Mukduk - My New View of Depression
Wanting to love someone can be such a selfish thing.
We have that yearning to be a part of someone else’s story, and the feeling is so infuriatingly visceral. You know the one I’m talking about? That feeling that would be like a hunger, if it could only be so easily satisfied? That one.
And like all hungers, what we do when we feel that yearning can bring out things in ourselves that would make us cringe if we heard it in other people’s stories.
We all do this. We want to love and be loved. It’s one of the many unfortunate parts of being human, and it can be as devastating as can be beautiful.
Even with all of the work I’ve done on myself, there is still a deep-rooted part of me that can only be labeled as “Up My Own Ass.”
Well-meaning, certainly, up my own ass nonetheless.
I learn this asshattery over and over again as I navigate myself through my relationships.
The thing is, my own anxieties get in the way sometimes. I trip over them like a couple of loose shoelaces. And on the list of my many less than desirable traits, my anxiety to make the ones I love “better” may be on the very top. It comes from the best of intentions, but ends with the worst execution.
At least I know myself, I guess.
Happily, love is a choice. And to make that choice you also have the opportunity to observe and curb the selfishness that inevitably will accompany giving your love to another person.
I’m sometimes overwhelmed that I have been so lucky to have so many different types of people in my life to value and care for. #blessed, man.
There has been many a time when one of these loves has had a struggle. I’ve loved the pants right off of these people, and some-unknowingly-how, I’ve been loved through all of my weird crap. All of my reactionary, hotheadedly, glass case of emotion-ey, sad, jealous, distant, binge-eaty, clingy, and anxious nonsense has been loved. No one is more surprised than me.
But of all of the love I have given and have been gifted in my life, I’m most thankful for one specific cohort of people: the depressed.
To love and be loved by someone who has suffered under the weight of depression is a very great privilege that I will not ever take for granted...when a person with depression says they love you, they really freaking mean it.
Depression is something I have started to write about at least a thousand times as a bulleted list of things to do and not do to alleviate suffering of those that are experiencing depression, and to help those loved ones that feel in the crosshairs.
I really felt like I could fix this for people.
Now that I see things differently, I want to say something that I don’t say nearly often enough:
I was wrong.
Although well-intentioned, my bullet points show exactly what the problem is. Trying to sum up someone’s experience with depression is exactly why the stigma surrounding depression and all of its bedfellows exists.
We try so hard to put our loved one’s scary experiences into a box that we can shove under the bed and hope it goes away. It’s much easier to throw an article with a few bulleted tips at someone than it is to really understand this.
I’m saying that as someone who’s done exactly that her whole life.
My assumptions of what it is like to live this life under the weight of depression is malpractice of the skills I so desperately thought I had acquired.
I was well overdue for a change in viewpoint.
But depression scared me. It scares a lot of us. And as per usual, we don’t talk about scary things. We don’t talk about this particular scary thing because we’re afraid we’ll make someone’s depression worse if we point it out to them.
I call this “Beetlejuicing” <patent pending>: if you say Depression three times, you’ll put the thought of it in someone’s mind.
#lol. Please. If the power of suggestion worked like that, I would have been dating Emma Watson five months ago.
Anyway, more about me.
We think we know what it means when we hear the word “depressed.” We use it colloquially more often than we’d care to admit. We say things like, “Omg, tomorrow is Monday, I’m literally so depressed.” We’re just wrong about our hyperbolism of something so hard to articulate.
I’ve done something worse than wanting to write about this thing I don’t know enough about, though….I’ve looked the people I care for straight in their overly beautiful faces and said things like, “Aw come on, cheer up!” or, “It’ll get better.”
Or, “You can do this.” I’m super guilty of this one, and was called out on it hard the other day. Someone who is in the thick of depression really does not know that they can do anything, and saying that can be a reminder that no one understands them.
I’ve known I was wrong about a lot of things in my short and extremely fabulous life, but I had a realization today while looking across the table one of my best friends in a too small booth, over half-eaten bagels, and quickly cooling coffee: I don’t think I have ever taken the time to look someone that I love in the eye and really ask them what it is like to wake up every day and know that depression is still with them.
I’ve been too busy asking what they’re doing to get happier...like it’s something you can just get. I’ve been so focused on being the best friend ever and patting myself on the back for having *such* a charitable heart to shut up and simply sit with someone in the in that deafening silence that is their baseline.
