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When Depression Feels Like a Hole

I’m not going to sugarcoat it — depression sucks. If you’ve experienced it, you already know that all too well. If you haven’t experienced it, you might not understand how much it sucks. It’s different for everyone, but I’m going to try to explain how depression feels for me.

Depression is a hole. Yeah, I know…it’s not terribly original and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but bear with me for a bit. Sometimes it’s kind of a booby trap, sort of like the lightning sand in “The Princess Bride.” I’m walking along and everything seems just fine and dandy when I’m suddenly sucked into this pit of darkness (you thought I was going to say despair, didn’t you? Inconceivable!). I seemingly had no idea it was there, but now I’m trapped.

Sometimes it’s more like creeping along a rickety bridge swaying over a chasm. I’m well aware that there is nothing beneath me and that the bridge is far from stable, but I keep thinking that if I move carefully enough, I might not fall. But all it takes is one wrong step, one rotted plank and oops! I’m abyss-bound.

Sometimes it’s more like a gradual slope. The descent has been going on for a while, but it’s not until I’m right in the thick of it that I realize I’m in the hole. Meanwhile, the slope behind me has disappeared and I find myself stuck.

There are a plethora of ways to end up in the hole and just as many reactions to winding up there. For example, if I thought things were fine and suddenly find myself in a hole, my reaction might be to panic. Anxiety fills my lungs. I try to look around, but it’s too dark to see anything. I feel around for a bit, but it seems like the hole goes on forever. I try crying out for help. If I’m really lucky, someone hears me and throws me a rope, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

If I saw the hole and tried to avoid it, my reaction is probably more along the lines of frustration. I saw the hole. I knew the thing was there. How could I have let myself fall into it? Other people navigate around the hole just fine! Why am I so bad at this? If I had just taken the right steps, if I had been smarter about crossing the bridge, I wouldn’t be in this freaking hole.

And if my trek was slow but sure, and I don’t realize I’ve walked myself right into the hole, then my reaction is closer to resignation. Yep. Here I am. In a hole. Again. Sigh.

No matter how it happened, the end result is more or less the same — I’m in a hole. At a certain point, I come to accept that I’m in the hole. This is where I live now. I exist in this hole, and that’s just how things are now. I might convince myself that the hole isn’t so bad; it’s roomy and I’ve made myself comfortable. I might believe that I belong in the hole, that I deserve the darkness because of something I did or something I am. I might even stop looking for a way out; it’s all pointless anyway. I’m never getting out.

Ah, but wait! I’ve been in a hole before and made it out. And once I made it out, I remembered that I really didn’t enjoy my time in the hole and wasn’t looking to go back there anytime soon. I took action. I found ways to keep myself from ending up in the hole (medication, therapy), but it’s not always so easy to prevent. I also armed myself with helpful tools in case it ever happened again (meditation, exercise, a strong support network).

Suddenly, I remember…I have a flashlight! It’s been with me the whole time, but I had totally forgotten it was there. I dig it out of my pocket and turn it on, breathing a sigh of relief when I see a ladder nearby. It’s a tough climb. Sometimes I get one step up only to fall two (or 12) steps down. But I can see the world outside the hole. I know I can make it out. It’s a struggle, but I make it to the top, climb out and walk away.

Depression is a hole. These days, I can go a pretty long time without seeing a hole and I sometimes start to think that maybe all the holes are gone (spoiler alert…they’re not). But I’ve learned the signs of an upcoming hole and have ways to avoid them. Sometimes, I miss those signs and end up back in the hole, but at least now I have a flashlight (even if I don’t remember that right away). The way out is still hard, but at least I know that I can get out. I’ve done it before.

Photo credit: FreedomMaster/Getty Images