Last night I bought the coolest wallet for Daniel. He had looked for forever and found the perfect one… but it was always out of stock. Seeing that I hadn’t heard him talk about it for months, I realized it would make the best Christmas present. I bought it early so I wouldn’t run into the “out of stock” issue… then Daniel called tonight and told he had bought the same wallet a few days earlier (without knowing I had bought it for him). At first I laughed… then I got sad and by the time we hung up, tears were free flowing. And not just slide down the cheek tears; these were gut wrenching, snot running, face distorting tears. Over something that was completely fixable and could have been laughed off as a crazy coincidence.
This is one of the many faces of depression.
Just minutes before this whole event, Daniel had encouraged me to work on homework and I thought “yeah, you know what? I might be able to do some of that”. Well, a tub of popcorn, can of Dry vanilla bean soda and episode of Parenthood later… here I am.
I could have never imagined the power of depression until I experienced it. And every time I trip and fall into it, it still surprises me. Sometimes I can watch myself slowly tumble down the mountain and sometimes I wake up and realized I’m in a valley. It’s never the same any two times. But what’s in the valley is generally the same, though some areas are darker than others.
If you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, understand that depression is a lot like the Fire Swamp (at least for me. I have to say clearly that I cannot speak for how others experience their hardships).
After tumbling down a huge hill, you walk into a dark forest, knowing that some don’t make it out. The first obstacle? Fire spouts. These are the things that occur in life or no with little warning that throw you off your original path. What happened tonight was a fire spout. The sad part is that no matter how many times a fire spout appears under you, it never stops being scary and overwhelming. The other day in my class I was supposed to show a motivational video. I loaded it but the internet glitched and it stopped two thirds the way through. The teacher made me leave it and moved on to the next person. This wasn’t my plan, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. By the time I reached my desk, I was holding back tears and became so overwhelmed that I left the class. Even though I knew the fire spout didn’t have to burn me, it did. They do that.
While you’re trekking along, doing your best to lessen the damage of the fire spouts, you come across the dreaded lightning sand. This is where you get sucked so far down, you can barely breathe nevertheless imagine a way to make it out of the pit. When I get depressed, this is what happens with school. At first I just get nervous when I skip a class or two… then it becomes it’s own beast and I get pulled down. I can’t begin to imagine how I’m going to do all my homework, get an A, show up to class, takes tests. I see it all at once and it so unbelievably overwhelms the senses. The more stressed I get about failing, the less I do, the less I go and the more I fall behind… which feeds the stress. As you can see, that path doesn’t go anywhere good. The scary part is that this can happen with anything. I spent 5 months treating my body with good, healthy food and dropped 30 lbs. During this last week or two, finding myself too exhausted to shop and cook, I began to cheat here and there. (I mean, at least I cheat with things like gluten free cookies but those are barely healthier). All of a sudden, I couldn’t imagine cooking every meal and honestly, I don’t know how I did it for that long. About +7 lbs. later, I went to the grocery store, bought good food and haven’t done anything with it. It’s embarrassing even to me and it’s definitely embarrassing to admit to you. I’m in the lightning sand.
And if that wasn’t enough, there are ROUSes jumping out to attack you. While I don’t literally have rodents of unusual sizes jumping on me, this is what it feels like when you talk to well, most anyone. Things that shouldn’t offend you (because they aren’t offensive) feel like malicious, personal attacks. It constantly feels like there are multiple ROUSes on your back. Sometimes it’s hard to be around a depressed person because it seems like you can’t say anything right, even when you mean well. Truth is, sometimes, you can’t say anything right… at least that’s how it seems to us. It’s not specific to you, we can find insults in anyone’s speech.
It’s a constant battle. Imagine walking through the darkest forest, constantly being singed by fire spouts, being sucked into deep lighting sand, fighting off attacks by everyone, even the ones you love all the while thinking to yourself: if only I tried a little harder… if only I could just suck it up… if only I could do this, that or the other… then the forest would go away. The fire spouts would stop spouting, the sand pits would harden and the ROUSes would become friendly faces again.
If only I wasn’t so messed up. It’s my fault. I’m an embarrassment because I can’t “get over it”. No one is going to love me. In fact, no one loves me right now. There is no end to the forest. There is no blue sky. This is all there is. This is what I deserve.
I’m pathetic. I’m weak. I’m nothing.
Those thoughts never end. All day (and especially at night) those exact thoughts, along with so many more, haunt me. I end up reading the most articles about depression while I’m depressed just to hear over and over again that this is a disease. It’s the same as breaking a leg or having diabetes or whatever else that drives you to a doctor. It’s a sickness you can’t wish away.
The sad part is, so many people don’t see depression like that. In our country, mental health is so separate from other sicknesses. It’s something you handle on your own or if you are seeing a counselor, you sure don’t admit it. Though recently, I’ve seen that start to change. Maybe I’m around more open people or maybe people respond to my openness… either way, it’s nice to find people who respond openly and kindly to your mental state. We love talking about happy things but when we ignore the unhappy, it just makes it more lonely than it already is in the Fire Swamp.
Thankfully, sometimes you have a Wesley with you. Daniel does his best to protect me from the fire spouts, drag me out of the lightning sand and be less ROUSy. I love and appreciate that man. Every once in awhile, Westley will be played by a family member or friend or stranger. That’s ok too. It’s not always easy to recognize him though because for a time, he may look like the Dread Pirate Roberts. Do your best to accept Westleys as they come along, they can be lifesavers.
I’d like to tell you that at the moment, I see the end of the forest but I don’t. Every once in awhile I get a glimpse but get distracted by one of the dangers. Or even worse, I make it out for a very short time but then Humperdinck has me thrown into the Pit of Despair. It happens.
This is the part where I ensure you that I’m not exaggerating. The Princess Bride is an exaggerated, ridiculous story… but this is a very serious comparison. This is what depression feels like. Like you’ll never win, you’ll never make it out of the forest because you somehow created the forest.
I don’t have the slightest idea if others experience depression this way but it’s how I do. It’s dark and lonely and hopeless. All I can do is hold out for those glimpses of the end of the darkness and pray I stumble out of the forest just as unexpectedly as I stumbled in.
If you’re in the forest, keep looking for the light.
If you’re a Westley, don’t give up on us. One day we will be able to thank you.
If you’re a Humperdinck, give us a break.
And if you’re an innocent ROUS, I’m sorry. I really am.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, I apologize. Go watch it and then this will make SO much more sense. Besides, it’s a great film. And book. Read it, watch it, whatever.
ADDITION: this was sent to me by a friend and it’s so wonderful that I had to share.
“And if it helps you, feelings of positivity are the only things that have helped me. They can come from “Westley,” but I think you forgot the most important source of that miracle pill: Buttercup. You. Telling yourself over and over and over that deep inside yourself there is a light, that these things you are feeling are just some chemical imbalance, and realizing that there’s no reason to be insecure — because others feel the same way, right down to their insecurities about being different. Days like that, when I can harness my inner strength and enjoy the sunlight… Man, those are the days I can look at the fire swamp and say “prepare to die.””