The Poison of Positive Thinking »« It’s Okay, Redux

For Juniper

I’ve talked to three friends with major depression in the last couple of weeks. One is working to keep from reaching the bottom. One is coming up out of a bad spot brought on by health problems. One, the one I got an email from this morning, is very close to the edge but throwing out a hand for help. I’m flattered and terrified that it was thrown my way. 

They’re all incredibly talented people. They all have an amazing amount to offer the world, and they’re hardly alone in that among people with depression. For them, I repost this.

Depression is much like that abusive significant other. It’s always there, even after all your friends have gone home. It’s waiting for you after a day out or even the rare short vacation. And it never, ever stops lying to you*.

The lies are the worst part, the little whispers in your ear that tell you you’re nothing–not good enough, not loveable enough, not smart enough, not strong enough–not whatever it is you would need to be to get away. Because it doesn’t want you to get away. It doesn’t like it when you turn your back for even a second, when you’re happy for just a moment without it. It doesn’t like it when you realize that someone else wants you.

Depression is a jealous mate. It wants to possess every tiny bit of you, even if it has to kill you to be sure of you. It goes hardest after the people who love you and want to help you get away to someplace healthier. Sometimes it does it directly and sometimes by whispering more loudly. Sometimes both, because that weakens you more.

That’s why it hurts me as much as it does to see Juniper feeling alone and unable to cope. Those are lies–not Juniper’s lies, mind you, but the lies of her depression.

Juniper is one of the strongest people I know. She has to be. She’s never not had depression following her around, whispering in her ear, yet she’s accomplished so much. She’s carved out an existence independent of her family’s expectations. She’s achieved graduate school despite having to clean up the messes depression has left her. She’s traveled internationally, and not just to some cushy Caribbean resort. She’s shown flexibility, gathering accomplishments in both the humanities and in science. She’s developed a personal sense of style and taste that others look to. She’s written a blog that in a very short time built an audience that will wait months for her next post.

Those are just the few things I know about. They’re things to be proud of in anybody’s book, but to do them while managing the deep depression that Juniper is prone to is astounding. I haven’t done nearly as well, and I admire Juniper for this more than I can say.

Nor am I the only one. In addition to everything else, Juniper is one of those people whom others (except a few poisoned and poisonous internet trolls) quickly come to love. On top of all her accomplishments, Juniper is sweet and loyal and sharp and passionate. People sit up and take notice when she comes on the scene, and they keep an eye out for her when she hasn’t been around for a little while. Juniper is very much not alone, except by the machinations of jealous depression.

Just as it is only that ever-whispering, constantly belittling depression that keeps her from knowing all this on her own.

So, Juniper dear, please, no matter what the depression tells you, don’t ever think you’re weak and don’t ever think you’re alone. Those are lies, told not to protect you, but to isolate you. The truth is that you’re one of the strongest people I know. You’re simply preoccupied with this monster that’s determined not to set you free, and your particular monster is too much work for even the strongest person to handle.

The other happy truth is that there are plenty of us out here who want to help. We can’t make the depression go away. We can’t make it leave you alone. But we can, if you let us, take up some of the work of loving you and believing in you. We are not as strong as you are, and we may not be as accomplished, but this small thing is so much easier for us that we can do it while you continue your fight.

Please let us.

* Yes, I’m going to use dualistic language here. No, I do not believe in a dualist theory of mind. It’s a metaphor.

Comments

  1. Feats of Cats says

    Thank you for this. I’ve suffered from major depression for almost 20 years (as a 27-year-old), and have developed a fair amount of self-awareness about it over the past few years. My baseline state these days with therapy and medication is a low-lying but constant depression, with occasional dips into the really deep black stuff (where I spent the entirety of my teenage years and much of college), and rare bumps out into neurotypical-land.

    Being non-depressed is weird. It’s wonderful. Everything isn’t horrible and terrifying, and life is enjoyable. You can get up in the morning, you can interact with people because you want to, and you can enjoy the things you like doing. The only scary part is that if you don’t hold onto that state tightly all the time, it’s back into depression for you, where you don’t have the energy to climb back out.

    It’s hard for people to understand. It’s hard even for me to remember what the deep, dark foggy depression was like when I’m in a lucid state. Expecting someone to understand who hasn’t experienced depression as a major part of their life is more impossible than asking me to get up and make dinner when the world is crashing into emptiness and there is nothing but horribleness with nothing good in the world that ever existed, ever.

