The Reason It Took Me So Long to Realize I Had Depression
When I woke up to the news about Las Vegas, I felt nothing.
Not on purpose, not out of spite, not because I “knew something like this was going to happen,” not because I didn’t think it was a tragedy, but because I have depression. I was diagnosed with it this past year, and although I’m in a better place than I was at the time of my diagnosis, it still hamstrings me regularly. Through treatment I realized my depression has been with me for over half of my life and I’m just now coming to accept that it’s going to be with me for the rest of it, but that’s another story for another time.
One of the reasons it took me so long to realize I had depression was because of the particular way my symptoms express themselves. I’m not someone who is overcome by sadness to the point of weeping. In fact, I haven’t cried in over seven years. My depression robs me of all feeling, both the highs and the lows, and for the longest time I thought that was evidence of me having tremendous “control” over my emotions. I used to talk about it in job interviews as a character strength. However, since my diagnosis I’ve started to realize more and more how much I’m actually emotionally stunted, not emotionally strong.
A couple red flags I never noticed along the way to my diagnosis that I encourage people to reflect on. Back in high school I was in the hospital when my grandfather was taken off life support, yet I was so visibly unaffected by this that my uncle actually took me aside to say, “It’s OK to cry you know.” When my sister, my best friend through much of middle and high school, forgot my birthday, I didn’t think it was anything to be upset about, we had just “grown apart” and I shouldn’t care if she doesn’t want to interact with me. When my second grandfather died my only reaction was, “Well maybe my mother will be able to stop worrying about him now.” When my ex-girlfriend was crying in my arms on election night, I was thinking about making sure she was comfortable and not moving too much.
What I also realized is that I can’t seem to react with any emotion to the tremendous tragedies in the world. The destruction wrought by three major hurricanes, the senseless violence of the mass shooting in Las Vegas and even the disgusting racism evidenced in Charlottesville left me feeling nothing.
Feeling nothing is a lot different than feeling empty, or numb, or overcome and society doesn’t give us the vocabulary to describe something that is missing. Instead, society tells us that someone like me is cold, heartless, unsympathetic or selfish. I’d hope that I’m none of those things, but at the same time I can’t have honest conversations with people about how I don’t feel. I find myself lying to avoid judgement from others, and while my friends and family are speaking from the heart, I’m trying to calibrate the words I choose for the emotion I’m trying to portray.
Sometimes, I’ll spend hours trying to force myself to feel something. I’ll binge on tragic images and heartbreaking stories in an effort to overload my brain into an emotional reaction. If I can’t get sad, I try to get angry, but invariably I simply end up frustrated. I wonder if I’m too broken to be fixed, I wonder if it’s even worth trying to get better, and I wonder who I’m going to have to lie to next.
“Hi, how are you feeling today?” they ask… “I’m not.”
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Thinkstock photo via francescoch