do with my time and energy than sit and hate myself in the dark.

The answer is that I was only hurting myself and it wasn’t even fixing the things I hated. The people I was punishing were the ones who loved me, not the ones I wanted attention from. The fact that I wanted attention wasn’t a problem either, but how I was seeking it WAS. Honestly, there were better things I could do with my time and energy than sit and hate myself in the dark.

Like I said at the start of this, I have days where I don’t know how fast I’d move if a bus were hurtling towards me, but my good days outnumber the bad. I use my imagination to deal with the anxiety and depression that leak through, even on medication. Mostly, I write. I can live new lives through my characters and grow and change with them. Instead of heaping abuse on myself, I destroy them and it is a much better use of my time. Writing lets me express myself through a filter. Unlike these essays where I just feel exposed. Where I feel like I’m standing in the front yard in my panties. I prefer to hide behind the characters. Maybe I do sympathize with Likka. Maybe I don’t. It’s a work of fiction so I don’t have to say one way or another. Whether its healthy or not, it’s how I live with my depression.

Colors

When I was little, I lived in Germany.

We lived in a rented house off base, out in a rural area. The whole setting was a study of verticals. We lived on a steep hill that was great for sledding. There were gentle rolling mountains with cattle trails where civilization stepped back to a time before cars. Local farmers would drive cattle up the road every weekend, taking them to market. I remember that my sister told me that the brown cows gave chocolate milk. The house we rented was three-stories; each level was its own apartment. We lived in the middle. The people above us stomped and I was fascinated by how they could be so loud. I think they were a single mother and a couple of little kids. She had red hair and was American.

I remember the fog and snow more than the blue skies or sun. Sometimes the fog would be so thick it could limit sight distance to the length of an arm. It was a white a blanket of muffled isolation that my sister and I still had to forge our way through to get to the bus stop at the top of the hill.

The road to school was long and narrow with fields on either side. I couldn’t talk to the bus driver, but he thought it was funny when I made animal sounds at him. I recall the bus being generally empty most of the time. If it had other children, they didn’t register on my mind enough for me to remember them now. Likely they were children that went to school on the base and generally shunned me because I was weird, or they were German children I couldn’t talk to anyway. The most vivid moments of that bus ride were the ones with an overwhelming color; the bright green of the fields on either side or the heavy fog.

The neighbors were native Germans. I had a memorized phrase to ask if I could play with their children. I don’t really remember playing with the kids there, though. They seemed disdainful towards me. They had rabbits and chickens in pens in the back yard. It was there that I realized that “lucky rabbit’s feet” weren’t lucky for the rabbit. The idea that bones and toenails are beneath that brightly dyed fur bothers me and I haven’t touched one since. This was once a living creature and it was killed for its foot. Likely not just for its foot, but I was doing good at the time to comprehend that it was undoubtedly dead and what that meant.

Bored with my own back yard and solitude, I went to visit them once. I was in a sitting room at the back of the house. My sister hadn’t accompanied me. I was with the man of the house though I’m not sure how old he was, I think he may have been their grandpa. He was a quiet and gentle man, that couldn’t speak English. Maybe if he could, he could have told me not to grab that wasp. His granddaughter was playing piano in another room; laboriously plucking Moonlight Sonata in the Summer heat with all the windows open. She had no interest in me. She was several years older than me and not interested in my sister’s company either, though they got along better than I did with anyone. The window in the room looked out into the dusty backyard chicken coop. Afternoon sunlight streamed in, bright against the shadows of the room. A wasp landed on the window sill; its body jewel-yellow and glistening black. The German grandpa was nice and put ice on my sting, but I didn’t go home even then. 

After all, no matter where I went, I’d be in pain and alone. 

Now that I think of it, perhaps I was being babysat because my sister was at her dance class. She got to do a lot more things than I did. I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t expressed any interest or if I was too young…

I played in the back yard by myself a lot.

Once, I was pretending to be Paul Bunyan. I was pretending to be a giant as I stomped among the overgrown grass and swung a jump rope around like a scythe. I was lonely and not at all entertained by my imagination. The overcast sky suited my mood. I wanted a companion of some kind, and that’s when I found a bright red cardinal. He let me pick him up. I wanted to feed him but I didn’t know what cardinals ate. I called him Peter. Peter was a good bird, he didn’t bite or struggle, so I assumed he was okay with me holding him. I showed him to Dad, hoping that this was the start to my career of being a Disney Princess. Dad took him from me and threw him into the field behind the fence in the back yard. I was devastated and went inside to spend the rest of the day sulking.