What I learned today, sitting in our hoodies while we were dreading the walk to our cars in the rain, looking into those beautiful brown Disney-baby-deer eyes that so long to be understood, is that I know nothing.
I asked if she would take a look at my bulleted list of fixer-upper tips for the loved ones of a depressed person. She looked at me with the patience of a saint and said a defeated, “Sure.”
I know her well enough to see the shutters close behind her eyes, and, by the grace of The Most Holy Lord on High (Janet Jackson’s original bone structure), I had the presence of mind to shut my computer and ask something like, “Um, ok. Can you just tell me what having depression is like?”
Looking at someone you love and listening to them tell you about how they sometimes can’t get out of bed - and how those are the good days - is definitely a practice of its own.
Let me pause here and help you navigate a couple things, should you ever happen to be in the seat I was in. Your instinct might be to shake your head or to say something to minimize what your person is saying. Don’t do that. The best course of action is to shove something in your mouth to keep it busy. Do some nodding at key points, but try not to have eyes the size of dinner plates in shock. The person doing the telling is having a hard enough time spitting this out without having to worry about your okayness too.
If it’s a story that is particularly hard to hear, it’s absolutely ok to say that. I did. But follow it up with a reminder that you do want to understand, you’re just trying to acclimate. Like driving in high altitudes. And similarly, hot breaks fail. Slowly pump your breaks if you need to regroup. This isn’t about you, after all.
That is something I think I may need tattooed on my person somewhere prominent: It’s not about me.
It’s not about me, and this person’s depression is not at me.
This isn’t about you, and it’s not at you either. Someone didn’t go and get themselves some depression at you. As hard as it may be for you to hear some of the darker thoughts this person you love has, imagine what’s it’s like to live them. If they’re talking it’s likely that they trust you. Let it happen.
So here’s the deal about depression that I didn’t understand until sitting in that booth, trying not to squirm...I thought it was an emotional disturbance. Like, you’re really emotional, and don’t know how to handle it. So, if you’re really sad you must be depressed.
But it’s not exactly like that, according to my very reliable sources. It’s about the thoughts. It’s a barrage. Some have described it as a storm...one clap of horrific thunder after another in a never-ending night, until you’re so beaten down by the hopelessness with the belief that it will never end, that there seems only one way out.
It’s the hopelessness that’ll get ya. The feeling that you’re trapped. It’s how anxiety gets confused with depression and visa versa. Both have the ability to leave the wearer of the affliction feeling caged with no exit.
It’s very different from having a sore throat or broken arm, the pain of which is derived from a specific catalyst, and is subsequently will abate when that catalyst is removed.
If you need help solidifying the concept of depression, think of it like that broken arm - nay, the flu. Depression is something the person you love has happening to them - it’s not who they are. It also may “go away” and come back. Like the flu, soup can help. Unlike the flu, it’s not guaranteed to go away, and that prospect is very daunting to a person who is suffering. And sometimes people bring you ice cream. Anyone who has ever experienced even a minute of a mental struggle knows that they would much rather have a broken arm...because at least people can see the thing that’s causing pain.
No one brings you ice cream when you’re so depressed you can’t get off the couch...again…
Depression is abstract. It’s mythical. It’s quite literally of legend and song. It’s a stimulus when it inspires empathy and kindness and altruism. It’s one’s personal sinking hell when it directs itself internally, killing you slowly and painfully like you made fun of its mother.
<Comin’ in hot: I’m about to say the word “suicide”.>
Suicide (gasp), at its most benign role in thoughts can feel like there is at least a door out of an endless lonely hell. And sometimes even the passing glance in its direction can relieve the pressure from those that feel claustrophobic in the ever tightening space of their own mind.
This is why talking about things is important. It’s the silencing of this that is doing harm, not the outting of inner turmoil. Having real conversations with the people we care about normalizes the things that we would normally try to hold so deeply underwater.
But holding space for someone to talk about their depression doesn’t invite us to fix it for them. I come from a family who’s coat of arms has the quote, “You know what ya outta do…” emblazoned at the top in Latin. We’re a family of fixers. A lot of us come from that kind of lineage too. It’s our western culture to nip a problem in the bud.
