Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not in character.
Let’s be clear about something. A mental disorder is just that - a disorder. In the strictest technical sense, there is a medical imbalance of chemicals in the brain preventing someone from feeling “normal”. The misconception that a person shouldn’t be depressed because their “life is great” or they just need to “suck it up” is as about as ridiculous as bedazzled wedding crocs being fashionable. So let’s just quickly cover one of the common bullshit fallacies smeared on the windshield of today’s society.
“You don’t like feeling this way? Change it!”
Picture a wedding ceremony. The bride’s aged, haggard appearance belies her true youth. Her eyes are lined with darkened bags and tear-smeared mascara. Her fingernails are bitten to ragged little nubs. Her dress hangs off the bony knobs of her shoulders, her emaciated frame nearly crippled by the weight of the fabric. Her back is hunched as she tries to shield herself from the horrors around her, her head forever bowed and gaze eternally glued to her unsteady feet.
Her groom is the picture of perfection, nary a hair out of place nor a wrinkle in his custom-tailored suit. His skin is free of blemish, his back ramrod straight, and his eyes are bright. There is an edge, however, to the glint in those glittering eyes, to the set of his chiseled jaw. He seems impatient, uneasy. His critical gaze is focused not on the lady before him but on the details of this stress-ridden event. He checks repeatedly for any defect in the carefully orchestrated scene – a flower too pink, a bow too crooked, a guest seated on the wrong side of the aisle. He restlessly glances at his watch, fearing the ceremony begin just a moment too soon or too late.
This disastrous marriage of inadequacy and perfectionism is doomed from the outset. This is one of the many confusing battles taking place in the mind of someone struggling with depression/anxiety disorder. Never feeling good enough to the point of hopelessness coupled with the overwhelming desire to organize life in such a fashion that you will absolutely never fail at anything. And what’s worse, you can’t just opt out. The perfectionist side will insist that you CAN and that you must strive to be flawless, and when, simply being human, you fail at such, the self-hatred ensures you never forgive your pathetic self for it. This is, at least for myself personally, intrinsic to my very make-up. There is no off-switch, there is no cancel button, there is only unendurable hell.
Change it, you say? I CAN’T. Don’t believe me? Well, then sit back and buckle up, honeybunch, because I’m about to drag you on the rollercoaster of everything that has been prescribed to me by the internet and well-meaning friends and family to overcome my condition that has dramatically and inevitably FAILED.
HEALTHY LIFE, HAPPY LIFE
Endorphins make you happy!
Tell that to my desperate gasps for air as I do something that hardly even resembles jogging on the treadmill. And those green abominations I choke down whose very texture makes me gag? I just want a freaking slice of pizza! Better take those multi-vitamins before I forget.
Did I feel “better” while suffering through the self-care regimen to boost my natural brain chemicals? Well, as much as I hate them in the short-term, the answer is undoubtedly yes. It helped, I can’t argue. But let’s say I do forget those pesky vitamins one day? Picked up some extra hours at work and was too exhausted to make it to the gym? Gave in to that craving for some greasy fried chicken? Well, I beat myself up over it. I suck. Why didn’t I try harder? I’m a stupid, lazy sack of shit and I don’t deserve to be happy.
Yes, I know this is a load of bull. My demons rising from their slumber to haunt me and drag me down with them to the depths of impenetrable gloomy despair. But their claws sink deep and I am doomed to return to the bowels of hell with them as my prisoners, and so the cycle is broken. Sure, I will probably recover in a few months and maybe pick up the routine all over again, perhaps even a new and improved version. So all’s well that ends well, right?
Take it easy, I deserve a break, I’m too hard on myself. I have to learn to forgive myself and move on. I have to learn to love myself. So what if I put on a few extra pounds? I enjoyed that chocolate bar, didn’t I? Spend the whole day in pajamas? I could use a me day.
