Monday, April 10, 2017

Stupid Brain

I'm as depressed as I ever remember being. Which isn't to say I'm as depressed as I've ever been, just that depression distorts time, space and scope. It takes over and leaves no room for insight or perspective. For some, it obliterates memory, but I remember everything that's ever happened as well as I ever did. I just can't remember feeling any differently than I do now. Maybe I've felt this way for an hour. Maybe for my entire life. I can't say, because it's impossible to imagine seeing the world without the fog of depression clouding my view.

"Write about it," I helpfully suggest. "Maybe you can help people understand how it feels."

"Oh, my God, does your narcissism know no bounds?" I retort. "You think this is unique? They already know how it feels. Jesus."

I can be rather harsh, and it's usually very effective at squashing any ideas I have or risks I may want to take. This time, to my surprise, I timidly persist.

"Yes, you're right. They already know how it feels," I admit, but a little part of me knows that was never the point. "So write about it, and let people see their own reflections. It will comfort them, and that will comfort you. It's your only hope."

Even I can't argue with that.

"I'm just trying to protect you, but you know what? Do what you want. You're going to make yourself look stupid, though. Everyone who has ever heard of you already loathes you. No, shut up, they don't loath you. Who the hell do you think you are? They don't even know your name. Nobody cares what you do, but you'll be mortified. If you weren't the worst, you'd be able to think of a better way of handling it. But it's you, so I suppose this is your best bet."

It's an example of how my depressed brain works. That's it at its kindest, because although it may have been grudging, it did grant permission.

"Get a job, make more money and support your family, you malignant fucking loser. You're probably a psychopath, too, or you'd already have done it. Everybody can see it. They're all thinking it, I'm just the only one honest enough to tell you the truth. You're socially graceless, selfish, neurotic, dramatic, and incompetent. Some of your hair is white, and you cover it up with other hair. You have a pigment combover. Everyone can tell what a train wreck you are just by looking at you. If they can't, they figure it out in no time. Even if you do get a job, you'll be awful at it. Your employer will be sorry they ever met you. I can't believe you don't go get a real job and support your family. What kind of person are you? Oh, you have a job? Please."

"This isn't really inspiring. I know you're right, but your methods are ineffective."

"Well, I wouldn't be so frustrated if you were a better person. It wouldn't bother you so much, either. You'd be able to shrug me off and go about your day.  I'd be quiet if you didn't suck so much. I have to go on and on, because what else is going to make you better? Get a job, make more money, and support your family, you malignant fucking loser."

It's a loop that, if I remember correctly, plays in my head more or less constantly. Sometimes it whispers, other times it screams.

I know depression is a liar. I know it's a mental illness, and a mental illness is by definition a warped perception of reality. This is no less true of depression just because it's common. I know I'm not thinking straight. I have some things wrong. But I don't have everything wrong. I'm telling myself lies. I get it. I just don't know what they are. Maybe all those self-loathing thoughts are just the cold, hard truth. Maybe it's the little glimpses of hope that aren't. I don't know. I can't tell fact from fiction.

Towards the end of spring break, I started noticing that my kids wouldn't give me any time or space. They aren't toddlers, so at first this was a bit frustrating. Luckily, it dawned on me before I lashed out at either of them. Either consciously or intuitively, they know something is wrong and they're afraid to leave me alone. Oh, God. Oh, God.

I've reached out to several friends and gotten a lot of much-appreciated support, sometimes from where I least expect it. Still, ideally, a depressive quickly learns that it's important to be judicious.

It's common practice to advise people struggling with depression, or with anything else, to ask for help, as if it's only pride and ego that would stop you. Friends and family will tell you to tell them what's going on. If they know you need help, they'll give it to you. They're not just saying that, either. They mean it. However, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. When the time comes, they will not be able to do it, and in our hearts we all know it. Here's why.

  1. They have lives. If you were to go so far as to take your own life, they would cry and berate themselves for not doing more and wonder why you didn't reach out. They would swear they would have done anything. That would be grief talking, and grief, though far from a mental illness, is, at best, depressions's more trustworthy distant cousin. It cannot be counted upon to see things clearly, either. In reality, you probably aren't going to kill yourself, and the people who care about you know it. Living as though anyone might commit suicide at any moment is unsustainable. Which brings us back to the beginning, unfocused and scattered, knowing disaster might be lurking anywhere, but lacking the time, energy, ability, or discretion to prevent it. We can't be in two places at once.
  2. Depression is frustrating and unpleasant. It will burn out well meaning people long before it goes away. Anyone long-suffering depressive knows this, and knows that, ego and pride aside, we would do well not to burn any more bridges. Save cries for help for when you really need it. Once again, though, depression distorts one's thinking. You very likely will not know when you really need it when you see it. 
  3. Whether we tend to attract people with issues similar to our own, or debilitating mental illness is just that common, I can't say. But I do know this: The people you know have anxiety or depression, too. In their cases, it's not because they're losers. They are lovely people. You don't have a monopoly on depression, but you do have one on sucking. They're barely keeping afloat themselves. If they're doing well, than for God's sake, mental clarity is fleeting. They deserve a little break.
  4. They are probably powerless. If they try to help, their efforts may seem to make very little difference. They will become frustrated. The idea of a problem without a solution is un-American. It might as well be treason. So eventually, they'll conclude that the solution doesn't lie with them. It has to exist, though, so it must lie with you. You could get better, you're just refusing to help yourself. This is where the natural resentment of attempting to support someone and seeing no results will lead. If your depression grants you the energy to put on a show, you'll do it. You'll pretend to be improving long before you really are, just so anyone who has extended a hand can feel like they've accomplished something. It's a courtesy I have often extended even to paid professionals. It's the polite thing to do, it's the self-preserving thing to do, and, despite popular belief, it's the right thing to do. There's no way out. It's all happened over and over. 
If you're lucky, there's a wide variety of help available, and many people with depression have taken advantage of it. It doesn't seem to have worked. We're frustrated and weary, and we're sorry for anyone who has had to join us on this roller coaster ride through a tar pit. If we knew how to get off, we would. 

In conclusion, when the obvious tools are not working, I know of only one more thing that might help. Listening to other people and hearing that it's possible you are not inherently inferior freak. That's it.