(Photo: Kelly Jensen)
I was not depressed.
I couldn’t be.
I had never self-harmed. I had never ideated on suicide. I had never felt the need to seek professional help for those low days or weeks or months. I wasn’t like the people I saw on TV or in movies or in books who were depressed. People I knew with clinical depression sought treatment when they engaged in destructive activities or couldn’t get out of bed in the morning or function on a day-to-day basis. I did everything with my whole heart — and depression always seemed to me to be like an all-over weight, impossible to live with.
I wasn’t like that.
Because I could get up in the morning, because I could take a shower and do my makeup and my hair, because I could sit down in my office at home and put in a day’s worth of work, because I could follow the routine day in and day out, my depression told me it wasn’t a big deal that I’d spend all my free time sleeping.
Depression lied about it being relaxing, recovering and restful. Working takes a lot of energy. It wasn’t an avoidance tactic or an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Going through the performance of each day drained me, but it was ignoring depression that really wore me out.
By obsessively watching my food intake and making sure I ate only the healthiest meals, by ensuring I worked out daily, by spending an hour with a therapy light in the darkest mornings of winter, I would pull through my temporary seasonal blues. If I added in half an hour of yoga or a few minutes of mind relaxation techniques when I felt really bad, I could relax and avoid the unpleasant thoughts.
But being restrictive negatively impacted my physical and mental health. Insisting on controlling every aspect of my life denied me peace and balance, and it made the depression worse — which is exactly what depression wants.
I wasn’t a good enough wife.
I wasn’t a good enough friend.
I wasn’t a good enough daughter/granddaughter/niece/co-worker.
The critical things people said to me or about me, the mean things they wrote — those were the truest parts of who I was. The niceties, the compliments and the solid, unwavering support of those who always had my back were all instances of temporary kindness. I was and could only be an obligation.
Depression told me people I knew loved and cared about me didn’t. That the things I thought were true and safe were anything but, and I needed to try harder to be better or retreat all together. The crushing insecurity depression wrought upon my thinking led to out-of-character behavior and the need for constant reassurance from those to whom I was closest.
The insecurity also led to building up giant walls and demanding space from others who cared about and sometimes needed me to be there. At times, the insecurity depression gave me meant doing both things in tandem: demanding reassurance while not offering the same back. Or worse, believing those reassurances were just there so that I would offer something back, even though I believed I had nothing worth offering to anyone.
I didn’t have real problems. I had a house. Friends. A job. A family. Real anxiety involved trauma. Real anxiety involved fears outside of the things that I had complete and utter control over (because I could control everything, remember?).
Depression told me the anxieties I had were all made up, even as it fueled the feelings and demanded behavior that exacerbated my anxiety.
The truth is that anxiety fueled the depression that lied to me. Depression thrived off my low-grade anxieties, helping them grow, which in turn made my depression worse. For me, depression and anxiety weave together like a strand of DNA. They twist around and around and around, rooted and connected to one another.
Depression told me getting out of bed in the morning meant I was functioning. That turning in work on time — sometimes really great work that showcased my sharpest thinking skills — meant I didn’t have miserable, self-flagellating, relentless thoughts circulating through my head. Depression told me sleeping my afternoons away was fine, even restorative, rather than part of a dangerous cycle. Depression told me near-constant exhaustion came from pushing myself too hard on projects I’d taken on, not from being up half the night because I couldn’t shut off the voices or thoughts. Because I’d already slept eight or ten hours that day. Because I wasn’t eating enough and I was working out too much.
Depression doesn’t present one specific way. It doesn’t feel one specific way. It doesn’t function one specific way. But it will insist that it does, encouraging you with lie after lie after lie to explain away very real signs and symptoms of its existence, which only causes more pain and hurt.
Finally being able to untangle those lies and turn them into the truth of the situation — that I suffered from depression — was like discovering a whole new, different world: a healthier world where I did not have to be my depression, and my depression did not have to be me.
The first truth I told depression was that it existed, but it did not define me.
This post originally appeared on the To Write Love on Her Arms blog.
By Kelly Jensen