Trigger warning for discussion of depression
Depression has been creeping up on me lately.
Like a fog at the edges of my thoughts, like a sinister undercurrent to placid waters, something I keep catching out of the corner of my eye.
Telltale signs – I find myself lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling for far too long as messages to get up and go outside get mysteriously lost between my brain and my limbs. I open the fridge and feel repulsed by the healthy, delicious food I cooked just yesterday; close it to make myself toast with butter, for the third time that day. I bury myself in distractions, simultaneously too anxious to rest and too exhausted to concentrate on anything worthwhile.
Relatively speaking, these symptoms of depression seem solidly non-terrible. They’re not even in the same ballpark as what I’ve experienced during other depressive episodes, or what my friends with chronic depression live through almost every day. But they’re still hard. And they still scare me. They fill me with deep, stomach-clenching dread – not for what they are, but for what they might herald.
I have become a hypochondriac of my mental health, scanning my own thoughts for the tangled threads of violent self-hatred and despair that characterize my experience of depression. I wake up every day afraid of myself, thinking: Will today be the day it comes on full-force? Will I be back in that place where I feel like I’m drowning? And so far, every day, the answer has been: No. No, I can still breathe. But now I’m trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy, anxious about about my own anxiety. On days when the answer is No, all I can hear is: Not yet.
This worrying, of course, is doing me exactly zero good. Depression isn’t something I can stop in its tracks if I catch it early enough. It’s not a cold that I can cut off at the pass with some Vitamin C and a good night’s sleep; I can’t remove suspicious-looking emotional moles from my brain. I’m not entirely fatalistic – I know there are ways for me to practice self-care and mitigate the symptoms. I can establish healthy habits, I can call my therapist, I can invest in a full-spectrum lamp. But there is a point at which, if the depression is coming on, it’s just going to come. And I’m going to have to ride it out the best I can.
The thing about depression is that it’s not the symptoms themselves that scare me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not psyched for them. They suck. Depression is one of the hardest things I’ve ever lived through – and I’m a cancer survivor, so like, the bar there is pretty damn high. But I’m also fairly practiced at surviving shitty things. That’s not what I’m scared of.
I’m scared that my depression will turn me into someone who is not worth loving.
I’m scared of who I become under its influence. Someone who binge-watches vampire TV shows, who never comes out of her room, who can’t bring herself to call her friends or go dancing or write blog posts. Depression strips away all the external markers of my personality. It strips me of my ability to do any of the activities that validate my sense of self-worth, while simultaneously filling my head with a litany of my own worthlessness.
I’m scared that I will ride it out, make it through to the other side, and look around to find that I have lost all of my friends.
It’s a lot to ask of someone, isn’t it? “Hi, I’m worried that I’m about to turn into a miserable lump for an undetermined number of weeks or months. You’re going to need to put in way more than 50% of the effort into this relationship in order to hang out with me, and hanging out with me probably isn’t going to be any fun at all. How about it?” It’s a lot to ask. And already the depression is trying to convince me that I don’t deserve to ask it of people.
But even though I didn’t ask – it was offered. I confided my fear that I was getting depressed again to a friend, and this is what he said:
“If I can support you during the depression, let me know. I can come over and give you hugs and we can watch really terrible TV shows. I can go out and get you the foods you feel like you can eat.”
Those are such simple things. But they mean so much to me, because they remind me that my friends love me even when I am not strong.
I don’t need to check off a certain number of boxes in order to be worthy of love. I don’t need to be pretty enough, smart enough, healthy enough, giving enough.
I don’t need to graduate top of my class or win employee of the year. I don’t need to write a certain number of blog posts or organize a food drive or win any dance competitions. It’s great to do those things. I want to do those things. But if I can’t, nobody will stop loving me.
I don’t need to keep my room clean or change my clothes every day. I don’t need to eat a certain number of vegetables or be able to do even one push-up. Those things are important. I want to do those things. But if I can’t, nobody will stop loving me.
Winter is here, and that’s a really hard time of year for a lot of people. If you know someone who is suffering from depression, one of the best things you can do is offer to meet them where they are and support them in small ways. Remind them that you love them, even when they are not strong.
And if you are like me, and you feel depression coming on, or if you are already there, maybe you have been there for months or years – hang in there. Remember that you are worthy of love, no matter how sick you are, or how long you have been sick. Remember that you are enough, all by yourself. You do not have to be good.