When Depression Makes Me Feel Like I Am Not Enough
A few weeks ago I was having one of those heated discussions with my therapist about how he wasn’t hearing me and how I desperately needed him to. It was near the end of the session; that blasted clock had chimed, and he said, “I just want you to be happy, how you get there is up to you.” Truthfully, I was so mad I wanted to knock him into next week, as my mom always used to say. He is the dearest, most compassionate soul I know, but for the last several months he has been on a completely different page than I have. Heck, I don’t even think he’s reading the same book.
I’ve lived with a deep sadness and anxiety for as long as I can remember and was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was around 18. Later, when I began dealing with psychiatrists and insurance companies, that diagnosis officially became major depressive disorder. I began a long road of numerous therapists, therapies, medications, and the powerful ups-and-downs of a disorder clinicians claim to understand but instead treat more like a research project with their clients as their subjects.
Being in a world that expects continuous functionality and competence and trying to manage an illness that steals that from you at every opportunity is a bit tricky. In my case, I made it quite a long time before I finally just had no more to hold me up. Although I had a few slips along the way, I’d always had support in the past – usually in the form of at least one medical professional and a friend and my mom – to get me through. This time, as I felt myself begin to slide into what looked to me like a dark, unending abyss, I had nothing to grasp onto. It was as if I were drowning in a pool and everyone at the edge was just sitting there, watching me go slowly under.
I’ve been hearing and reading that same idea that my therapist so casually tossed at me that day a lot lately. From laypeople, general practitioners, and from some mental health professionals. “Whether or not you are happy is up to you.” “The decision to start feeling better is in your hands.” “You can be depressed or not. That’s your choice.” And while I believe that, ultimately, our thoughts drive our emotions, so we actually do have control over our own suffering, I also think this kind of advice is dangerous and irresponsible when given to a person who has been struggling with an intense and unrelenting depression for a long time.
Often, the pain of depression permeates every molecule of a person’s being. It’s not the same for everybody, I don’t imagine, but it’s real and it can be excruciating. Emotional pain can actually be physical; for me, there is a strange sort of ugly pushing sensation I feel on the inside of my skull, light and heavy all at the same time. Physically, my eye sockets dry out and every time I blink I can feel my eyelids scraping against my eyeballs. My chest cavity feels huge and vacuous, and I struggle to breathe in enough air to fill it. My muscles and the tissues between the joints hurt – sharp, stabbing pains, followed by a dull aching – and all over I’m so fatigued I can barely stand or walk, often only enough to make it to the bathroom and back.
As I’m struggling with ways I’m going to make myself happy – while I’m standing here at the bottom of this deep, dark well with no way to climb out – I get suggestions that make me want to scream. I don’t because no one is listening anyway. I don’t because I think that if they were and they truly understood, would they make such ridiculous suggestions?
Take a walk. This, when I can’t even make it to the mailbox to get my mail. Go to a movie. This, when I forego lunch because a trip to the kitchen is an effort. Go to the gym. OK, now they are just being silly.
I try, over and over, to articulate the emotions and sensations I’m experiencing, but I have no more words for how I feel. No more words that will express to anyone the oppressive darkness and hopelessness that make moving forward in a consistent and meaningful way impossible. It is as though I have been deposited in an alien land and no one speaks my language, nor I theirs. I have come to believe what I am inherently is simply not enough to get by in this – their – world.
I truly don’t expect others should be responsible for making me feel better. I’ve worked hard to make changes for myself and have, in fact, done all sorts of things to try and create a healthier environment for myself. But it hasn’t been enough. What I have expected and what I continue to expect, is that my therapist and other professionals would help me figure out how to navigate the obstacles I frequently encounter. That they would recognize, without my having to repeatedly point it out, that my symptoms feel more complicated than the textbook depression they want me to find my own relief from, and that they would try to help me understand their source. What I have expected is that someone – anyone – would care that how I’m managing is only by a thin and very frayed thread and that everyone would stop taking my survival for granted. Call me and ask instead of waiting for me to call. Send me an email. Because when this world is chaotic, confusing, dark, and painful, all we have is each other.
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Thinkstock photo by Eskemar