Living With Depression
I am very open about having depression. I have spoken in seminars, written papers and poems, shared my struggles with others, but I tend to only divulge when invited to. Because despite the fact that I have come to accept this depression as part of me, other people, even those closest to me, do not and will not understand. I do not like being depressed. Obviously. If I could choose not to be, I would. But, seeing as it is not going away anytime soon, my only course of action is to learn how to live with it.
During the first year after my formal diagnosis, I was living on campus with my best friend from high school. Unlike anyone else I know, we remain best friends even after having lived together for three years. She is fabulous. With her I have found the most balanced relationship I have ever had—I get as much as I give, and for a tender-heated people-pleaser like me, that is rare. But once, having an off day and feeling really down, I must have said something to betray my mood, and this best friend of mine got truly angry with me. “Just stop being so negative,” she said, exasperated. “Just stop fixating on the bad side of everything and be happy.” Just be happy. Revolutionary. If it were that easy, I would not have had depression in the first place.
The Emptiness Is The Worse
What many people don’t realize is that one of the worst parts of depression, worse than the bitterness, the moodiness and the weepies, is the emptiness. The numbness that spreads through your bones until you realize you have been slouched on the edge of your bed, ready to stand up, for the better part of an hour. It is this emptiness that hollows every laugh, freezes smiling eyes, slumps shoulders down and lines the soles of your shoes with lead.
It is this emptiness that sets the body to stone until every breath works its way out past jutting crags, halved by the time it escapes your lips. It is this emptiness that strikes at those you love most, strikes and strikes again and sees their pain but feels no compulsion to stop causing it and just does not care. That emptiness just really sucks.
Sometimes, sitting on the couch next to my fiancé, I feel like I am wrapped in plastic and encased in a glass fish bowl. He is right there next to me, but every sensation is deadened, delayed as if by water and I could not reach him if I tried. Even if I were to physically touch him, that thing would still be there separating us. I am told this feeling is common but that hardly dismisses it. In fact, one of the only thing that placate me is the knowledge that there is something physically wrong with my brain.
It Is In The Brain
That seems backwards, does it not? But when I am wrapped in plastic and drowning in a fishbowl, the last thing I want to hear is “stop being so negative” and “choose to be happy.” Nothing will shatter that glass and let me feel again. So the knowledge that it is not my fault, that it is in my brain and completely out of my control, is comforting. I do not have to change myself—I can not. It is not a craving or a choice, it is a condition, it is my condition, and it is my life, and I can learn to live it.
There are visible and measurable differences between a healthy brain and one that is depressed. Hormone levels may be different—like too much cortisol, the stress hormone, or too little serotonin, the happy hormone—or the sizes of things might be “off.” The hypothalamus, which processes long-term memories, is noticeably smaller in some people with depression. The amaygdala, which deals in emotions like anger and fear, works overtime in depressed brains. Neurotransmitters may not provide adequate responses to stimuli or may overreact. These are biological and chemical reactions. They have nothing to do with choosing or committing to being happy, so the pressure’s off. I do not have to be happy; I do not expect anyone or anything to fill that emptiness inside me, because that emptiness is not imagined, it is real.
Pushing Through The Fog
I just put my head down and push through the fog and come out the other side grinning, even if only for a little while. I just treat myself with the same gentle kindness I grant others. I sleep when I am not tired, eat when I am not hungry, shower when I do not care, get dressed and get out and go to classes and work and do what I do every other day and I am freed from the constant wondering: does this make me happy? Do I really want to do this anymore?
For some of us, happiness is not a reasonable expectation for ourselves, and that is okay. If it is my mood I can not control it. My actions are the thing I can.
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Another most intimate and vulnerable piece from one of our Contributors! Katelyn Roth concludes this series on Emptiness that we began in response to a reader’s request. Check out the other articles in this series: Empty: It That How You Feel?, My Baby Died: How Do I Go On?, Filling The Dad-Sized Hole In Your Life and Emptiness: A Sign of Emotional Trauma.
Katelyn lives in Pittsburgh, KS., where she is pursuing her Masters in Poetry and is also teaching freshman composition classes. She writes on a variety of topics relating to women empowerment, psychology, healthy relationships and anything that supports the mental health of women. Her recent posts were on “Food Banks: Help Up or Hand Out?” and “Dog, Not Diamond Is Her Best Friend.”
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