It’s really hard to not offer advice from my own Buddha-esque, wise and enlightened mind...you know, since I have it all together and everything...but it’s also not enough to just sit there blank faced. While I’m busy shoving Kit-Kats in my mouth so I don’t interrupt the person who’s spilling their guts to me, I find myself practicing some serious mindfulness.
This is also known as listening.
Like, actually listening. It’s hard with my anus around my ears sometimes, but the people in my life who are my people are totally worth the effort.
Sitting in that booth, my friend told me about her experience with depression. And I listened. Slight perspiration on brow and all.
It’s harder to listen when you don’t fully understand. We all have perspectives with a lense colored by our own experiences, which most of us think are the best and only way to see things.
My lenses are most definitely anxiety tinted. And, you see, anxiety is not the same thing as depression. Not by a long shot. They can be unfortunate besties, and often times are, but they are not the same thing.
From an anxiety perspective, intrusive thoughts can be absolutely terrifying. Anxiety latches on to the thing we value, and it makes us fear losing it. Like, say, our life.
It can be different with depression. Sometimes, when a depressed person thinks about something like suicide, sometimes it’s like a relief valve knowing that they do not have to be suck in the pain forever.
Not all depressions lead in suicides, just like not all sex ends in babies.
Oh my God that is such a terrible analogy.
Not all hits in baseball end in home runs? Not all people who have the runs end with pooped pants? Not all pants are for men? #ImWithHer? Not all who wander are lost?
It’s also ok to ask where - on a scale from a free trip to Disney World to “Thelma and Louising” off a cliff - where their feelings are about life. Ask them if they want to have a safe word when things get really bad...like banana hammock, or in my case with my friend in the booth, Mukduk.
(You know, because “r” among the most menacing of sounds, that’s why call it “murder”, and not “mukduk.” #theoffice)
Talking about this openly might make them smile, but more importantly, it shows them that you’re not afraid of their mind, and that’s critical.
A mind - especially a depressed one - although complicated and not for the faint of heart at times, shouldn’t be feared. In fact, there are some who believe that depression has its use in evolutionary adaptiveness. These people are Evolutionary Psychologists. Fancy.
It’s something about how over thousands of years of humans reproducing, the qualities that most benefited us stayed (everyone, meet natural selection. Natural selection, this is everyone). For example, anxiety. It was important for us as a species to be afraid if a tiger was chasing us, or if our tribe was going to shun us. It’s just that nowadays our tigers are deadlines at work, and our tribe is Instagram.
Depression may have worked to get things we wanted and needed when other tactics, like aggression, didn’t. The theory is that depressive states may have spurred change in either the person afflicted or in their tribe to offer support.
These theories suggest that labeling depression as a “mental disorder” may be a misnomer. These smarty pants say that there’s this receptor in the brain (the 5HT1A receptor, for those playing at home) that natural selection chose to preserve, so it must not be an accident.
I love hearing that the things I think are flaws may be happening to me on purpose. Knowing you’re not a mistake is really important.
When we’re told by doctors and the internet and the media and your great-aunt over the holidays that we’re flawed because we have depressive moods as compared to the sanguine and naturally complacent, what the hell else are we supposed to feel but like we’re “The Other”?
Labeling someone as “depressed” in the pejorative way we most often see that word used in magazines offering the “10 Steps To Being Happy,” bombards us with subtle but persistent sensory clues that we’re very much not ok in our world.
When we already feel that way, we’re sort of screwed.
But if we can see that, can we also see that the false inflated happiness our culture is obsessed with is bullshit too? Can we throw up a hot and steamy middle finger (or a flying V for my British readers...hey British readers) to the shame of being in a depressed state? Can we maybe shift our perspective just slightly to see that there may be a benefit to melancholia?
Some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the unbelievably good fortune to know have had depression. They have dreams and wishes and passions and talents and a deep creativity. I mean, these are the folks that are creative enough to stay alive through unimaginable pain.
The most beautiful music I’ve ever heard comes out of the faces of people with depression. People with depression are funny and fun and curious and the best ever to go on a road trip with. Some of these folks have the unparalleled ability to see things so accurately and with such a depth of feeling from their own deeply welled empathy, that to live in a world without this special perspective would be a sadness of its own kind.
