With Depression, Feeling 'Better' Isn't the Same as Feeling 'Well'

After an almost six month battle with a major depression relapse, several drug trial and errors and many suicidal nights, I can fairly safely say I am finally starting to feel a little better. That being said — I certainly don’t feel well. I still feel completely worn out, I have no interest in doing anything, even the simplest tasks are overwhelming and I would not say “optimistic” is a word that applies to me at the moment. But the unrelenting feeling of suffocation — the sense of truly needing to die to escape the pain — has eased some. And I am extremely grateful for that.

Still, I’m better — not well.

But, in the world of mental illness, where does that put me? I’m still depressed, just less depressed. Should I be appreciative of this small amount of relief (which I would have given anything for just a month ago) and not push my doctor to make me feel “whole” again? Or do I keep trying more — higher doses, different medications — until I feel like the best me I possibly can? After all, I’m eating a bit better, sleeping a bit better and feeling a bit better. What right do I have to want more?

For months I have begged and pleaded with my doctor: please just make me feel better. Not “great” or “good,” just a tiny bit better. Well, he succeeded. So now, am I being selfish to want to feel even more of this “better” feeling? Ultimately this is the long journey between “rock bottom” and “recovered.” The various levels of hell you pass through on your way back from the brink. It feels like being on a boat heading for an island, and realizing you’re nowhere near it yet — but now you’re getting much too far from where you started to even swim back. So you have to hope the boat keeps going and doesn’t breakdown or run out of fuel or hit a rock or something.

Pharmaceutical companies would have you believe you take their magic pill and all of the sudden the dark cloud lifts, the sun shines in and everything is wonderful again. Well, that’s just not usually the case. And even for the few who find the perfect medication right off the bat, it almost never works overnight. Instead, we tiptoe around the minefield of side effects, and hold our breath that maybe this one will be the one to give us some relief.

It seems so easy, so tempting, to just take what I’ve got and be “happy” with it. To accept this is as good as it gets, and I should be happy to have any relief at all. It is actually easier to continue being unwell — rather than to accept there is still a lot of hard work to do, and a long journey left ahead. The simple solution is to say, “Well I feel better, so I shouldn’t tempt fate.” It’s easier, but I know it’s not the right thing to do. Because that is how depression wins, and I’m not going to let it win.

I will always have depression, I’ve come to terms with that. But hopefully I won’t always be depressed. For now, I am less depressed than I was a week, or a month ago. And while I’m not ready to settle for that permanently, I see nothing wrong with taking a breath and enjoying this small step towards feeling well again. I’m not there yet, far from it. But I’m closer than I was — and in this battle, that is worth a lot.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Ralwel.

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