What I Want You to Remember If You're Navigating the 'Depression Fog'
I wake to an empty bed, empty room, empty house — save for the dogs sleeping soundly at my feet, and the cats whose whereabouts are unknown. I swing my legs over the side of the bed and throw away the sheets. Lines of light seep through closed wooden blinds. By the sounds outside I know it’s morning. A distant siren moans of some unseen tragedy in the making. The room stands blue and gray and cold around me, a box for keeping all my colorless dreams tucked away, like me.
My head is numb from sleep. My eyes red from crying. I don’t even remember crying, but the feeling of general puffiness around my face is familiar enough. I don’t need a mirror to know how I look. I don’t want to see. I stand, stretch, pad across the carpet to the bathroom, past the vanity, where my gaze falls to the floor to avoid my mask of emptiness.
But no, not a mask, I remember. This is it; this is the real me. The mask is what I put on to go out there, among the shining, smiling faces in the shining, smiling world. The world I witness from inside the fog is happy and colorful and bright and wonderful, always moving, always posting and liking and sharing. Always exploring, tasting, drinking some happy new thing.
I don’t feel like moving. I don’t feel like sharing. I don’t feel like tasting or exploring anything.
I don’t feel anything.
I shower, because it’s been three days, and I don’t want my wife to think of me as her disgusting, smelly husband, who stays cooped up in the home office I suspect that she suspects I set up as a frail excuse to stay inside all day, “working.”
Working comes easy on these days, believe it or not. I can lose myself in work. I build websites and write marketing copy for a living. I spend a lot of my time talking to people through social media. I started the company with a friend. It’s a young company, barely a toddler, wobbling with every tender step, but it’s my baby and I love it. It brings me hope, gives me an escape. It keeps me connected, even at a distance. Even through the fog.
My passion has always been storytelling. Before this, I spent my days barely existing within the vacuum of retail. Face-to-face with the beast: the wide-eyed, always moving, shining, smiling, posting, liking public — a world which has begun to feel like some alien planet I’m only temporarily inhabiting.
Just passing through.
The hot water of the shower eases some of the pressure in my face, and I feel a little more awake after toweling off. Brushing my teeth forces me to smile, if only to check my gums, and here I see the thing in the mirror: the ghost. That’s almost enough to bring the tears back. I shut off the bathroom light and sit on the edge of the shower in darkness, head in hands, breathing deeply.
You’re OK. You’re fine.
“This too shall pass.”
I stand and fumble for the light switch once more, wondering if I’ll still be there in the mirror when the lights come on, or if the ghost will have made me transparent. Will I be hollow on the outside now, too? Surely. I feel hollow.
I feel invisible.
That’s the hardest part of navigating the fog: waking up on certain days and looking out as a stranger, both to the world around you and within.
It’s like standing at a window, watching a muted storm. But the storm is inside your mind, and you’re the only one who can see through the window.
My name is Josh, and I struggle with major depressive disorder. I’ve also been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, and in the past I’ve been treated for anxiety. I’ve tried to end my story before, and failed. I’m thankful of that. Even on days like today. Even when the fog draws up behind and before and above my head like a seething ocean wave, I am thankful to be alive.
How is that?
How is it that I can feel both grateful to be here and desperate to escape?
Because of all the lights I’ve found along the way. Because of my wife. If I found only one source of light in all the world to guide me through the fog, it would be her. My wife, the star defying a perfect void. The thought of her grief, her sadness, is enough to keep me here. What it would do to her, if I left. If I gave up.
If I let the ghost have me.
This is not an easy way to live, but there are days I wake up and the sun really does shine. Those are the days I’m living for. Days like today are hard to navigate, but I make it through by pushing forward. If I glance back over my shoulder, I see the ghost there, waiting in the fog.
And once again I reply, “Not yet. Not today.”
Because that’s the best I can offer. Today I’m choosing the fog. I’m choosing the world behind the window. I’m choosing the lights along the way. Their warmth is my warmth. Their light is my own, my only.
I’m always fearful of stealing their light. What if I take too much? Will they become dark, like me? Will they be empty then?
Will I become the fog that lingers?
Will I become the ghost that whispers?
It’s unnatural that the nature of emptiness is the same as fog: it spreads.
It’s hard seeing someone so full of happiness and realizing you matter to them. That they love you, yes you, just the way you are. How can someone love something so empty? A thing that is empty wishes to be full. A thing that is full wishes to pour itself out, so that it can be filled once more. The difference is that the full thing knows it will become full again. There’s never any doubt. That’s usually just the way it is.
“I am full,” the full thing thinks, “and I will be full again. Here, have some of mine. I insist.”
And the empty thing, it takes, because what else is there for an empty thing to do?
I am an empty thing, taking. Always taking, stealing. I steal light and warmth and color. And once the light dims, I am empty once more. And so I go on, stumbling through the fog, as hollow and light as water must become so that it may fly. I go on searching for the next light.
As I’m writing this, I’m in the fog. But I’m remembering all the clear days behind me and the ones to come. I have hope that they will come. It is that hope to which I cling, for her sake. And for mine.
If you find yourself in the fog, the thing to remember is, don’t panic. These clouds, they come and go. They never hang around forever. Keep searching. Find a beacon. Find a light. Find something full to replenish you. It will become full again, I promise. Never be afraid to drink when you need to drink. Steal a little light while you can, and keep looking forward.
And if you make it through the fog, light the way for those behind you. Because when you live with a mental illness of any kind, every day is different. Today, I’m wandering. I’m searching. Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll find the light. Perhaps I’ll even get to shine for someone else.
Some days, it’s easier to shine. Some days, it’s easier to search. Some days you pour, and some days you drink. Some days, you’re doing a little bit of both.
Every day, no matter what, please remember: you are not alone. Even if you can’t see them, the fog is full of wanderers. If you find no one else, find me. I’m out here, too. I’m out here with you. I’m here for you. We can wander (and shine) together.
Never forget. The fog is not forever. The light is just over the horizon. Find it.
I love you.
Follow this journey here.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Getty image via francescoch