The thing about depression. (birthdays)
It may be dormant, and it may be implicit - but it is always home.
I'm sure there are plenty of you all who have had the experience of the crippling hindrance on daily life that is major depressive disorder. I have had it throughout high school all the way into college to the point where living an every day life just never manifests in a functional way. You know everyone deserves to be happy, but for some cruel reason, or just by the prospect of you never being good enough for something or someone, being such a disappointment to the world because of failure upon failure, you feel that you never deserve it. Any remote sign of happiness feels like a joke because your opinion of yourself and your worth is so low. You can't go out and do normal things. Go to school. Have a social life. Deal with loss, failure, or rejection in a way that doesn't serve as further reinforcement to make you hate yourself. You can't grow when you're bound like this. It's so intense that you can go to a therapist and be told the right things, know the rational way to think about things, and yet your body still chooses to believe in the irrational, self destructive ways because rationality is just something that your body can't register. You can say something, hear something. Etc, but doesn't mean that you will actually do it. My mind just refused to do the right thing. I felt like I was at a dead end. Music wasn't enjoyable like it used to be because it was plagued by the overwhelming feeling that nobody would care enough. Replace music with virtually everything else. It's just not functional.
So when things start to get better (for me, this was closing off toxic relationships and environments, seeing a psychiatrist, behavioral therapy), you feel like you will begin to outlive a sadness quota. You have suffered for so long and so much that the universe MUST pay you back by making everything in your life go right. It's like you've rediscovered your worth and everyone deserves to know what it is. That finally you'll reach this pinnacle divinity in your life in which you can abandon bone crushing sadness for good, or that it becomes something you can functionally tolerate - that it does not take away from the value of your happiness anymore. It felt like everything before was all wrong, so now this must be the redemption point where everything starts to be okay. Like, for good. Life will never not be a tolerable place. One can imagine that anything that violates that impression feels like all of your hard work is dismantling. You feel a kind of anger and hatred that goes beyond what you can pinpoint. It took away everything you loved and you don't want it to do that again. Denial, especially after having dealt with one huge period of major depressive disorder already, is the easiest thing to do.
Before I even realized that my depression was starting to manipulate my sense of self again, I spent my birthday this year like an absolute child. There was someone I was sort of seeing there who I didn't realize until now was a huge manifestation of my depression complex – I felt this inexplicable frustration over the fact that he was the one thing in my life that wasn't turning out for the better. I thought the universe owed it to me. So the more he strayed from that idea, the more frustrated I got because it didn't seem fair to me. And while I did have some valid frustrations and vendettas against him that were (and still are) based in reality, as long as I believed in the sadness quota, the majority of my reservations with out situation were not valid. It all exploded in one giant mess over the next 24 hours. These inner frustrations were verbally projected in incredibly selfish, embarrassing ways that I didn't remember until I was reminded of them. I was THAT girl, being messy, entitled, and drunk in a red silk dress, the ultimate walking juxtaposition. I had come back from a week of teaching and other weeks of touring with my own music group, landed one of my biggest magazine features so far, and yet was still not acting like half the adult I projected myself to be during those times.
I woke up the next morning, alone, with a sense of emptiness and sadness so deep in my being that I knew there was something I was avoiding. It was dragging me farther and farther away from my friends, many of whom I hadn't talked to in weeks. I blew all my chances to start dating someone again in a healthy manner. I lied to people about going to therapy. The shame of the reasoning behind these occurrences was consuming. I had to put the pieces together and surrender to mess that depression - my greatest enemy, my greatest fear, the one thing I swore I destroyed for good - made again.
Just days before, I had ranted to a bunch of online screens about a derogatory publisher for All About Jazz as if I had never seen someone speak to me that way before. (I have). It all made sense. I knew my worth but acted out when someone else didn't instead of letting it go. The disjunction of how you deserve to be treated or perceived versus how you actually are perceived initiates an irrational fear that you may never truly get what you deserve. But this illusion of the sadness quota and optimal happiness is about as false as severe depression, which is a static feeling like every single thing you do or are or look like is a public disappointment and shame to the world. When you don't know that, in the case of wanting so badly for things to finally go right in every major aspect, especially when the majority of it has, you start to hold people accountable for not functioning in the way you might deserve. And the thing is that if you don't realize that that's what's happening, that you are scrambling in every possible humiliating way to pay homage to this idealization that you cannot even control in the first place, everything just feels genuinely infuriating. It feels like the universe is cursing you. It feels like people have cruel intentions. How dare they do this to me when I have worked so hard to be happy for so long? How are you supposed to feel like you finally conquered depression when there is one thing that just won't turn around like everything else, no matter how hard you try? How should that give you the confidence that you will still ultimately overcome it for good? That you are really good enough for everyone? When I have worked so hard to see my own worth, and now that I can finally see it, I realize that not everyone else necessarily can and so I can only trivialize my own confidence?
