If you know me well, you are probably aware that I periodically suffer bouts of depression. Tonight, as I was driving home from hanging out with some work compatriots, I was suddenly assaulted with that familiar feeling of onset. When it happens, it is almost always over some small or insignificant thought which plants itself like an invasive seedling in my mind and proceeds to blossom into a festering tree of gloom and self-abuse. Despite knowing that this process is happening, I frequently find myself unable to cut it down before the thoughts take root. Tonight I thought I would try something a little different. Rather than sitting idly by and letting the fight unfold inside my head, I will spill it out here for the world to see. Perhaps my obsessive attention to detail and eloquence in my writing will make a match for the equally tenacious thoughts attempting to drag me down.
To set the stage for those unfamiliar, let me describe what these episodes entail. It all starts with a tiny event, something mostly meaningless and insignificant that I should gloss over within a few minutes. In fact, most of the time, I would; other times, more sinister events ensue. The thought stays with me, burrowing deeper and deeper into my mind. By this point, I know what is happening, and I try to force myself to think of something, anything else. If I am not successful in this effort, then I am sealed into my fate for the next few hours or more. Pernicious little thoughts needle me constantly, digging up every negative concept of myself that has ever passed through my brain. I try to beat them back, but this is akin to swatting individual locusts in a swarm. Eventually I just give in, and let them wash over me, doing my best to become numb. Typically I nap or sleep for the night, and wake up feeling completely normal, these negative thoughts banished from whence they came.
Even as I type out this narrative, I find that I cannot convey in words the depth of the feeling that subsumes my reality when the depression sets in. I’ve read extensively on the subject and I find that this is a common problem. Sufferers find it difficult, if not impossible, to help non-sufferers understand what it is really like to experience depression. Healthy people often say things like “remember that you control your own destiny” or “just don’t think about the bad things in your life, dwell on the good things.” This, though, misses the awful, dark evil that is the true spirit of depression – it doesn’t just make you feel sad, it robs away your power to take exactly the steps you must to feel better. Sufferers, such as myself, frequently know exactly what they could do to feel better but are bound within their own minds, unable to make the correction. This is why many people turn to medication, prescribed or otherwise. Medicine alone cannot bring happiness, but it can at least equip the imbiber with tools to beat back the beast of depression. I have employed this technique in the past, but found that the medicine drowned other parts of my personality that I did not wish to lose; I felt no valleys of despair, but neither did I feel peaks of elation. So, I battle the beast on my own, using only the tools I can prepare myself.
The good news is that this does work. Difficult as it can be to fight a monster which by its very nature handicaps you, it can be won like any other fight. The trick is to roll with the punches and play to those strengths you are left with. As soon as you feel the onset of the dark shadow, you do anything at all that you can muster the will to do (maybe write a blog post). Most importantly though, the real secret to a rumble in the depression jungle is to keep friends close. Talk to someone understanding and let them know what is going on. Don’t dump all your problems on them, but have as cheerful a chat as you can to distract yourself. Every blow struck against the beast drains the power out of it and back into you. And, I find, once you show you can fight back, the monster will slink back into the night, maybe not gone but at least defeated.