Hi. My name is Josh. I suffer from chronic clinical depression and anxiety. I have suffered with this disease as far back as I can remember. It sucks, but I’m willing to bet it doesn’t look like what many people expect.
Today, there is much greater acceptance of mental illness, and people are more understanding and accommodating than ever before. Gradually, the stigma that used to go along with a diagnosis like this is dying off, and that is a wonderful development. Unfortunately, I fear that in some cases stigma is replaced with misunderstanding. In an attempt to correct potential misunderstandings, I want to write openly about my experience living with Depression and Anxiety. This is not a poor me. This is not a cry for help. This is an attempt to be public and transparent about my experience so that others who do not suffer from this disease can better understand what this disease entails.
I decided to start by making some cards. Below you will find these cards. On the blue side is what I assume most people think it is like to struggle with Depression. On the red side is what my struggle with Depression is like.
Two things before I start:
- The blue side might not accurately reflect your perception of a struggle with Depression. Everyone has a different understanding. Think of the blue side more as, “This is what I fear people will hear when they find out that I suffer from Depression.”
- Depression and Anxiety are not the same for everyone. The red side is not “This is what a struggle with Depression and Anxiety feels like.” The red side is “This is what my struggle with Depression and Anxiety feels like.”
With that in mind, here we go:
I am depressed.
I often worry that people who find out I struggle with Depression and Anxiety will assume that I let this disease define me. I understand why, it is a consuming disease. But I do not think of myself as a “depressed” or “anxious” person. I think of myself as Joshua Elek. There are things I like about me, and things I hate about me. I am who I am. This disease is a part of my story, but it is not me. I am not anxious, I suffer from Anxiety. I am not depressed, I suffer from Depression. I don’t know if that distinction means much to others, but it means a lot to me.
I feel sad.
Depression does not make me feel sad all the time. I don’t feel like I have a black cloud hanging over my head. I don’t feel weepy, or emotional, or worthless. More often than not, I feel trapped. What might be a temporary setback for other people becomes an infinite loop of future failure for me. A healthy brain gets stopped at a red light and thinks, “I am going to be late. I will need to apologize to my boss.” I get stopped at a red light and think, “I am going to be late. I will need to apologize to my boss. He will not believe that I was stopped at this red light. He will remember that I was late last month. He will assume that I am late every day, and he only caught me today. He will fire me because he can’t trust me. Even if he believes that I got stopped at this red light, he will think I am weak because I apologized for it. If he thinks I am weak he won’t give me a raise. I can’t apologize. I can’t not apologize. I can’t do anything right. Everything I touch gets fucked up. Why can’t I just be normal?” At times like this, Depression is a microphone, and Anxiety is a speaker. When they get too close, they create a screeching feedback loop in my mind. The only way to stop it is to mute the speaker, or unplug the microphone, and that – that can be very, very hard to do.
I am crying inside.
Depression does not make me feel like crying all the time. It can make me feel blank. Empty. Exhausted. Hollow. I spend a great deal of psychological effort throughout many days misidentifying setbacks as tragedies, and then trying to mute the speaker to kill the feedback loop. At times, I find myself so guarded against my own emotions that I defend myself by trying to feel nothing at all, because I am afraid that feeling anything will unmute the speaker.
I hate myself.
I actually have a pretty decent self-esteem. I am a smart, generous, funny, kind, and successful person. I’m a good husband. I’m a good dad. I have a large community of friends. But, for reasons I don’t really understand, I have a hard time feeling like these things are true. I know they are true in my mind, but they don’t feel true. I perpetually worry that even though I am well regarded, everyone secretly sees through me and finds a whining immature cantankerous cold sore of a human being. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I do. If someone senses that I feel this way and offers a compliment to offset the feeling, the muscled jock in my brain laughs at me, telling me that the compliment was obligatory instead of sincere. Of course, somewhere in a dark corner there is an awkward boy in a turtle neck whispering, “they really mean it.” But I rarely hear him.
I want to kill myself.
Suicide is a genuine and awful complication of this disease. Before I started taking an anti-depressant, I thought about suicide so often that it wasn’t an alarming thought anymore. Forgetting my phone on the counter would quickly become “you should just kill yourself.” I lived with that pervasive thought for so long that I learned to treat it like a speeding bus on the street. Just stay on the sidewalk, and watch it go by. One time (and only one time), the bus caught me off guard. I had received my twentieth PhD rejection letter, and before I knew it, I had one leg out of a fifth-storey window. Thank God I came to. I realized the jeopardy I was in, and called the suicide hotline. (I will write more about that one day.) The important thing here is that I didn’t take myself to that point, I found myself there. I didn’t think about killing myself, I got blindsided by my disease because I wasn’t treating it. For some reason, I got lucky. The bus driver honked and I was able to jump out of the way. Others are not so lucky, and I don’t think it’s because they are selfish, or weak. (No one is strong enough to win in a fight against a speeding bus.) I think more often than not, victims of suicide are just blindsided.
If you identify with this, if you find yourself thinking about suicide, please, call the suicide hotline. Talk to your doctor. Take medicine. See a therapist. You might not remove the threat entirely, but there are ways to tell the bus driver to honk his horn. Since I started taking medicine and seeing a therapist, I have almost completely stopped finding those thoughts in my mind.
I want pity.
When people hear that I suffer from Chronic Depression, I think they genuinely want to help. Often, they see my Depression manifested with statements I make to minimize my value. They attempt to correct those statements by offering compliments. For me, that is often counter-productive in the moment. Though I often am able to accept the validity of the compliments later on, at the time they are very difficult for me to hear. I don’t want people to compliment me, or fix me, or even notice me. At those times, I often just want to be alone – so I can think. So I can mute the speakers and break the feedback loop. Later, after I have been able to mute the screeching in my mind, I will be able to hear the compliments. But at the time those compliments can make me feel transparent, like they just pulling the drapes aside and saw me naked on the floor. The offered compliments feel like an awkward apology for accidentally stumbling on me in such a vulnerable state. Not everyone is the same, so if you or a loved one are suffering from Depression, check to see how they would like you to respond.
I don’t want to get out of bed.
In all seriousness, this is the hardest one for me right now. I regularly find it incredibly difficult to engage in even menial tasks. (Two days ago, I literally struggled to peel a post-it note off my desk.) Forget taking a shower, exercising, and cooking breakfast—sometimes I have a hard time just rolling over. It isn’t that I can’t do it. I know it’s physiologically possible. I know I have the physical strength to pull myself up by the bootstraps and just get out of bed. I feel foolish for finding that it’s even a struggle. But in all honesty, sometimes this illness makes it next to impossible to motivate myself to move at all. This disease can yell so frequently, and so vociferously, that I can’t think—let alone get out of bed.
In short, everyone who struggles with this disease struggles with different manifestations of similar symptoms. I don’t think I am the only one who has this “kind” of depression, and I also don’t think many people really know what it’s like to deal with this disease. Hopefully, this helps even just a little bit.