It was all the sudden like an infected part of me had completely disseminated and peeled off my body. That rawness stung in a way I haven't felt in a long time. I figuratively could not look myself in the eye. I felt like I lost myself. I didn't know this person I became. This was the first time I fully understood why people took drugs to escape their problems, something that I previously thought in my earlier manifestations of depression was an excuse to not reconcile with or acknowledge the severity of one's own faults. The confusion then initiated the tears, the frustration, the self hatred, the embarrassment, the final anger, the kid inside me throwing one last temper tantrum in agony from confrontation before settling down. It was me, growing up and simply learning my lesson, feeling the disparity between the mature, put together young woman most people knew me as, and the emotionally triggered girl that ran around waving the flag of existentialist suffering. And me, the individual who had been wrestling with clinical depression for the past six years, still hadn't beat it, and avidly denied that fact in a dangerous manner. It wasn't as crippling as it once was and didn't manifest how it once did, but it still existed enough to contribute to making a version of myself that I was ashamed of. I saw that dark place lurking in the corner of my mind for months and was reminded of how broken once was when my depression was at its absolute worst. I wanted to believe that life did not belong to me anymore, but even if I am not as crippled by depression as I once was, I am still blooming from the same stem. Maybe just a different kind of flower, not quite as withered. Not everything was getting better, and I hadn't earned things to be that way even if they were – and all it took was the ego takedown of admitting it to be true.
The next tier then has to be forgiveness and surrendering, sitting with the emotions you feared of having and letting them have at it. Learning to be okay with the fact that you can't be mad at people who don't see your worth because that is one thing that eventually becomes out of your control. Not getting what you deserve from someone is not a sign of their malintent because it's not their job to know what it is or be obliged to fulfill it. You want to believe there's something you can do to change that, that if it your worth is so clear to yourself that that must translate to others. But it doesn't always, or in the way that you want it to be. Or maybe they do know your worth, deep down, and it's just not something they are capable of demonstrating to you yet or even just react to. I also think if most people didn't WANT to hurt people, then they wouldn't. We cannot simultaneously pursue what we want and get what we deserve without some form of adverse consequence down the way. We spend so much time striving for this idealized society but it never actually happens. Yet, we are still forced to believe it's attainable because it is a powerful incentive for capitalism, the economy, religion, and coping mechanisms to keep the weight of everything wrong with the world from wreaking mental havoc on our brains. Whether we know it or not, our subconscious mind is quick to abide, and with depression, the coping mechanism malfunctions. You may even be conscious of the coping mechanism that is idealism, a striving towards happiness that doesn't operate on the realistic level of the relativity of sadness. But you feel the weight of everything in the world, and thus starts the torturous cycle of believing in potential for ultimate happiness even when you know it doesn't exist. Setting oneself up only to be let down every single time until its the only outcome you know, and then blaming the things you can't control (like the weight of the world) when the sadness quota is not a reality you want to force yourself to be aware of.
Yes, it sucks. It hurts. Coming to terms with depression being something I'll probably always have becomes exhausting purely by prospect before I even start doing the work again. What I do know is that I fought too hard to make the things that ARE going right in our lives stay that way, in this moment, at this time. People and things won't end up being the people or things you wanted them to be and that's not something you have agency to control or are even capable of controlling. You can control how you react, the awareness you choose to have, and the vulnerability you extend to yourself. That alone may help you be closer to getting the things you deserve, at least more of the time. There is a sliver of hope in all this embarrassment and pouting to say that you'll become a more mutable person, a more day by day person, and that the things you deserve will come...just not necessarily all at once, and likely when you least expect it.
I'll admit - in a very humorous way, I feel a like Cady in Mean Girls right now. The part where she apologizes for the burn book, to Aaron, Regina, and her friends she had betrayed in the process. And while this does not have the utterly paradigm-shifting effect that this part of Mean Girls had on my 10 year old brain, I'll conclude with this much. Here's to hoping that this is something that one of you need to hear, and that we can all learn how to let go of the things we may deserve, but don't always end up getting – in the right place, the right time, or maybe even not at all. To knowing that depression may be part of who you always are, that it won't be easy and it is far from over, but there is at least power in knowing that and knowing how to control that. And most importantly, to not blame yourself for not knowing better. Now you do know, and you can make sure that a growing awareness and forgiveness are your strongest tools for not letting depression define you while its home.
That is the hardest, and yet, the most commendable strength, a person with depression can do.
I mean, exclaiming “why isn't anyone listening to me, I'm a five course meal!” while birthday-wasted with your young 20-something friends is kind of hilarious anyway. I mean, what a way to go running out of your teenage years if anything is to be gained from having to witness that level of absolutely insufferable debauchery. I definitely feel like if I saw myself at the club, I would think I was obnoxious, too.
But in another way - we are just learning that integrity, and your very best self, must be earned.