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When Loneliness Puts Me Back on the 'Hamster Wheel' of Depressive Thoughts

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I’m sitting at my computer in the dark listening to the sound of my keys as I type away. I try to focus on the little things when I am getting stuck in an episode of depression, but my mind races until it burns out.

I’ve heard episodic depression described in different ways, but for me, I think of myself as a one-legged duck. Once my episode starts, I am just swimming around in a circle until the water changes around me.

An episode of depression can start slow, and then ramp up like a hamster running on a wheel. That’s what I’ve learned to call my obsessive and intrusive thoughts — hamsters on a wheel. For a short time, I can experience blissful happiness, but it is always fleeting. There isn’t always a trigger for a depressive episode, but when there is, the feelings seem to be that much stronger.

When I’m around people, specifically people I love, my hamsters seem to sleep the day or night away. But the moment I get in my car to leave, my reality comes back full force. As an introvert, I crave alone time. But as an introvert with a depressive disorder, I have a love-hate relationship with being alone, as it often results in extreme loneliness.

Scrolling through Pinterest, I can find photos with quotations overlaid that describe my inner dialogue during a depressive episode:

“I just have this happy personality and a sad soul in one body. It feels weird sometimes.”

“Please tell me I’m not as forgettable as your silence is making me feel.”

 “And then I think maybe I was designed to be alone.”

The idea of loneliness, although very abstract, feels very tangible in my everyday life. When I use the phrase “I am lonely,” I use it to describe both my inner and outer lives. Inside is easy – I isolate myself from others mentally to keep myself safe. I am terrified of giving too much of myself to someone who may not truly have my best interest at heart, which overflows into how my outside life functions.

At the very end of high school, after my first stint of treatment for anorexia nervosa, my best friend stopped talking to me. I didn’t understand why, but I knew I was lonely, and confused about what I had done to make her treat me that way. I found out she was talking about me to my peers, and eventually left me behind as she couldn’t handle my disease’s place in my life anymore. I remember this as a huge impact on my loneliness, and it still rushes through my mind on the hamster wheel to this day.

The loneliness has made me afraid of love and care. I am more likely to isolate myself, triggering my own depressive episodes. I am terrified of having people leave if I give too much of myself, and the possibility of being a burden to anyone else scares me into silence. I have too much alone time, too much time to ponder my thoughts that should be as fleeting as my happiness has been lately.

My depressive episodes flourish on alone time. I rarely experience them in the presence of others, and when I do, they come in via the thunderstorm approach – dark and quiet, then pouring. I become withdrawn, fixate my focus on one area, and become still. It isn’t until I’m face down, covering my recovery sponsor’s shirt in makeup that I realize I don’t really know what’s going on with me, and curse the medicine the doctors say will slow me down and “normalize” how I feel.

There’s nothing about episodes of depression that I can’t beat, but I would be doing an injustice to myself and anyone else who has to walk this path if I said it was easy. My loneliness, whether a cause or result of my depression, is valid, and I am learning that in order to diminish the number of depressive episodes that come my way, I need to be open and honest with the people in my life. I need to let people help me, and hold me when I cry. I need to accept that the past is the past, and not everyone who sets foot in my life will leave the same way others have. I need to break down my own walls, because the walls we build to keep others out are the same walls we use to isolate ourselves.

Originally published: September 5, 2016
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