Living with schizophrenia, I’ve run through the full gamut of symptoms; from delusions to paranoia, to hallucinations to side effects. I’ve written about these extensively, but one thing I don’t often write about is my depression which, at times, is just as prevalent as any of my other symptoms.
Depression can be a killer all by itself but, when combined with anxiety and paranoia, it can throw my whole world off its axis. Sometimes I can feel it coming; the middle of summer, as my birthday approaches, and in the midst of winter, when it’s cold and gray. There’s something about these two times of year that speak to the bleak passing of time that everyone experiences. When it gets cold, when the snow starts to fall in the quiet, my mind starts to wander into thoughts about the futility of life’s daily struggles. The grey skies match the shade of the hole that’s been in my chest for years, and I let myself ruminate on the things that bother me instead of forsaking them for a sunnier, more productive mood.
There are also internal factors that can contribute to my depression.
I’m worried about money.
I got rejected by a girl.
Somebody said something to me — I felt attacked.
Work’s piling up.
I try my best not to let the thoughts and insecurities of these situations get the best of me, which may or may not be to my detriment, but work, money, love, and social connections all require taking chances, and all carry with them the potential to get hurt. That hurt can turn, very easily, into depression.
For me, depression comes on subtly — like an auditory hallucination may start: with a whisper. I start to feel a bit of ennui, a French word meaning, “general malaise.” I’m bored or something didn’t work out and I frustrated. This can go on for a while — a month or two — until the ennui surrounds me and I feel worse with every passing day. I begin comparing my accomplishments to the achievements of others (this is a major reason why I don’t use Facebook or other social media). I feel like I don’t perform socially in “the right way.” The weather changes and, before I know it, the ennui has morphed into full-on depression.
For me, depression feels like getting hit by a truck. I am tired all the time, I struggle to function in public because my insecurities are getting the best of me and I feel worthless. I have the distinct notion that nobody cares about me, that they never will, and that I wouldn’t be missed if I killed myself or just died naturally. I struggle to tell anyone about these feelings because I don’t want people to worry. I also seem to get the feedback that there is an inherent misunderstanding about depression among many people, that when I do sometimes give voice to those feelings, some people respond in a way that equates depression with just having “a blue day.” This is not the case at all. Depression tends to get minimized, which stigmatizes the illness and negates the deep and real suffering of those impacted. I didn’t have much depression before my illness, but I can remember a distinct periods where I struggled with school and social life in high school and middle school. I didn’t have a name for those feelings then so I just lived with them.
Depression feels different for each of the 350 million people worldwide who are caught in its talons. Sometimes I’ll think about what it would be like if I killed myself. Twice in my life, I’ve scared myself with a clear plan to end my life. When that happens, I know it’s serious, and it’s time to seek serious help. Part of taking responsibility for my wellness is noticing that ennui and not letting it go un-checked. Here is what works for me:
I talk to someone about how I’m feeling; a family member, or a friend; someone who knows the program, (i.e., someone who doesn’t buy into the myth that depression = being down), and is non-judgmental. Sometimes talking helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always important to try. Following that, I always go to my therapist or my psychiatrist and, together, we figure out a way to get out of the funk. Sometimes it’s taking a break from work and responsibilities, sometimes it’s antidepressants, and sometimes it’s a prescription for healthier activities like walking or taking a nature hike.
I also try to restructure my responsibilities, as much as I can, so they take less of a toll on my daily mental health. I talk to my bosses about needing some leeway or a break, or I develop an adjusted routine that works with how I’m feeling at that time.
Finally, I treat myself well. I take care of myself with the steps I’ve learned to take it easy like taking showers, getting enough sleep and eating good food, all these things put a little joy back into life and, combined with a program of medication, talking, and prevention, I usually am able to maintain a sort of homeostasis. But there is another, more intangible facet of self-care, and that is how we treat ourselves in our minds and in our hearts. I still struggle with compassion for myself. I am way too hard on myself over things that really shouldn’t matter, and I know that. I try to be kind to myself; I tell myself that I don’t have to be perfect. Accepting yourself as you are is a major stepping stone on the way to finding comfort and peace. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Everyone has depressive periods at some point in their lives, and that there are strategies and supports out there that can help you get through those episodes. Therapy is beneficial, meds are helpful, and treating yourself well is essential. I wish everybody knew that self-care measures are perfectly acceptable and that seeking help when you need it doesn’t make you weak or “less than.” We all fall into a funk every now and again and we can all take steps necessary to lift ourselves up. The most important thing to know is: you are not the only one who feels this way. Even if you feel like complete, worthless trash, just know that, at the same moment you’re experiencing that thought; millions of people all over the world understand. We could all do with a reminder that we’re not alone. Depression is brutal, but you don’t have to suffer; and you certainly don’t have to suffer alone.