Depression isn’t being curled up in paisley blankets with a cool breeze gently caressing your shoulders, floral tea cups stacked on the bedside table, and endless television shows streaming with a cool blue glow within a shadowed room. Depression isn’t lounging around in pajamas while you nonchalantly make waffles at two in the afternoon, occasionally stepping outside for cigarettes in the warmth of the sun, or wiping tears off your face with aloe-infused tissues. Depression isn’t a lazy Sunday that occurs in the middle of the work week.
Depression isn’t having intellectual conversations with loved ones while they pat you on the back with reassuring words, igniting the light at the end of the train tunnel. It isn’t hoisting coal into the chambers while you propel yourself forward into the light, nor is it the moon as it emerges over the horizon, illuminating ponds and lakes with a white sheen, darkened by shadows amid every stone and crevasse. Depression doesn’t wax and wane like the crescendos of a harpsichord, dancing on the stage with whirlwinds of motion until you crumble to the ground in a final, tragic bow.
Depression isn’t poetry personified; this image has been tarnished by poets who cast depression in an ethereal light, glamorizing the tidal waves of mood and immobilizing thoughts until it becomes nothing more than the tragic back story of a character who ultimately defeats their demons. Depression rarely has a happy ending, and not everyone who struggles with depression wins their battle.
Contrarily, depression is the arms which rise from beneath your bed, holding you hostage for weeks, only releasing you from their grip for you to drag your feet to the bathroom or make a pot of store-brand coffee. Depression is lying on top of the blankets because you lack the energy to get comfortable, heat stifling in your bedroom because the heavy weight on your chest forbids you from adjusting the temperature. Depression is chain-smoking cigarettes out the window instead of eating, your stomach hollow but nonetheless paralyzed from feeling hunger. Depression is numbness eroding your brain, your body feeling foreign and distant.
Depression is foregoing basic hygiene until your hair becomes matted to your skull, your gums blood red, and your face coated in oil. Depression is wearing the same ratty sweatpants and tee shirt for a week because you lack the motivation to pull on a pair of jeans, the daunting thought of taking off your clothes weighing heavily on your mind. Depression is stacked plates and bowls on the kitchen counter, untouched food hardened on the porcelain.
Depression is self-isolation, the guilt suffocating as you tear yourself away from your loved ones, unwilling to burden them with your suffering. It is self-doubt and self-hatred, antagonizing yourself because you cannot perform simple tasks, scratching at your skin to see your veins just to prove that you’re alive. Depression is staring at the wall while your thoughts race within your head, colliding into the sides of your skull until they’re a muddled mess of emotions dripping down your cheeks. And yet, depression is feeling nothing at all while the tears are flowing, a dissociated fugue amid a fog of uncertainty.
Depression is feeling everything and nothing all at once; a cataclysm of black and white while your mouth unhinges, but you cannot scream. Sometimes, it is feeling comforted by the darkness of the treacherous unknown, a ship with black sails perpetually spinning in the maelstrom. It is witnessing the reaper and accepting his invitation, your hand reaching out to grasp something as tangible as death. It is succumbing to thoughts of suicide because you can’t handle the never-ending debate between living and dying, because sometimes you believe at least your mind will stop spiraling if you’re dead.
Depression is feeling helpless as you’re spoon-fed medication, as you’re delving into your trauma with a therapist, as you’re admitted into the psychiatric unit because you cannot even help yourself. Depression is being diagnosed with major depressive disorder with suicidal ideation by the criteria of the DSM-V, your doctor scribbling with a harsh, black pen that you’ve become a danger to yourself. Depression is a chronic illness that’s unseen by the naked eye, a stigma plaguing society with pre-conceived notions of what a depressed person should look like. Depression is guilt eating you alive if you take a day off from work because you’ve been conditioned into believing that your mental illness is not real. Depression simply is.
And yet, depression doesn’t have to be. Depression can be finding the right cocktail of medication that allows you to function on a daily basis. Depression can be developing healthier coping mechanisms to handle the intrusive thoughts that slip their way into the forefront of your mind. Depression can be forgiveness; the understanding that perhaps you may not be okay all the time, but you’re doing the best with what’s available to you. Depression can be manageable, but only if we bring it into the spotlight, raising awareness of what it is and isn’t, what it should and should not be.
Depression is not poetry personified. It is not crumbled up pieces of paper with eloquencies scrawled onto its yellow fibers. Depression is not what drove me to haphazardly write this essay; however, recovery did. Depression does not define me, but recovery is what drives me. And amid my scores of experience with the juxtaposition between relapse and recovery, I will continue to survive. You will too.