May is National Mental Health Month. Last summer, I wrote about going public with depression. Maybe that’s all I need to say on the subject. Maybe not. I wrote about what it’s like for me to experience depression and how I try to cope with it, I didn’t really write about what it’s like to live in our society with depression.
I’ve been sad lately. Not falling-down-the-rabbit-hole depressed. Not stuck-in-the-swamp overwhelmed with life. Just sad. My thoughts are sad. My affect is sad. My dreams are sad. I’m also still – so slowly – adjusting to the Neurontin. It’s hard to tell whether the sadness, the lack of energy, the low motivation, the desire to sleep are all about the drug or partly about the depression. Or whether I’m just sad.
Asking these questions of myself, not trusting my emotions, is part of living with depression for me. I recognize different aspects of depression in myself. I know part of it – especially the falling down the rabbit hole part – is probably biochemical. Part of it – particularly the stuck in the swamp part – is most likely situational. Part of it, I think, is just me. The person who tends to react to everything – stress, anger, fear, happiness, success, everything – with depression. I really don’t like this part. I think I’m a bad person. Weak. A loser.
I know that people who care about me or who are otherwise my friends will object to that kind of thinking. But perhaps they’ve never lived with depression. Maybe they’ve never had people, even well meaning people, tell them that they just need to grow up. Or that they should pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Or that it’s not so bad. Maybe they’ve never been judged because they aren’t working. Maybe they’ve never had people walk away because they’ve talked about having attempted suicide when they were young. Or worse, that they sometimes think about death now, even if they have no plans to act on those thoughts. People really, really don’t want to hear that. Maybe they haven’t gone for months at a time having to force themselves out of the house. Maybe they regularly sleep for more than a few hours per night.
However that sounds, I don’t usually feel sorry for myself about that. People who haven’t experienced depression don’t understand it. It’s like people with diabetes complaining that everyone doesn’t understand diabetes. Much as I hate to admit it, before I was diagnosed and learned to live with it, I had no real understanding of diabetes. I thought I did. Looking back, it embarrasses me just how little I knew and the assumptions I made. So I recognize that people don’t get it. Some of them mean well. Some are truly judgmental. But most probably mean well.
Still, I’m embarrassed by depression. I judge myself harshly. I feel less than. I do believe at some level that I could be different, that I just don’t try hard enough. I talk to people about what it means to be clinically depressed but at heart, I’m not sure it applies to me. I should be stronger. I should be better. I should able too pull myself up. I should be able to force my way through this and be normal.
I know that’s not logical, or at least I think it isn’t. I also think that most – or at least many – people think that it’s true. I fear what people think even though I’m quite honest about my experiences here on the blog. Well, pretty honest. I don’t write about it often, I don’t want to drive people away. I tend to assume that people judge me, even when they don’t know me. I have the weight as an outward symptom of my depression so that serves as reason enough to assume people judge me. But then I make the same sorts of assumptions online. Like the other day when I reached out and posted a comment on a new blog and the person who writes it couldn’t even say “hello.” I felt rejected, alone, and wanting to never return to that blog even though I am enjoying reading her stories. I do that. I run away. I’ve also given up chasing people who walk away from me. I used to. I used to beg for them to care. Am I stronger for no longer chasing people or am I weaker because I don’t actually feel worthy of people caring, so I don’t try to make them. It takes me a while to let go. I give people a thousand chances.
Oh, as far as the blog thing goes, I don’t expect people to always comment. I have some friends who read and never comment, we keep up in other ways. I have online friends who show up once in a while, it’s always nice to see them. I also don’t expect constant responses if I comment on someone else’s blog. I do kind of expect a hello and I try to greet new people who stop by this blog. I guess I expect courtesy and maybe that’s unreasonable. I also confess that I know my total feeling of rejection is also unreasonable. I don’t know how to be different. I think I will keep reading that blog I like, but I will never comment again.
Anyway, that’s my experience with mental illness. I’d like to deny it. Depression doesn’t always qualify as mental illness. Sometimes it’s temporary. Sometimes it’s grief. But for me, this is the way it is.