    Being depressed drives you away from people: you don’t want to have to put on a brave face and pretend that it sucks now, but everything will be better later, okay? Because you’ll still be depressed later, and even the most devoted people only want to hear about your horrible problems so much. You don’t want to drive them away, because you need them to be there later. And it takes so much less effort to lay on your face and watch TV and not have to worry about how you look while you’re crying. Plus, these days I can recognize “I am not myself right now and things I say may not reflect things I mean when I am me again. This is not a good time to interact with others.”

    I’ll probably never be able to go to grad school as a result of my inner abuser. I am strong and I am smart and I’m getting healthier, but I also already carry close to my maximum stress load as part of my everyday depression and struggle to please the monster within, and know I cannot carry the additional stress and commitment it would take to complete a higher degree. I hope someday that will change, and I so greatly admire Juniper and everyone else who can do it.

  2. Robert B. says

    Being non-depressed is weird. It’s wonderful. Everything isn’t horrible and terrifying, and life is enjoyable. You can get up in the morning, you can interact with people because you want to, and you can enjoy the things you like doing. The only scary part is that if you don’t hold onto that state tightly all the time, it’s back into depression for you, where you don’t have the energy to climb back out.

    This.

    And the really strange thing is, depression is almost invisible from the inside. If you’d asked me what depression feels like when I was depressed, I’d have said something like, “Well, like, I feel down when bad stuff happens.” And someone who didn’t get it would think that sounded stupid. Everyone feels down when bad stuff happens.

    From the outside (Prozac FTW) the difference is profound. When you’re depressed, it’s all bad stuff. Or rather, you feel down ALL THE FUCKING TIME, and your brain interprets everything in the worst possible light, to explain to itself why you feel so down.

    Did you go to work today? You made mistakes, you must be incompetent. Did you stay home? Well, aren’t you a lazy bastard. Did you play a game with someone? If you didn’t win every time, you must be a fucking loser. Did you hang out by yourself? Then you’re a self-absorbed shut-in with no life.

    And the constant drag on your mood makes it that much harder to do anything. So you spend more time than other people not doing anything, except feeling sad. And you know if you went and did something, you’d probably feel better. So now it’s your fault that you feel bad; you’re stupid and lazy for not doing anything.

    That’s how depression talks to you, to borrow the OP’s metaphor. And like the OP said, it’s all lies. Whether or not things are actually bad, they will seem worse than they are to you because the chemicals in your brain are messed up. Sometimes things really are bad, but the reason you don’t just fix them is that the chemicals in your brain are messed up and you can barely manage to get out of bed and pretend to be human all day.

    But it’s so hard to see any of that from inside. From the inside, it’s just true that you suck and the world sucks and everything sucks. It doesn’t feel like a message you agree with, or a conclusion you come to, it’s just an obvious fact. Everything’s terrible, duh. It’s so hard to fight, even if you know you have it, becuase depression seeps into your understanding of everything – including your understanding of depression.

    So, Juniper, (and everyone,) good luck. It’s rough, but there is such a thing as better, and you can get there, and you deserve to get there. “Everyone who wants to, deserves to be happy.” – Brainbent!Tavros

  3. says

    This is a beautiful and terrible and wonderful post. Thank you for it.
    I don’t think I’m actually suffering from depression, but I sure know the voices (the monkey-brain, I call it) that whisper, that make you believe that every person you see is just smarter and more successful and generally not such a failure.
    The voices that say “but would you really mind not to wake up tomorrow morning?”
    And what’s worst, they tell you that those who try to support you, who tell you that you’re a wonderful person are just lying to you.

  4. F says

    It really doesn’t help when your depression shares your worldview with you. It makes feeling or behaving depressed seem so much more reasonable.

    It’s too bad that depression tends to take off and feed on itself, that some people are subject to more extreme depression. It sucks. Because a mild tendency towards depression does tend to curb unrealistic expectations and enthusiasm, and ignorance of things that suck in the world which need to be addressed. There have been some studies that indicate depressed people have more realistic views, at least until depression starts taking one over completely and creates unrealistically negative, paralyzing thoughts.

    In many ways, I’m quite disengaged from the world, which certainly has its drawbacks. But I’ve never had to suffer super major depression for any extended period (I think), not the levels that some people have to deal with.

