“… depression is not a choice, though both ignorance and stigma are.”
Morning mantras are a thing. Enlightened people wake and set the day’s tone with phrases like “I am enough” or “I chose abundance.” For the better part of two years I woke and swore: depression’s mantra. Sometimes I sort of groaned it with a morning stretch. Other times I shouted it in utter despair and frustration. I wasn’t cursing that I was still alive. I cursed being conscious again. Sleep is more an escape for me than a rejuvenation period when I’m in That Dark Place. And waking means I’m in it again. And I know what it looks like and smells like and feels like.
Worst of all, I know what it sounds like.
It will be yet-another day of berating myself; of parading out the 101 reasons I am not good enough or successful enough, or just enough in general. I’ll audition for jobs I won’t get and harshly tell myself why. I’ll walk past things that really should be cleaned or bills that need paying or be reminded of relationships that need tending or mending and shame myself for not being on my game. Depression convinces me—in my own voice nonetheless—that whatever is bad will only get worse. And whatever could be better is no longer an available option. It’s my own brain forming these toxic thoughts. And with a lifelong backstage pass to All Things Me, it has deadly aim, knowing every single solitary chink in my armor.
So, I woke each day, wanting to go back to sleep. Several times during the day I would check a clock. How early is way too early to go back to bed? I was like a kid on a tedious road trip. But it was my life. “Are we there yet?” Is there still a “there?”
I wasn’t suicidal. I’m grateful my flavor of depression doesn’t bring me there. But I was consistently what I call “exhausted on a cellular level.” No amount of sleep really made a difference. Still, like a junkie, I craved it for its escape.
I vividly remember lying in bed on many occasions thinking “this cannot be how my story ends.” Alone. Underemployed. Depressed. I’ve worked really hard to be the person I am, to develop emotional intelligence, to discover and improve my gifts, to be someone people trust. And yet, Depression’s Darkness told me day after day after day that this was my new normal. This unacceptable existence was the best life had to offer a loser like me. And on my worst days, starting with pungent profanity, I firmly believed it.
And then I crossed a line. I was in bed again and my chest began to hurt. Then my arm. And, having read the same articles we all have, I recognized the warning signs of a heart attack. But instead of thinking I should quickly dial 9-1-1 and toss an aspirin under my tongue, instead I thought “throw the phone.” You see, my cell phone was on the nightstand. And I knew if I was found dead in bed with my phone beside me, it would raise questions. But who could blame me if it was out of reach in the next room?
Wait! What?! Dead in bed? What the hell is going on? I don’t think like that! Yet, it had literally not crossed my mind to try to save myself or get to a nearby hospital for testing. My sole objective in that moment was how to have all this sadness and heaviness end, without having to do anything to make that happen and without hurting anyone more than necessary. That is not healthy thinking. And that scared me. A lot. I got out of bed, picked up the phone in the next room where I’d thrown it, and called my doctor to make an appointment to get back on antidepressants.
And so, my story didn’t end the way depression insisted it would. Terry-1. Depression-0.
Coming out of that record-long spell, I challenged myself to look for ways to use that soul-sucking experience to a positive end; to make some proverbial lemonade so those years didn’t feel entirely wasted.
It’s been just one year since the day I called my doctor. (My heart is fine, by the way. It was just badly broken.) I am now the founder and president of a non-profit corporation. I co-host it with my younger sister, who also lives with depression. We interview other people about their experience with depression, in the hope that shared stories will not only reduce stigma, but assure listeners they are not alone and that help is available. We want them to reach out before they think of the possibility of death as a relief. For listeners lucky enough not to have depression, we hope that by hearing authentic, first-person stories, they will come to understand that depression is not a choice, though both ignorance and stigma are.
The plan is to expand to produce podcasts that explore, discuss and normalize other brain disorders like anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia and others, as staffing and funding allow. We have a growing, interactive, supportive Facebook community. And people are learning and writing and talking about their struggles and triumphs, about stigma and bravery, about asking for help, and it being ok not to be ok all the time.
I might not have compelling analytics or the types of documentable “outcomes” that would wow a grant foundation, but I know with certainty that we are making a difference.
And most importantly, I can say with utter conviction that depression lies and you should not believe what that bullying bastard says. You do have talents. You do have worth. You are here for a reason.
And so am I.
I have not dipped deeply into depression again since going on meds. My body apparently needs them the way a person with diabetes may need insulin. No shame. Just chemistry and genetics.
And now when I wake, if I say anything, it’s “let’s do this.”
For Crisis Help and resources in East Central Minnesota, click on this link. http://adultmentalhealth.org/east-central-resources/