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What I Want My Loved Ones to Know When My Depression Makes Me 'Disappear'


I know my depression has returned full-force when I start to triage my life.

The simplest tasks overwhelm me, so I begin to make silent, irrational deals with myself.

‚ÄúIf you can get out of¬†bed and make it to work on time, you don’t have to check the mail. (And¬†obviously you never have to make the bed.)‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúIf you show up for your¬†friend’s birthday dinner, you don’t have to go to the work happy hour.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúIf you shower¬†Monday through Friday, you can stay in bed all weekend.‚ÄĚ

My mind goes into fight or flight mode, and any¬†outside stimulus seems to be a threat. That text from a friend? They might need energy¬†from me. The call from Mom? She might have bad news. The email from someone I¬†haven’t seen in months? They might be able to tell I’m not doing well.¬†The meeting with a client? Fine, of course I’ll go to that ‚ÄĒ but that’s all I’m¬†doing today.

When my depression returns, I live by a spoon¬†theory of effort, keeping most of them locked away. Just in case. I’ll do¬†what’s required to stay employed, but once I leave the office, my energy¬†leaves, too. At that point, I make no promises that I’ll be responsive to the¬†outside world.

I search for tasks I can¬†postpone or eliminate to conserve energy and simply make it through the day. I¬†don’t share my plan with my loved ones, making life harder on myself. And them.

When they follow up after the third, fourth, fifth¬†unanswered text or email, I get upset that they need anything¬†from me. But really, I’m mad at myself because I know their frustration and hurt¬†is my own doing. I want to let them in, but I need to stay closed off to make¬†it through the week.

Avoidance becomes my preferred method of communication.

I disappear into a world of¬†my own making that’s safe, contained and predictable. New information is¬†overwhelming, so I turn to what I know. I re-watch episodes of ‚ÄúThe West Wing‚ÄĚ that inspire me. I listen to my favorite albums.¬†I crave one-on-one interactions and avoid overwhelming crowds.

Glennon Doyle¬†Melton tells the story of the canary in the mine, sent ahead of the miners¬†because canaries are delicate enough to detect the poisons humans don’t¬†even notice. The canaries save the miners, but they pay the price. They are the¬†first to absorb the poisons of this world.

What I want my friends and family to know when I’m¬†in triage:

I love you with a depth that’s hard for me to even process, much¬†less explain. I feel in extremes, so when I disappoint you, I devastate myself,¬†too.

I’m not sitting at home¬†crying and ignoring you. I’m at home healing, trying to regain the energy to¬†interact with the world again with compassion and authenticity. And light.¬†To me, the world is a toxic mine, and I’m a canary who’s afraid she’ll be¬†poisoned.

I’ve read all the articles suggesting we¬†should forgive people with depression for disappearing for a while, excusing the¬†flakiness that accompanies minds at war. I ask for grace when I’m at my worst,¬†but I also demand you feel your feelings. I ask you to hold me¬†accountable. Tell me when I’ve hurt you. Tell me how my non-responsiveness made¬†you feel. I’m locked in a chamber of torment inside my mind, and the worse and¬†darker it gets, the more selfish I feel I become, for self-preservation. Help me remember¬†who I used to be, and please remind me that you¬†need my time, too.

Help me remember I’m¬†not a canary on a dangerous mission. I’m a canary who was put here to fly free.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Between Grief and High Delight.