And slowly, but to me it seems so sudden, I look up and my house looks like the hit zone of a massive tornado. I haven’t gained a few pounds, I’ve gained 30. Okay, 40. I haven’t talked to my friends in two months, and I have twenty unreturned voicemails from my mother. I need to fix this, I need to do better. Surely there’s a happy medium. So what do I do? I crawl into my bed in the pajamas I’ve worn for a week and wait for my eyes to burn with acid-like tears. But they don’t. I lie there, and want only to disappear. I don’t want to exist anymore. I don’t exactly want to die, but I wish I could fall asleep and just. Stop. Being.
Okay, so I’ve found a moderate middle ground. The house may not be spotless, and I don’t work out every day. But the dishes are done and the laundry is washed, even if I haven’t necessarily folded it, and I can worry about the vacuuming later. I shower regularly and I make sure to eat a vegetable or two when I can. Things are great, right? But then why don’t I feel great?
I just need to destress. I drink some chamomile before bed; it doesn’t taste as awful as I’d feared, especially with honey. I color in the words “Let that shit go” in the pretty cursive on the coloring page I’ve gotten myself. Also, it turns out I actually mildly enjoy yoga.
Bitch, what the hell do you think you’re doing? You are and adult using a COLORING BOOK. You think tea is going to solve your problems? Oh look, now you’re doing yoga. What, are you going to start wearing Uggs and ordering Starbucks? (This is not an accurate depiction of what I honestly think of any of these things. Blame the headmonkey, not me, Starbucks.) Why do you need a crutch to be okay? Just get over yourself, you basic bitch.
Bills on autopay, check. Rent check written and sealed in envelope a month before it’s due, check. Meals organized for the entire week, check. Not gonna have time for coloring tonight, gotta cook seven meals to last all week. Tea before bed? Nope, have to wash the windows. Yoga? Hahahahaha! Look at the piece of grass on the carpet by the front door. The whole house needs vacuumed again for the third time this week!
Cue slow descent into madness.
HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY…
Clearly I can’t do this on my own. I am a volleyball of dysfunction being lobbed from one extreme to the other, never quite landing in the middle. Backfire after backfire has proven I need a hand to get where I’m going. So I dial the number, heart pounding in my chest. I walk into the office, breath shallow and uneven. I sit down on the couch, trembling like an earthquake is threatening to rip me in two. And I talk. Slowly at first, then more easily and in more detail. It wasn’t so awful so I decide to go back. Again and again until I feel much better and life resembles something akin to normalcy. Until the therapist says that I’ve made great progress and if I’d like to discontinue our sessions unless something else comes up in the future, that she thinks I’m ready for it. And in that moment I am so proud of myself, so elated, like I’ve just turned my tassel on my cap at Harvard. So I agree excitedly and vow I will continue making progress and I won’t need to come back. Ever.
And I don’t. Come. Back. Because, darn it, I had this beat and I didn’t need help anymore. But I do. Trouble is, now I can’t admit it.
My point isn’t that it’s all hopeless. Yes, this perhaps got a bit darker than my snarky, sarcastic self foresaw. But this is the real chronicling of a very personal battle against the dark side. But I am still here, fighting every damn day for my RIGHT to survive. To thrive. I. Did. Not. Give. Up.
So fight. Fight till you're exhausted, and never be afraid to ask someone to fight for you when you just can’t. Try. Do. Live. And when you fail – and yes, you beautiful soul, you will fail – remember this. You are not alone. Those demons are not you. YOU are you and you are damned amazing. So when one thing doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to switch tactics. Don’t forget to forgive yourself – and sweetie, there really isn’t anything to forgive. You are human and you are perfectly imperfect. And whether yoga or meal-prepping or therapy is what gets you through this shitty world, don’t you ever feel guilty or less than for what works for you, even if it’s only for a little while. There are resources and medications to help you kick this thing’s ass. But whatever you do, don’t stop existing. I promise you, the world would be a darker place. Let your light shine, my love. Shine bright and brilliant. You deserve it.