    And many of hose people who suffer major depression? They are some of the best people in the world. And I hate that brain chemistry can blind them to their goodness, when depression’s negative targeting locks reflexively on the person suffering. Which is a hell of a lot like religious guilt programming, in my experience.

    So, more power to Juniper. Because I’d bet Juniper is really awesome.

  5. Tigger_the_Wing says

    Wonderful post. The metaphor resonates with me. The only way I could cope with the depression was to anthropomorphise it; if I could persuade myself that the negative thoughts were the lies of a nasty little gnome living in my head, I could visualise myself locking him into a sound-proofed box. To a large extent, it has worked for me (I haven’t yet found an anti-depressant to which I don’t react violently*). Many years ago, one of my sons (then aged seven) visualised his depression as a bad-tempered baby elephant rampaging in his skull, which he then imagined being tied up by its granny. Fortunately for him, his current GP has found a medication and dose that works to keep the worst at bay.

    It seems to me that Juniper is a wonderful person. =^_^=

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    *During the worst episodes, I used to retreat to bed and eat chocolate. That sort-of helped me feel better. Or, at least, not quite as awful. However, I’m not allowed to eat real chocolate any more, and the substitutes just don’t have that ‘oomph’. It’s fortunate, then, that the gnome seems to have given up trying to escape, for now.

  6. chewbacca-stylist says

    Some of this, e.g. “Depression is a jealous mate. It wants to possess every tiny bit of you, even if it has to kill you to be sure of you…” sound like addiction. And that connection reminded me of the wonderful Mia Michaels choreography for “Addiction” on SYTYCD. Which, with your post in mind, could easily be interpreted as portraying the struggle against depression. That it’s set to Sarah Bareilles “Gravity” (pulling me down… pulling me down…) makes the connection all the stronger.

    Also relevant, Ally Grosch’s “Depression” post at Hyperbole and a Half. “I just woke up one day feeling sad and helpless for absolutely no reason.”

  7. thecalmone says

    Great piece. I’d like to put in another vote for Prozac. I’ve been on and off anti-depressants for several years due to anxiety, and can’t emphasise enough how good Prozac, in particular, has been for me. I do miss the clarity that returns when SSRI’s leave your system, but on it I am happier, more productive and a better partner. There are well known side effects but in my case, fortunately, they have been minimal.

  8. Sergio says

    It’s good to have friends and family who understand they have helped mr cope when my bi polar was on a long downslope
    Don’t ever be to proud to ask for help we are in this together

  9. says

    Side effects of everything tried were too horrible for me, both mental and physical.
    Met some people during my hospitalizations who said meds saved their lives.

    For me therapy and exercise were most helpful… but finding a therapist that is right for you is a crapshoot. I had a great, very helpful therapist once, she made a huge difference. Then I moved. My last one was terrible, she made things much worse.

    There is a lot of work to be done. Our current health care system is not the best model for tackling mental health issues.

  10. says

    Sometimes I think, isn’t is selfish that other people have to put so much time and effort into making me functional? What’s wrong with me, why can’t I just cope with things easily and enjoy life like them? I wonder how I’d feel if I had to deal with a depressed person in my family. It would be emotionally draining, all the time. Such a waste. It’s not fair on other people.

  11. embertine says

    Wonderful post, and I have heard so many people who think Juniper is a wonderful person. Statistically, they can’t all be wrong.
    ;)

  12. natashayar-routh says

    Great, deeply depressed and now feelings of inadequacy. I have accomplished nothing and am not wonderful person. So I guess my depression is right, there is no reason for me to exist. May as well de now.

  13. says

    Your depression is lying to you too. We all have people to whom we make a difference. We all have an effect on the world. Those of us who deal with major depression accomplish amazing amounts every time we bring ourselves to simply interact with others or to say we need help. Admitting we feel inadequate is something most people don’t manage.

    I just happen to be close enough to Juniper to be able to tell her in detail what her personal lies are.

  14. D. C. Sessions says

    Such a waste. It’s not fair on other people.

    It’s our choice, please. I’m an adult and quite capable of saying “no” for myself. But if you say “no” for me, you’re denying me the opportunity to say “yes.”

    And I would hate that. For at least some of us, there is nothing on Earth more rewarding than making the world better by helping people one at a time.

    And, yes, Juniper, that very much includes you.

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