Depression: probably the most common mental illness today.
“Mental,” as if depression is just in your head, affecting your thoughts. And, of course, it affects all your thoughts. It becomes your thoughts until you can’t tell the difference between what you’re thinking and what depression is thinking for you. It makes you believe that the negative thoughts it feeds you are all true, that you’re observing life as it really is, that you’re not actually looking at life through a dark lens that filters out the light. That the light no longer exists.
Depression wants you to think that your life is impossible. All of it – the pile of laundry on the floor, the grocery list, the possibility of human kindness. And not just think it but over-think it, as if thinking about it times a million will somehow solve the problem instead of turning it into a monster that eats your brain and spits you out.
Depression takes control of your mind and feeds it a steady diet of injustice, abuse, war, famine, and the end of life as we know it – all great reasons not to get up in the morning, when you really think about it. And depression never stops thinking about it.
Depression is a mental illness first. But it’s not just mental. It’s a spiritual illness. It’s an emotional illness. It’s a financial illness.
Emotionally, it bribes you with the possibility of taking away your negative feelings, and then it takes all your feelings and crams them into a dark dungeon so that even when it’s appropriate to have a good feeling about something, you can’t, because the feeling won’t show up. Depression convinces you that feeling anything is too dangerous. So you have to stop feeling, right? Seems logical, right? Of course feeling is dangerous. Of course you want to stop feeling angry and sad and jealous and betrayed and weak and full of rage. Just think about it. Rationally. Depression can take all that away. Because depression is oh so rational.
Depression thinks those thoughts on your behalf and as soon as you sign up for the plan, it stuffs the pain away, not so it will never hurt you again (because it will always resurface in a thousand different ways) but so you can’t effectively process it. The pain doesn’t go away. It only rots in the dark. It becomes toxic, like mold, like a tumor. It doesn’t die; it feeds on itself and grows twisted in the darkness.
Depression wants me to believe that I’m in control and thinking for myself, but actually, it’s deciding for me: what to think, what to feel, and what not to feel.
Depression is mental and emotional and also physical. Not only because it’s a chemical imbalance in your physical brain, but because it affects how you take care of yourself. Time to make lunch? Not so fast, cowboy. Let’s not attempt the impossible. The leafy greens in the fridge are dead because you’re too stupid to eat them, you dumb shit, and the leafy greens at the grocery store are on the other side of a chasm too great to cross. Especially when there’s that bag of chips from the convenience store, the only place in walkable distance today, and at least that will give you just enough energy to maybe do that pile of laundry or get your fat ass to work for another day of paycheck so you can buy another bag of chips tomorrow. Or if you’re up to it, you can go for the Chinese or whatever puts broccoli and other greens into the food that your body will accept at this point.
Except it’s not your body deciding what to eat anymore. It’s the depression telling you to eat the grease and the sugar and the caffeine and all the addictive stuff because let’s face it, why eat for health and long life when life isn’t worth living anyway?
So depression is mental, emotional and physical. Then it infects your relationships. It convinces you that people don’t really like you, because you’re not lovable, so you shouldn’t bother anyone. And even when you know that people want you around, it just feels like too much work to plan something and show up and care.
I still care about my friends and family, but depression does not. Depression seriously impacts my ability to care about myself or anyone else. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bad person because I don’t put in the effort to care for others the way I should. And depression loves to remind me that I’m not doing what I should.
So depression infects everything in your life, and then it kills your finances. It takes away your desire to work, or even get out of bed some days. Or depression lets you keep working, but then takes your money and throws it at expensive addictions to try and get a little false relief.
Depression is all those things – emotional, financial, mental, physical. It takes your mind, it takes your emotions, it takes your body, it takes your money. And then it tries to take your soul. Your will to live. Your power to choose.
And maybe it succeeds for a while. It takes your spirit, as if the human spirit is just neurons firing in your pre-frontal cortex where your executive functions do their neurotic things. It takes your neurons and your neuroses and your pre-frontal cortex, because yes, depression is a head-game.
So then psychiatric treatments for depression try to get you to think differently. It’s a mental game. Unfortunately, when my brain is broken, it’s hard to use it to fight the depression that it’s creating for itself. Some people find relief in these head-games. I don’t.
But what if your soul isn’t just in your head? What if you can find your soul again, your will to live, not in a more successful pattern of thinking, but in your heart?
After three decades of depression, my soul is buried under a lot of muck. But it’s still there. And on a good day, I can still get to it.
Many days, depression wins the battle for my soul. But on a good day, I wake up just enough to reach for my core, the force for good that depression or so-called rational thought tells me is just in my head. On a good day, I reject depression’s demands that I live as a victim. On a good day, I know I’m not my thoughts.
On a good day, my heart breaks through the suffocating mental bullshit being heaped upon me, because the human heart is not just a feeling, it’s a muscle the size of your fist, and when it’s the last thing you’ve got, you’ve got to fight back.
Your heart is a muscle that exercises your right to choose.
When life seems impossible, we humans can choose to do it anyway, whether it’s the four-minute mile or standing in front of a hundred tanks or staying seated while an angry man threatens to have you arrested. Why? Because we choose to.
I would love to finish right there, as if I’m a goddamn hero for beating depression. But I haven’t beaten depression. That would just be another one of depression’s lies, rooted in shame, a desperate ploy to appear perfect, like I can handle this without anyone’s help, thank you very much.
And if I try to fight this battle alone, hiding in shame from the world, I will lose. Depression’s lie is that no one can help me, that no one wants to help me, and that relationships aren’t worth all the hassle. That lie kills thousands of people every year.
And so the choice to stand, to resist the darkness, has to be one of reaching out, of authentic connection to community, showing up real, because despite all my best efforts, I cannot keep pretending that I’m okay alone anymore.
And when I can be myself in a community of people that accept me as I am, then depression takes a hit. Authentic connection cuts through the shame, the isolation and the lies. It kills everything that depression feeds on.
And yet I’m still fighting depression. It still lies to me every day. But now I’m reaching out. And if any of this has connected with you, made you feel less alone, or given you something to laugh about or fight for, then today, together, we have ourselves one victory at least.