There was no sun this morning. Just grey sky and a dampness that drains the color our of everything. I haven’t slept well. The chorus was singing all night in my head.
I feel like I’m up against the world.
I’m no good.
Why can’t I ever succeed?
No one understands me.
I’m so weak.
I’m a terrible person.
I’m so disappointed in myself.
My life is not going the way I wanted it to.
Nothing feels good anymore.
I can’t stand this anymore.
What’s wrong with me?
I wish i could just disappear.
I’ll never make it.
My future is bleak
It’s just not worth it.
This is the chorus of Depression singing its classic litany. Every person who has every suffered depression recognizes it. They’ve heard variations on the same theme in their head. Just thoughts, just the symptoms of the disease, like chills when you have the flu. But when you’re in the middle of it, they don’t seem like just thoughts. They seem to be telling the truth. The grim, grey, hopeless truth about yourself and your life.
I’ll never make it. I’m too weak. I always do the wrong thing. I always screw things up. I’m going to lose everything. It’s all my fault. What right have I got to be happy? I’ve done stupid things and made bad choices my whole life. I’m useless, and I deserve to suffer.
Once you’ve been depressed, once you’ve had that prolonged, intractable stretch of clinical depression, those neural pathways are set. The road has been built and paved smooth. Even if you manage to beat it with some combination of drugs and therapy, those solidly wired neural pathways are still there. One wrong turn and you’re back on that road again. People who’ve had an episode of depression are likely to have another. It can become the pattern of their lives.
Like an alcoholic, for whom just one drink is enough to collapse them, the vulnerable person needs just one blow to send them sliding down into the pit. Unlike the alcoholic, who can choose not to drink, we can’t always choose to avoid the blows life sends our way. Life is filled with disappointments, tragedies, sorrow. None of us are exempt. Loved ones die. Jobs are lost. Marriages fail.
Frightened, frantic, too overwhelmed with grief and confusion to conjure up the weapons to fight it, despair and hopelessness like fat leeches hanging off your back, draining the fight out of you, you fall.
Fetal position on the bathroom floor. Unable to get out of bed. Wanting to hide, give up, desperate to do anything to make the pain stop, sick to death with the unbearable wretchedness of yourself and your wasted life.
It is at times like these that you need to have others around you who know the disease, who have been there, who understand how it works. You need someone trustworthy who will hold you tenderly, speak to you gently, and remind you firmly that this is the disease. No fault of your own. The judgement upon you, the curse and condemnation are just thoughts, just the brain generating ideas. Not facts, not the truth. Just phantoms, however real they seem. Yes, your troubles are real, but they are not personal, not an indictment of you as an individual. You are still loved, valued, as much a vital part of the world as your fellow creatures. Your troubles will pass. The sun will sparkle on clear waters again.
The ruminations of depression are just thoughts. Very, very, unhelpful thoughts. The brain is a marvelous thing, but it was not perfectly designed. It evolved imperfectly. For all its wonders, it makes mistakes. Fools itself. But it also has a way of catching itself when the limbic system or some other mindlessly reflexive component begins to send it bad advice and harmful messages. We can train ourselves to be aware of it. To recognize it. To see thoughts as mere constructs of the mind. Some are helpful. Some are decidedly not. We can learn to distinguish, with the help of others, the perceptions that save us from the ruminations that tear us down.
With the help of others. That is why, when there is no sun and the morning is grey, when the chorus has been at it all night, when all I want to do is hide from everything and quietly cry–
Hiding is precisely what I must not do.
So this is me, writing, posting, not hiding. Reaching out to the fellowship around me, to the sunlight in the souls of others. Together, we will not go down that black road again. Alone, the shadows will eat us. Together, we hold brave candles against the dark.