Depression and loneliness are incompatible
On “depression lies”
When I emerge from bouts of depression flares that have had me holed up at home and sometimes literally in bed with the covers over my head, it isn’t because the loneliness finally caught up with me. Depression and loneliness cannot coexist. Related: depression involves a lot of lies, both internal and external.
Is this shocking?
Sadness and loneliness go together, but true depression involves a real desire to have no contact whatsoever with other people. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. When I am depressed, I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hang out. I don’t want to go for drinks, coffee, or ice cream. Those things exhaust me; in fact, everything exhausts me.
It is almost as if my brain simply can’t handle the way I feel and so it mercifully cuts me off, like a form of psychological shock parallel to physical shock that cuts off the pain of trauma.
And by exhausts, I mean that. I am so tired I will sleep 20 hours a day if I’m allowed to do so, and for the other 4 I’ll be waiting until I can go back to sleep. The weariness is deep within. It is almost as if my brain simply can’t handle the way I feel and so it mercifully cuts me off, like a form of psychological shock parallel to physical shock that cuts off the pain of trauma.
When I’m feeling so bad that I’m in shock and my brain has put me to sleep, I don’t want to see anyone. I will go to great lengths to avoid anyone entering my domain, either physical or emotional. I will lie to keep them out. “I’m too depressed to see you” never escapes my lips. No, “I’m sick” or some other lie will do the trick. When I’m depressed, I don’t have the energy to be authentic, so I lie, which doesn’t make much difference because at that point my entire existence is a lie.
Lying lies that lie
My smile feels like invisible fingers are pulling at the corners of my mouth made of Play-Dough. My to-do list has things on it like “get up” and “take a shower” and “eat a meal,” because I won’t do those things if left to my own devices. Some days I don’t do any of them. Staying in bed all the time is not a metaphor, and neither is feeling “heavy with sadness.” Gravity affects me differently when I am depressed. Just moving through space is fraught with effort. I don’t even fidget. I fight limbs so heavy that I cannot. Get. Up.
When I do manage to get up and go to work and function, minimally, that’s a lie. “I’m fine. I’m FINE.” Depression is all about lies (just ask The Bloggess), but it isn’t just the lies it tells me; it’s also the lies I tell, that the depression tells.
After my last bout of depression, I tried not lying. I tried to be authentic. I admitted that I said I was working much more than I was so that people wouldn’t expect anything from me. “Shame on you,” said one person. Shame on me? I don’t have enough of that.
Shame on me, shame on you
Shame on her. If I had cancer or diabetes or any other physical illness that could be measured with a blood test, I wouldn’t need to lie to stay in bed. I would be able to say “I’m just too sick to get up today” or “I feel too sick to go out for dinner.” There would be no shame in it. However, “I’m too depressed to go out tonight,” if I were even able to access that truth in the depth of the lying life depression provides me, is not on the table. There would be shame in it.
Shame, therefore, is wedded to depression. I’m ashamed I can’t pull myself up by my boot straps and act like everyone else, or at least that it takes me so much effort to act like everyone else when I don’t feel like everyone else. I’m ashamed if I say I’m too depressed to get up (that’s actually theoretical, because I can’t remember ever admitting that at that time); I’m ashamed if I give some other reason. At least, apparently, I should be ashamed if I do.
I have a disease that is fatal if not treated. Yes, fatal.
What about shame on the judgment that would make someone shame me for being sick? I am not lying in bed feeling sad and lonely. I am sick. I passed “lonely” and “sad” a long time ago if I can’t get out of bed. I have a disease that is fatal if not treated. Yes, fatal.
Does that perspective make a difference? Let me shock my readers by substituting cancer for depression. Do cancer patients stay in bed because they’re lonely and trying to get attention? No. The thought is ridiculous. It is the same with depression.
Why is one fatal illness somehow more important or worthy of empathy than another?
I’m sure I will get “shame on you” responses to this comparison, so let me preempt those by saying I don’t accept shame anymore (I have a lifetime supply). Why is one fatal illness somehow more important or worthy of empathy than another? Cancer is a horrible blight, and I in no way diminish it by this comparison. Depression makes people feel so bad that they want to die. Somehow this is not-serious in comparison to a physical disease that does the same thing, but expand your mind. Depression, too, requires many rounds of drugs and treatments that may or may not put the disease into remission and that may or may not make the sufferer incredibly ill. Psychoactive drugs, like chemo, can turn on you and make you more suicidal than you were before, just as chemo can kill healthy cells too.
When you start feeling better, too, you wonder, “when will it come back?” The specter never leaves you. The fear never really goes away. But with cancer, there is no shame. Loneliness and sadness may enter the fray and probably do.
I’m not just sad
There is no observing ego with severe depression. There is an absolute lack of ability to accurately see oneself.
This misunderstanding of depression and the inability to feel lonely leads to chasms of disparity for those trying to understand me when I am depressed. Almost without exception the assumption is that I am lying in bed pining for human contact, when in fact the converse is true. It isn’t even actually the converse, because I’m not thinking about other humans at all. Usually I’m not even thinking about myself. There is only a cold, oily, dark gloom that suffocates and exhausts. The only drive I feel is to escape that gloom.
If this post confuses you, angers you, or resonates with you, you may enjoy Shoot the Damn Dog, by Sally Brampton. It’s the first book I’ve read that captures depression well from the inside, articulately.