There was no point to this post, btw. Just talking about myself.

I’ve been hiding this draft away for a while now. Not sure if I want to publish and expose myself to the world. But I guess now is a good time as any. It will get buried by newer posts and hidden away and no one will ever find it.

I have anxiety and depression and these are some of my earliest memories containing those feelings. I don’t know what caused it, whether it was biological or induced by circumstances. This is just a thing I’ve come to realize will never go away. It may have something to do with why I worry about what others think of me and also have something to do with my outlook on life in general. It’s taken me a long time to get where I am, but in a way I’m glad of the journey and the lessons learned.

Even though thinking back on it now makes me sad because of how lonely and ignored I was. Living off-base in Germany was certainly hard. There wasn’t anyone my age with a shared language I could talk to or play with. I had no friends in school either. Nothing really connected me to anyone there except location. As a result, I talked to myself a lot, made weird noises all the time, and lived in my head during school hours because it was better than getting told to sit down and shut up by an abusive teacher in first grade. When she wasn’t ignoring us, she was yelling at the class. She watched me sit and chew my bangs off with safety scissors one time. 

should i even talk about this?

I have always struggled with depression. 

At this point, I don’t remember everything that was going through my head during the early years of my illness. Mostly it was an overwhelming sense of shame and jealousy. Everyone else was able to function in society on a daily basis, why couldn’t I? I felt like there was just something I was missing; some tool or way of thinking that I couldn’t grasp that would fix my problem. I remember it mostly starting in middle school. I was filled with rage; mostly at myself for being such a failure at life. I was a mess. I wanted to die. I was convinced I was worthless and had nothing to contribute. I was too scared of dying to actually try killing myself for real. I was afraid of the consequences of not succeeding, but in some small way, trying did make me feel better. 

Briefly in high school I was on medications. I wrote a note that landed me in the psychologists office. He read it out loud in front of my parents. He was mocking me. I wondered, why are you a psychiatrist if you hate your patients so much? 

The psychiatrist put me in group therapy. I hated that. The people there were just as depressed as me. I was never offered any solutions. We were just encouraged to talk about our bad days and I didn’t want to admit that all my garbage was self-inflicted; or I thought it was. Maybe some of it was. Mostly, though, I wanted attention. I wanted someone to look at me and tell me “you are valid, how you feel isn’t wrong, you’re just dealing with it wrong.” I wanted someone to actually take the time to show me how to change myself and become a better version of me.

Ultimately, I stopped taking the medication because I was embarrassed to need it for something so simple. I should be a capable, functioning person by now, I thought.

I got along for a while. It was difficult, but I finished college. Then tripped and landed right back into a situation of my own making that destroyed me for several years. You would think that having a boyfriend with a psychology degree would have helped. Apparently they just taught him how to tear me down further. (Seriously, why go into that field of study if you ultimately hate people and just want to see them destroyed?)

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom. I really was going to do something permanent to myself. I had no job and no insurance. I had a house that I loved, but if things continued, I would either have to sell it or rent it out. I felt like a failure. 

I finally went to the doctor. It was expensive and it was money I really didn’t have. Meds were like $40 for 30 pills a month. I’m glad I did it, though. I think back on that as my ultimate triumph over this sickness.

It was a gradual change. I had fewer bad days at first. Then more good than bad days. Now I can count the bad days as once or twice a month. I’m not as jealous of other people being able to keep their lives together now. I still have anxiety issues from time to time, but they don’t ruin my whole day. I can finally extract myself from the situation and recognize what triggered it. The best part, though, is that I finally have control of my life. I am capable of behaving appropriately 99% of the time and disappointments aren’t the end of the world. 

What I’m trying to say with all this, I suppose, is that there’s no magical fix for depression, but there’s no shame in needing medications for it. Much like needing glasses to correct vision, or insulin to treat diabetes, or medications to prevent seizures, anti-depressants can help treat the imbalance in the brain. While it was expensive, treating my illness was worth the money in the long run. The time I spent in bed unable to do basic things like feed myself were hours I could have spent writing or advertising my books. That was time I could have spent generating an income doing something I loved. Now I can afford my meds, because I’m able to get up in the mornings and go to work and do the things I need to during the day.

In a way, I’m glad I hit bottom, because its hard to find solid footing when you’re in a haphazard tumble down the mountain. Turned out this mountain wasn’t so difficult to climb after all. I just needed the right gear.