According to the National Institute of Medical Health, “Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness.”
Depression is also a dirty liar. Its powers of persuasion rival that of a seasoned infomercial host, except that instead of a Rotato Potato Peeler or a miracle skin treatment made from crushed pearls and the tears of unicorns, what you end up buying are harmful and sometimes fatal thoughts.
Here are some of the biggest lies my depression has told me:
1. It's better if you just stay in bed.
Remember when you were a kid and you were convinced that the monsters couldn’t get you as long as you stayed in bed, under the covers? The under the covers part was key – leave a stray limb dangling over the side or let a foot poke out from the blanket and you could probably kiss it goodbye. Anyway, it’s kind of like that. Depression tells me that I’m safer in my nest of crumb-filled, unwashed sheets. It tells me that I’m broken or injured in some way, and like a woodland creature, I must remain in my grubby little lair while I heal. The thing is, it’s not better in there. And the longer I stay in bed, the stronger its gravitational pull becomes. I lie there like our cat after he crawled home from a fight with a gaping wound, unable to move or groom himself. He had us to clean him up and spread salve on his injuries. I long for someone to do the same for me, but I’m humiliated thinking about it. At some point, after a day or a week, I manage to drag myself up and out, but it’s like pulling myself out of a mud hole. Manageable, but there’s a lot of suckage.
2. It's not worth it to shower, especially if you're not going anywhere.
When the depression Death Star has you in its tractor beam, any movement is a challenge. The amount of energy I need to exert in order to perform normal, every day tasks is considerable, and it almost seems frivolous when I’m operating on emergency power to expend any of it on, say, washing my hair. Depression tells me it doesn’t matter, anyway. No one will see or care. Why bother? When this tape loop is running in my head, the simple act of bathing is radical; it is paradigm shifting. Rolling on deodorant, applying face cream, spritzing crème rinse onto my wildly tangled tresses – these things feel like a holy anointing. And they do matter, because when I force myself to attend to my body, I am grounded in it. I can momentarily escape the howl and focus on skin, hair, teeth – the minutiae of earthsuit maintenance.
3. Food will make it better. Or conversely: I don't deserve to eat.
Depression often tries to sell me on false remedies, like a snake oil hustler in a rickety wagon. Have some of this and your troubles will disappear! I’m Harry Potter, gobbling down chocolate bars in an attempt to stave off the Dementors. I get stoned off huge bowls of macaroni and cheese. When I went through a traumatic breakup in college and secretly stopped attending classes, one of my favorite things was to down a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream, scooping it into my mouth with potato chips. Or I’d go to Jack In The Box and get curly fries with ranch dressing and a couple of those cheesecake slices that are hermetically sealed in neat, plastic triangles. As long as I was stuffing food down, feelings didn’t come up (though sometimes the food later did). And then there are the times when I feel too loathsome to feed. I’ll choke down the odd granola bar and some water so I can function, but that’s all the effort I’m willing to make on my own behalf. I’m a saint in the desert, purifying myself of caloric sins. Depression for me means that eating is either mindless or fraught. To get by, I pretend that I am my own nanny – the sweet Mary Poppins kind, not one of the mean ones from reality TV – and that I have to make sure that my charge is nourished properly. Role-play and trickery are valuable tools in my get-through-depression toolbox.
4. No one will understand.
Yes, yes, lots of people have depression. Celebrities talk about it. There are books and articles and groups. But my depression tells me that I am special. Also, that I’m most likely a fraud. I don’t have the real sort of depression – the kind that actually deserves compassion. If I have any, it’s very slight. Sniffles versus tuberculosis. My problem is that I’m lazy and paranoid and weak. No one wants to hear about that, and if they did, they would never sympathize. Better to keep it to myself until I can get my shit together and stop being such a pathetic mess. My depression hates for me to talk to other people. It’s like an abusive boyfriend who doesn’t want me comparing notes with anyone who might put the idea in my head that I don’t deserve to feel this way. That I have any kind of power. Because something magical happens when I finally work up the stones to reach out: people reach back.
5. You have no talent and everything you do is shit.
Depression wants to know why I’d even bother. Why struggle so? Depression wants me to be still, and not in the mindful, meditative way. It wants me to stay stuck. It tells me that nothing I do is worthwhile or has value, and that anyone who says otherwise is just being nice. Basically, depression would have me believe that I have been living in a vast lifelong conspiracy involving a cast of thousands. Teachers, bosses, coworkers, family, friends, strangers on the internet – all masters of deception, bent on giving me a false sense of accomplishment for anything I’ve ever done. Depression likes me to think I am the piece of shit around which the world revolves. Sometimes, I have to say these fears aloud or write them down in order to see how completely farfetched they are. If it turns out my life is really The Truman Show, I’ll be pretty embarrassed, but for now, I have to trust that humans just aren’t capable of that level of organization.
6. No one will miss you.
See: vast lifelong conspiracy. Depression tells me that I am completely and utterly insignificant. It tells me that although people are kind to me and say that they love me, those folks are either insincere or deluded, and they really wouldn’t care if I just weren’t around anymore. Depression thoughtfully provides me with compliment-canceling ear buds, like the ones that filter out ambient noise, so all I can hear are the negative statements. According to depression, my absence would not only be unnoticeable, it would probably be a relief. In my darkest moments, this feels like inexorable truth, immutable as the revolution of the planets.
7. I will always feel this way.
Depression wants me to think it is deep and limitless, an ocean of emptiness. I will drown before I reach the shore, it tells me. Better to give in. But as I struggle and thrash, my legs wrapped with weights, I cling to the thought that every other time before this, every single time I thought I wouldn’t make it, I was wrong. Here I am, still treading water. I remember that if I let the wave take me, it will pass. All I have to do is wait it out.
I’ll probably always live with depression and its lies. I’ll always have to be vigilant about diet and fitness and medication, the way someone with chronic heart disease should be, but that’s okay. I’m writing these words from a place of health, standing on the rim of the caldera. I know the drop is there, but I’m not looking down. Today, right now, I have my feet planted, and I’m gazing out at the horizon.
Photo credit: “E” by Erniestine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.