When Depression Shows Her Face

Miranda Martinez  (Creative Commons)

Miranda Martinez (Creative Commons)

Why is Depression so heavy?

Hanging around in the pit of my stomach, a pulsating orb, a cancer re-emerging after remission. The sorrow is physically manifested in my gut. I feel a deep discontent. A piece missing or shifted into the wrong position. A heavy weight, crushing. Like soaking wet wool fabric, clinging to my skin and dragging me down. Why won't she leave me alone?

As a person who has struggled (yes, struggled) with Depression for nearly two decades, I have heard a myriad of suggestions about what I should do to feel better. Most often I have been reminded to be grateful.

I can look around and see all the things I am blessed to have. I could write a list of a million things for which I am grateful. The sorrow, the fog, the oft indescribable hopelessness is not alleviated through gratitude lists. Depression discolors my vision and distorts my perception. When I am with her, I cannot feel the world’s beautiful vibrancy.

This is an illness, there is no doubt about it. Or perhaps the more accurate way to put it is that it exists as a recurring doubt. Depression feels like doubt. Doubt of all my decisions and my interactions with others. Every relationship in my life becomes entrenched in this doubt. Even in a state of semi-balance, when I am cognizant of the irrationality brought on by the fog, I doubt the things I feel. Sometimes that is the only sane choice, to doubt the weight that came out of nowhere. If I remain skeptical of the undue burden, I still have hope for the next moment. Something better, a better feeling, a clearer lens, could be on its way, if I remain doubtful.

The shifts in my state of mind can be sudden and unpredictable, but not eternal, perhaps thanks to the skepticism I've disallowed such darkness to steal all of my joy. The more dangerous side effect of swimming with Depression is not the loss of joy, but the absence of hope. Without hope, there is nothing, there is no next. I take hope for granted when I'm not in a downswing.

I try to describe how she feels or challenge her with creativity, but that isn’t always possible. When Depression sneaks up on me, I immediately forget how to do everything. It is common that when Depression shows up, it was just a moment before that I felt happy. Then Depression crashes through and takes centerstage. I suddenly am teleported from a place of joyous freedom to solitary confinement in a dark recess of my brain.

Every negative thought is attached to a dozen more memories. I can’t figure out how to untangle the mess. She brings up old emotional wounds that I thought I had taken care of a long time ago. I have scars I begin to pick and pick until they bleed again. I crave reassurance when there is no one to reassure me since these issues are long past that stage.

I say I will banish her. Depression calls my bluff.  “You are no longer welcome here,” I am supposed to say. She’s been here for so long that I can no longer remember what life without her feels like. I cannot throw her out, we were made for each other.

I work hard to keep her in her corner. I only use medicine as prescribed. I don't cancel appointments with the doctor. I rarely disguise her with food. I no longer purge to starve her. I don't cut to bleed her from my skin. I don't allow alcohol in, it never worked to drown her out anyway.

She is strong. To fight her, I must train daily. Still she persists. Waiting for the perfect opening. Everyone wonders why I'm on the defensive, it's because she is waiting for me to drop my guard. The criticisms, rejections, the disappointments that all people face off against, they can't knock me out. The judgments, real or imagined, have nothing on me. But for her, oh Depression, they feed her. I swat away the nuisances, I laugh at the nonsense, I mic drop on the hate. She catches them on their way out, nourishing herself, growing bigger.

I go right and she goes left. Somehow, she sees what I cannot, she sees the hairline fractures. She knows where to hit to snap the bone. It isn't always happening in the ring. Most of the time she hangs around like an unwanted guest.

There is rarely rhyme or reason to explain why she is front and center today when I barely noticed her yesterday. Eyes drooping, stomach turning, back aching, breathing shallow. My self-loathing becomes ridiculous. Being in my head is exhausting. Round and round she goes.

It isn't anyone's fault, Depression blames me and I blame Depression, but we don't do this on purpose. She’s a black hole and I am the only one standing between her and total devastation.

Sometimes the deepest, darkest, scariest moments are the ones that define us the most. We cover them up with humor. Mask the pain with laughter. My laughter is real, it isn't just a cover, it's a counter measure. It keeps Depression from others. She is terrifying when she takes control. She scares everyone around us. I cannot let them see her, when they catch a glimpse it causes an uproar because they fear that she has returned to the throne.

She scares me, too. But I know her, I know she’s a liar and I know she'll tire of the fight and eventually go back to sulk, stewing in the pit of my stomach. I can't hurry her along, I see her there. I must wait her out.

Kristance Harlow writes about mental illness, abuse, and addiction to challenge stigma and advocate for awareness. She is an American living in Buenos Aires with her Argentine husband and rescue pup. Follow her around on Instagram or Twitter.