A Reflection of Depression's Old Face
Me and my depression have aged. And like all relationships over time, the way we interact has changed.
As I sat in a video call with friends who are continents away, crushing Oreos into sub-par vanilla ice cream, I realised that I was depressed again.
I’d hope that most people reading this know that having depression isn’t “just feeling a bit sad.” I think (I hope) that we’ve reached a level of understanding for mental health where most of us know that it’s a much deeper, all encompassing feeling. But while it’s not just feeling sad, it sometimes doesn’t involve sadness at all.
In this case, I wasn’t sad. I could even say I was relatively happy; I had ice cream, friends, and a cosy dragon hoodie that I’d sewn myself earlier that night. It wasn’t even that I couldn’t enjoy those things that tipped me off to my mental state; I was having a good time.
What alerted me was how hard I was trying to make myself have a good time.
See, I’ve had depression since I was a child. Specifically, I’m diagnosed with Bipolar II, which is defined by periods of depression alternating with periods of hypomania, or relatively high mood (enough to be a concern, but not enough that I’m delusional or detached from reality). And while my childhood depression was very typical, with intense sadness and despair encroaching on every corner of my life, my depressed periods now are much more nuanced. Depression is not a monster anymore, but an old friend who sits with me when I’m alone. Depression weighs me down, not like a shackle, but like so many blankets piled high on my body. Me and my depression have aged. And like all relationships over time, the way we interact has changed.
Depression knocks quietly on its way through the door, and my body has learned to make it welcome. I go to the store and buy chocolate and ice cream without really knowing a reason why. I cuddle up in blankets. I take bubble baths. I do the same dance of self care and indulgence that I’ve trained myself into after 15 years of needing to do so in order to survive.
It’s pre-emptive. Depression has announced its intent to visit, and I’m nothing if not a good host.
It’s usually by the third nap, the fifteenth spoonful of a dessert, or the 2nd hour of the early morning that I realise that my old friend has dropped in once more. By that time, I’ve taken all of my preventative measures, and I don’t really feel sad. So instead of fighting, screaming, and trying to escape it all, I sit there quietly while depression settles further into a pit in my chest.
It’s a toxic relationship, to be sure, but I’ve adjusted. I notice that my facial expressions are flatter. I realise that I’m not talking much, and making excuses about being a little tired. But it’s okay, because we’ve danced this dance for years and I know the steps to keep myself from tripping.
But despite no longer being a monster, Depression is an illness. This case no longer threatens my life, but it does wear you out. I always have so much work that I want to get done, but my body is so tired. I resign myself to bed rest.
If there’s any takeaway from this slice of my life, it’s to be compassionate. Your friend who doesn’t smile fully at your jokes isn’t trying to be rude. Your colleague who can’t come to your virtual happy hour isn’t ignoring you on purpose. Your employee who takes off “mental health days” isn’t on vacation anymore than your employee with the flu is.
We’re depressed. We’re not sad. We’re just sick.