In this post, I’d like to talk directly the people out there who are in the middle of a major depression incident or who have suffered in the past. In particular, I’d like to talk to those of you who have cried out in pain, wondering why this is happening to you, what you did to deserve this kind of torment.
The short answer is this: nothing. You did absolutely nothing to cause your depression. That fight you had with your best friend? It didn’t cause this depression. That bad performance review at work? Totally didn’t cause this level of pain. The fact that you overate three nights in a row? Got nothing to do with it.
We all seek to be able to point to something and say “THAT! That is the cause of my pain!”. You know what? It isn’t. You can circle in your mind over and over again, a thousand times a day, about a seemingly trivial thing that you’ve fixated on as *the cause* of your ills and if you could just get over it, you’d be better.
I want you to think for a minute about how that non stop self assessment, self hatred, and guilt felt/feels. Completely out of proportion to the cause you’ve identified for your depression, isn’t it?
That’s because while the two things are related, they probably aren’t the same thing. Depression (for me at least) is a chemical imbalance which causes a long, slow decline to the point where you wake up one day and wonder where the you that you knew and loved went, and who replaced her, anyway?
Depression lies to you. Depression causes you to believe shit that isn’t true. Depression makes you search for an answer where there is not going to be one. And that way lies a circling vortex of suck.
Rather than asking yourself why this happened, take a few minutes to think about it a bit differently. Try to think (and believe me, I know this is only going to work for about 30 seconds the first time, but it’ll stick a bit longer the next time, and a bit longer after that) that it happened to you, and you’re a different person now, and your job is not to ask why, but to find out more about this new you.
I know, I totally just Yoda’d you. Don’t ask why, accept that it is what it is, and try to figure out who you are now.
This is when you get to rage against the fact that you’re not as smart as you were before anti-depressants; that you’re not funny anymore; that your joy for life has disappeared along with the pain; that you may not be able to do the same job you did before your illness; that you may need to find new friends; that your interests may (almost certainly will) change.
This is the space when you get to acknowledge that the life you thought you were going to have got rocked to the core by this illness (not the diagnosis, the illness), and that life doesn’t exist anymore.
This is when you get to plan, shape, form your new life. Who is it that you can be now that you’re a little doughier, meditating a lot, medicating a lot? Who do you want to surround yourself with? What kind of people are assets to your new life, and which ones are liabilities?
While you’re picking yourself up from the floor, it may help just a tiny bit, for two minutes at a time, to think of this as a rebirth.
In my first incident of major depression, I blamed my illness on a fight I had with a friend. Seriously. A single fight. Dudes, that was not the cause. The cause was chemical, and the trigger was that the life I thought I was going to have had been rocked off its foundations with a medical issue that was poorly communicated to me. That medical diagnosis did not cause my depression. It allowed the depression buried inside me to rear up and take over my life.
So. One day I decided I couldn’t live this depressed life anymore. I wasn’t better the next day. I wasn’t better the day after. It actually took a whole year to get better. A whole year. But I had a vision. I wanted to go back to school. I wanted to have a career. I wanted to put this behind me and have a normal life.
And man, that journey sucked. But you know what? That vision worked. In order to go back to school I had to graduate from the crisis clinic. I had to get a room in residence (cause hello? Me in an apartment by myself was not a good idea.). I had to re-register for school, and make the decision to go part time or full time. I had to arrange a class schedule around my totally fucked up sleep patterns.
I had to remake myself academically. I actually ended up being a better student (the joy of anxiety medication – I could focus better!), but still not the person who thought she could get a Rhodes scholarship. I hung out only with people who valued me, and who didn’t judge me for the illness I had. I made new friends who were more nerdy, like the new, real me.
Even though I still suffer from depression, I don’t suffer from self-hatred. I was able to take that crisis and turn it into an understanding of who I am now. And I actually mostly like myself and my life.
So stop blaming yourself, that fight you had with X, that circumstance that happened over there. Stop, for just two minutes today. Think about your new life for two minutes. Tomorrow, try three. It’s hard work, so you’re going to want to nap after, but you can do it.
Let go of the blame, the guilt, the self-hatred. This thing happened to you, and you had nothing to do with it.
I believe in you. And eventually, you will, too.