The Spiraling Cycle of Depression and Loneliness
Much like the classic question of whether the chicken or the egg came first, it is equally as hard to answer whether depression or loneliness comes first. Does depression come first, causing a person to isolate? Or was the loneliness there first, worsening your depression because you feel like you have nobody there who cares or understands? Often the two go hand in hand, causing a vicious cycle that spirals down and magnifies the impact of both.
In the beginning of the downward spiral, you may not want to bother or inconvenience anyone with your problems. The depression is there, but it feels like more of a trivial nuisance in your life than a bonafide issue. You minimize your struggles because you don’t want to appear weak or helpless. Your depression fools you into believing that you’re doing others a favor by not bothering them. It tells you they have more important things to worry about than you. You feel like you should be able to handle everything on your own, so you begin to pull away, to isolate and to justify those actions because you don’t want to trouble anyone else. You feel disconnected and lonely, like you’re completely on your own. And over time, your depression continues to worsen.
You close doors, put up walls and stop communicating. It is not long until you’ve distanced yourself for so long, you feel like you’re no longer entitled to reach out to those you have pushed away. You feel guilty for being a bad friend. You rationalize that since it has been so long since you’ve spoken to everyone, to contact them now just because you’re struggling more would be wrong. Even the thought of reaching out to anyone else feels awkward. You feel like you’re being unreasonably needy for even wanting or wishing someone was there. By this point, the depression has come into every aspect of your life. Everything feels utterly hopeless. You feel completely lost, isolated and alone, like no one else could possibly understand. Your depression convinces you that you are inherently broken in some strange and unique way that nobody else could ever understand. You are struggling to function. You have not only pushed away everyone who was close to you, but you have also started to avoid everyone and everything else as well. You have stopped doing many of the things that once brought you joy because you feel you don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t want anyone else to see the mess you’ve become. You shut yourself off from the world, telling yourself the world is a better place without you in it.
And you have nobody to turn to, no one to talk with, nobody to lean on or confide in. You’re completely alone.
The further into the depths you spiral, the worse the loneliness and depression become. It isn’t a cycle that just loops endlessly in circles. Instead, it is a downward spiral that drags you further and further into the darkness.
At the bottom of the spiral, you feel betrayed and abandoned. Despite the fact that you intentionally isolated yourself and pushed everyone else away, your depression tells you that if others truly cared, they would have seen all the signs and been there all along. Your depression deceives you into believing that they would have fought harder to be there. It convinces you that you could not turn to anyone else, even if you wanted to do so. Your depression projects onto them the ability to read minds and to see everything you have hidden from them all along. In the depth of depression, the irrational seems completely rational.
I have been there myself more than once. Every time my depression begins to worsen and I spiral downward, I find myself isolating more and more. I pull away because I don’t want to bother anyone else with my issues. I always feel like a massive burden to everyone in my life. My family and friends have seen me this way for years. I figure they must be tired of it all. I tell myself they don’t deserve to be plagued by my problems any more than they already have been. I tell myself I am sparing them from my drama and saving them from the heartbreak of seeing my continued struggle. I feel like a horrible friend for even wanting to have them there during my bad times. I feel like they deserve better than me. I tell myself that I am doing them a kindness by keeping them away.
I desperately yearn for someone to talk to, to lean on and to truly understand me.
Yet I feel completely alone…
…Because I have chosen to make myself alone.
It isn’t that I’m alone. I have an amazing fiancé who loves me and is both caring and compassionate about my mental illness. I have wonderful children who have grown into incredible adults who want to be there for me. I have a loyal and understanding circle of friends who have stood by me over the years. I have a supportive team of doctors and other professionals whose primary goal is to help me.
That is the reality. I am not alone.
However, the reality is also that I have depression, a mental illness that often convinces me both that I am alone and a nuisance to everyone else in my life. I don’t want to be alone. But I don’t want to trouble any of them with my struggles.
It is a catch-22 spurred on by the lies that my depression tells me. It takes a continuous and conscious effort to remind myself that I am not a burden to any of them. They love me, care about me and truly want to be there for me and help me. I have to remind myself regularly that I am not alone and that others do truly care. Again and again, I find myself itching to pull away, wanting to distance myself and my problems from everyone else. It is a constant struggle not to isolate myself for the perceived benefit of others.
I have to remind myself that I don’t have to carry everything on my shoulders alone. I often have to push myself to reopen those doors, tear down those walls and let others back in. It is very hard to lean on others, bother them with my problems or even ask for help when I need it. Instinctively, I feel like everyone else has enough on their own plates without adding my mess to the mix. I always feel guilty for needing other people. Whenever I start feeling that way, I have to remind myself that others are there because they want to be.
Deep down, I know I am not a burden. I know I am not troubling or bothering anyone with my problems nor am I forcing anyone to be there against their will. I know I don’t have to face my illness alone. I know all these negative feelings are lies, though they feel completely legitimate and real to me at the time. I don’t have to be alone, though.
None of us have to be alone. Don’t let your depression deceive you. There are others who care and want to be there for you. There are people you have pushed away who are yearning to be back in your life. There are people who truly care about you and your well-being. There are also others out there who you may not even have met yet who would be willing to be there. There are doctors and therapists, as well, and support groups out there who are willing to help.
I honestly cannot tell you whether the spiral starts with depression or with loneliness, though the two often go hand in hand. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship that feasts on your mental health, starving you of your happiness and well-being.
I do know one thing, though: you don’t have to be alone, so please don’t choose to be.
GettyImages via Grandfailure