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When the Darkness of Depression Makes It Harder to Adjust to the Light

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It’s such a strange thing to say, so I don’t say it. But sometimes I am genuinely afraid of feeling better. Depression has been part of my life on some level for about 20 years. That’s two-thirds of my life. Of course I don’t want to be depressed. But in some ways, it is all I know. I have no idea what “normal” is, and I never will. I’m not aiming for such a lofty goal. I just want to be slightly better. And even that is an emotional roller coaster of doubt and fear that gets harder and harder the better things get – the farther I stray from my comfort zone.

Depression hurts – physically, mentally and spiritually. It hurts, sometimes unbearably.
Sometimes it feels as though I have been buried alive a thousand miles from civilization. Even if I manage to dig my way out, how will I ever survive the trek back? Depression is depressing. You lose hope. You lose confidence. You lose your way. And when you manage to find a glimmer of hope, a breath of confidence or a glimpse at the path, you begin to doubt if it’s real. Nothing seems real. Nothing seems right. Decades of darkness make the light seem brutal and painful. You feel like a vampire in the sun. It’s too much. “Better”
suddenly doesn’t seem like such a great thing after all. The darkness is cool and quiet. It’s familiar. It’s almost comfortable now. It’s the home I was forced to live in, and there are times I simply don’t think I want to leave.

They say that the longer a person goes on with depression untreated, the harder it is to treat. Is it because they have been in the dark for so long they have adjusted, and now the light seems unbearable? When you first wake up in the morning and open the curtains, it takes a minute to adjust your eyes. Now imagine not opening the curtains for 10, 15 or 20 years. Suddenly it’s excruciating bright, blinding, terrifying and not at all something you want to try to “adjust” to. So no matter how miserable the darkness may be, at least it is safe. In its own strange way, it is the safest place to be after all this time.

It helps to surround yourself with people who know both dark and light. People who understand sometimes things are too bright, but won’t let you run too far from it. People who won’t judge you for needing a shady tree and a nap. Sometimes there are people so bright it hurts, but still you feel drawn to them. Those are the best, because you find the strength to fight the temptation of the darkness. But sometimes you have to take a break and retreat. Sometimes you just have to fake it and try not to look like the light hurts so much. And sometimes you just have to grab a pair of sunglasses and do the best you can – because even if the darkness wins a few battles, that doesn’t mean it is going to win the war.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Originally published: July 11, 2017
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