To be clear, I don’t want people to stay depressed, obvi. I believe in therapy and medication like I believe that the sun will come up tomorrow. I just pray to all of the saint statues that every Irish and Italian family in Troy have stashed away that the therapies and medications being used are not trying to make someone see the world through the lense of what our current culture has deemed as the perfectly optimistic person...the goal should be to lift your head out of the fog of doom, not change your personality or be something you are not.
Plus it turns out that trying to shoehorn positivity into a negative hole may actually further entrench the belief of failure and suckitude. It’s true, because, you know, science.
So what else is depression like? Well, it’s like a lot of things, but probably not the things you think.
Depression is not having a few bad things happen in your life and suffering through a funk. It’s not when you make bad decision and you regret it. It’s not when DeFazio’s has run out of Hangover Cake...no matter what I say when that happens. It’s not something you can shake off with brunch and a few mimosas. And it’s not something you can just “get over.”
Depression is also not a weakness. Depression can actually indicate a deeper search for meaning than the average dummy like me (self deprecation to lighten the mood, y’all. I search for meaning, like, the hardest). A person with depression may be experiencing a pining to make their experience better, richer, more peaceful, more vivid than we can ever imagine.
Someone whom I love very much who also suffers under the weight of depression just told me about their dream to compose a requiem. Right after I power-Googled what that meant, it took all I had not to burst into tears and kiss them square on the face. That’s just beautiful and we need that freaking requiem in the world.
Depression is the weight of the world, and it’s the weight of telling the world. It takes one hell of a set of tatas to acknowledge the presence of depression. THAT is bravery. To even speak of its existence is to look it square between the eyes, even if you feel like you’re looking at your shoes through tears. Anyone who speaks its name is someone I want on my team.
Depression is wanting to isolate yourself from everything, including sunlight. But I’ve learned that isolation doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to do this work alone. Remember that this can be both physically and mentally exhausting...they assume if they’re tired of their depression, you must be too. Imagine trying to run uphill on wet sand...or better yet, quicksand. That might be what a normal Tuesday feels like to your person, whereas you might have a slightly flatter terrain.
I’ve been known to get really frustrated with people who cancel plans, or leave early from an event with me. My anxiety of being abandoned and someone else’s exhausting depression does not for a delicious cocktail make. I’m working on it.
The helplessness that accompanies depression is something that simply can’t be overstated. Despite what we have seen in commercials, someone who is experiencing depression isn’t always sad. Have you ever woken up from a nap, or a really deep sleep and you like couldn’t move your body for a few seconds? Sometimes depression feels like that. Like you’re trapped in this husk, unable to do the things you used to love, or at the least, the things you think you should be doing.
The scariest thing about depression isn’t someone who cries all the time, the numbness. You’d be concerned if you saw someone put their hand on a red hot stove without flinching, right?
I dig it when I see someone who struggles with this let their emotional hair down - even if it’s anger. I mean, definitely set boundaries when needed, but it’s ok to encourage the expression of emotion in all of it’s beautiful and brutal ways. Remember that this person, like many of us, may have been discouraged from actual human being growing up.
And another thing.
Viktor Frankl - a man who knew a thing or two about hard times (homie was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust in a labor camp, but lost his whole family), didn’t try to avoid the obvious and expected depression that would come from the results of his experiences in the war, but he observed that those who survived the horrors were those that found meaning in life. They were the ones that saw the difference between solitude and isolation; the ones that gave back to the world through creativity; who interacted authentically with others --------> oh hello...that’s us in this booth over overpriced coffee. #NailedIt
All of the folks I talked to about this dumb thing echoed that. They’re not looking to just necessarily get rid of depression, not that’s possible for that to happen, they’re looking to connect. They’re looking to invest in something, and to be invested in. They’re looking to find who they are for the first time, or looking to find the person they think they knew in the mirror years ago.
Yes, it would be nice to not have pain at all, but at the least they could deal with it if there was a meaning.
That’s the part I think we can all relate to.
So, long story short, I can’t say I’ve nailed the conversation on depression. No one ever will. So much can and should be said.. But I hope that the several people who I’ve written this with and for know that I’m trying. I’m trying and I’m listening. I want my selfish love to at least aim in the right direction from now on.
And I may not know for sure that they’re going to get through the darkest times in one piece, but I’ll be there, ready to dust them off as they’re trying to get back up after they fall.
I’ll probably be there with a snack.