People with depression will try to speak metaphorically about it. You will hear phrases likening depression to a storm, a roller coaster, falling down the rabbit hole, or dancing with demons. Metaphorically they are all accurate descriptions.
Depression comes and goes like a storm. The length of the storm can vary and if it is a bad storm there will be debris to sort through. Damage will need to be assessed and a real life clean-up will occur. Some storms can be predicted. Like weather there is a change in pressure. The atmosphere feels different. Do you ever feel the static build up inside you before you touch a doorknob and are zapped by the electrical discharge? That is what anxiety feels like. For me, and for many others who suffer depression, the anxiety is the prediction of the coming storm.
Anxiety is the moment right before the ride starts and you are fearful of what the ride will bring. Imagine you just watched the Final Destination where the roller coaster flies off the tracks and crushes everyone to death on the asphalt below. Now imagine you sit on the tracks for a bit while the workers do some “emergency maintenance”. Chances are your imagination is running wild. You are scurrying through all the possibilities until the bell rings and the ride starts. Hands clasping tight you close your eyes and hope for the best because there is NO getting off the ride.
Once the ride starts your brain literally falls down the rabbit hole. You are no longer living in reality. All those things you worried about while waiting for the storm to hit or the ride to start are very real possibilities. The rabbit hole is very much like Alice In Wonderland in that nothing has to make any sort of logical sense. Your brain very literally, chemically, has been hijacked. All the demons you fight will be in this hole. They will convince you to stay with them.
I always think of the song by the Eagles, Hotel California
Last thing I remember,
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check out anytime you like
But you can never leave.”
All the things you fear. The mistakes you’ve made. All your hopes and dreams are fair game while the storm is raging. A puppet show performs inside your brain trying to change your perspective and all the things you think you know. It is like being stuck inside a war and the only thing that will save you is the knowledge that it isn’t real. There is a tunnel leading out of the rabbit hole, an end to the storm, the music will stop playing and the demons will let you go. But just like a roller coaster you have to let the ride finish before you hop out.
Being on the very tail end of my last bout of depression I thought I would jot down a few things that came to mind.
GRASPING FOR REASON
I seek help but because I don’t understand the why of the storm (nothing has to be wrong or has to happen to get depressed). I grasp for reasons. Depression is all to eager to offer up several possible ideas.
“You didn’t talk to me this morning like you normally do… therefore I did something wrong and you hate me. If you hate me then why not just stop talking to me? Oh… you slept in? Now I feel stupid.:”
Then depression takes that stupid feeling and uses it to pick apart the situation above. You are not good enough, you are crazy, and nobody in their right mind would put up with that shit. You should save them and just leave… better yet everyone would be better off without you. You shouldn’t exist.
I think it is really important that you are completely honest with your loved ones. That you will get hijacked and as much as you fight for control your nasty self-pity will leak out. The mistrust and questioning will hurt them so it’s important to let them know beforehand it isn’t about them.
Depression is extremely selfish. It is easy for people that don’t understand to say, “Just make better choices, work harder, be better, take control, or love yourself more.” Depression is NOT an excuse to go around hurting those you love. They shouldn’t accept that type of behavior and neither should you. You may not be able to control the thoughts inside your head but you can create rules and boundaries for when the episodes take place.
This takes patience and time.
Every time will be different. But I think I have learned something that could be very helpful. When depression strikes… let the person you love know. Let them know it is pointless to have a conversation when depressed and the best thing to do is to just simply listen. That’s it. Try to remember the things being said are tainted by irrationality and self-destruction. Anything aimed at you can be written down and maybe discussed later when the depressed person is rational again. There are so many things I have said that have no basis in reality and I feel great shame and regret in voicing them.
STAY THE COURSE
Keep working to get better. Better understand how your mental illness manifests and start safeguarding yourself and those around you. Don’t just say this is the way I am and if you loved me you would just deal with it. If you love yourself and those around you enough you will do the work it takes to improve. Go to therapy. Find the right medication. Work through rough episodes to try to find ways to mitigate the damage.
Anxiety takes a lot of energy. Mental energy is on overdrive for an extended period of time. The brain is overheating and once depression sets in it needs rest. If a person is working hard to stay on medication or is going to therapy. If they are getting at least a little exercise every day and doing a few minimal chores then let them sleep. Chances are they already feel guilty for being so tired. They keep trying to do all the things but they are wearing themselves out even more and prolonging the length of the depressive episode.
Encourage them to rest. If you can find the time lay with them. Stroke their hair. Rub their back. There is no need to talk just be there.
I am convinced everyone has something they have to work on. Whether it is a diagnoseable illness or just a strong personality formed by radical ideas that causes us to have relationship problems; I believe we can all try harder. I have anxiety that leads to depression. It is a cycle and I am learning the best way I can to live a productive life despite it. We can help each other be better. Having compassion and trying to understand will go a long way.
Having a mental illness is not an excuse to be an asshole.
Being an asshole though will happen from time to time… learn from your mistakes and carry on. You will not find any answers by digging through the rubble your damage caused. Look for ways to contain the storm. A safe place to ride it out. Safe people who won’t let you drown. And you will find there will be less and less damage to clean up.