What My Father Told Me to Do When I Think My Depression Won’t End
An odd phenomenon happens when I get depressed: I forget I was ever well. I forget I’ll come out the other side (and I always do). I forget there even is another side because depression feels permanent.
This is the “amnesia of depression.” Its onset is quick, cunning and painful. Time is distorted, colors are disturbed, my senses warped. Nothing in my world has changed, yet everything is different.
The question becomes then, “what to do while my memory is lost?”
Years ago, when I emerged from a particularly tenacious episode of depression, my father and I sat in the living room of my childhood home. Sitting in his beat-up tweedy recliner, he told me to get a pen and paper. Rolling his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other, he said:
“You’re feeling better now. Write that down. Then, write how convinced you were this depression would never lift — yet it did. That, it always does — even when you think this is the ‘one’ that won’t.”
“Then,” he uncrossed then crossed his legs, blue jogging pants rustling, “the next time the black dog* attacks and tells you this is the depression you’ll never outrun, unfold that sheet and read it, and reread it. Know that it is telling you the truth, not the black dog.”
I don’t have that scrap of paper anymore, but I still unfold that memory when depression descends. This was crucial wisdom my dad, Jack Maxwell, gave me oh-so-many years ago.
So for those of you who lack a Jack Maxwell to offer this to you, I will instead.
Write this down. I mean it. Go get a pen and bit of paper. Read this when depression hisses to you “there’s no escape, no hope” because those are lies. Write this down: “The truth is that depression is not final, it gets better and you will emerge. Your amnesia is only temporary. I know. I’ve been there.”
Now, tell me: What would you write to yourself or someone you love to give them hope when in an episode of depression?
* British statesman and prime minister, Winston Churchill, referred to his major depressive disorder (MDD) as “The Black Dog.”
A version of this article was previously published on Psychology Today.
Photo by Cody Black on Unsplash