A couple of weeks ago I opened up about my severe depression. Unfortunately, depression is not new to me. It’s hit me from time to time since I was about ten years old. Sometimes it has obvious triggers, but sometimes it seems to strike at random. Sometimes it may only last for a week or two, but sometimes it can drag on for almost a year.
Unfortunately, this current depression was one of the long ones.
The triggers were obvious: Months of sustained internet harassment from misogynistic assholes. Worrying about my boyfriend’s impending graduation and the possibility of him moving away. Feeling lost and alone as I desperately tried to figure out my experiments in graduate school. My mother’s cancer diagnosis. And this final one seems silly, but I read an introductory philosophy book during this time and it was absolutely crushing. I had become convinced that life was meaningless, morality was a farce, and my future was utterly hopeless and devoid of any dreams or aspirations. I spent much of my time pondering how fucked and pointless existence was, crying to myself, or writing emo poetry about how my body is just a bag of chemicals. I’ll spare you said poetry.
Then, a couple of good things happened.
On one of my low days, I reached out to a friend. He looked up a therapist for me through the Secular Therapist Project, and I mustered enough motivation to write that therapist an email. For the first time in almost a year, I had a moment of clarity where I realized my brain was lying to me and I could try to do something about it. Taking a step to take care of myself lifted the black cloud an inch.
I opened up to my boyfriend about my concerns about him having to move away when he graduated. I don’t know why I didn’t mention it sooner – depression convinces you that no one cares and there’s no solution to your problems, so it wasn’t a rational decision. But once I talked to him we realized we were both on the same page and committed to make something work, because we love each other so much. He is my rock and I feel so lucky to have him, and I knew he felt the same. The cloud lifted another inch.
Soon after this, my experiments in lab started to work. My months of planning and more months of troubleshooting finally paid off. I grinned ear to ear. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t had a single moment of positive feedback at work since I passed my general exam in June of 2012. I had gone a whole year without success and had convinced myself that was due to personal failings, not an ambitious project. I was excited about my research again. The cloud lifted another inch.
I wrote about my depression here. I had missed blogging so much, and getting back into the swing of things reminded me how much I had missed it. Writing has always been my creative outlet and a source of support. Realizing I could still do that despite my devoted haters was a relief. The cloud lifted another inch.
But then the best thing of all happened. I got the news that my mother’s cancer marker levels were finally in the normal range. A near death experience from a bilateral pulmonary embolism and stage 4 ovarian cancer were now behind her. Months before I thought she had no future, but now we could all see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When I woke up the next day, the cloud was gone.
For the first time in nearly a year, I felt “okay.” I wasn’t obsessing over everything I said and did, horrified about what others would think of me. I wasn’t cycling thoughts through my head about how the world was hopeless and unfixable and my life had nothing to look forward to. I wasn’t thinking how I hated my job and I was an idiot who must have only gotten into grad school to fill some diversity quota. I wasn’t feeling doomed about my mom’s health or my inability to be there with her. I wasn’t having fleeting fantasies about jumping in front of the bus to relieve the pain, even though I knew I would never want to actually do that.
I was just going about my day like normal.
I road the bus and looked at the pretty trees outside. I read some interesting articles on the internet. I worked on some more experiments, excited to see my results. I walked to lunch and felt the warm sunlight against my skin. I ordered a bowl of pho at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant and smelled the wonderful aroma. And as I lifted the spoon to my mouth, I wanted to cry tears of joy. I hadn’t wanted to eat anything for weeks and food had tasted like nothing. This tasted like absolute heaven. It felt like the best meal I had ever had in my entire life, even though I had had it dozens of times before.
When you’ve been depressed so long, an “okay” day felt euphoric.
The anhedonia that comes with depression – the loss of interest in anything that once gave you joy – is partially so horrible because you don’t realize it’s happening until is stops. When it stopped that day, it took all of my energy to not sob joyfully into my bowl of pho. When I went home I ended up doing dishes and scrubbing the floor because the ability to muster up enough motivation to do finally do simple chores made me feel like I had just won a Nobel. After nearly a year at the absolute bottom, going about business as usual was ecstasy.
I’ve had a couple weeks of okay days so far. I know for me it’s a matter of when, not if, my depression will come back. The black cloud will surely come down again. But while it has lifted, I’m going to enjoy every okay day as if it’s the best day of my life. Because it sure feels like it.