Not Everyone Feels This Way
How depression fools you into thinking it’s normal
Yesterday, Robin Williams died by suicide. I can’t know why, in that moment, he felt that ending his life was the only door, but the version of the story that sounds realest to me — and to many other people — is that his depression killed him. Since this news came out, the internet has been a sorrowful but beautiful place to be. I spent hours last night and this morning scrolling through Facebook and Twitter and feeling connected to a tremendous and temporary community, united by our love and grief for this man we didn’t know. And scattered among those, with really astonishing frequency, were the expressions of regret that so inevitably follow newsworthy suicides, variations on themes: “If only he’d known how loved he was,” “If only he’d reached out for help,” “If only he’d known he wasn’t alone.”
Historically, when I’ve seen these waves of platitudes cresting on social media, I’ve felt angry. This morning, though, I didn’t. I felt truly, genuinely confused. Why didn’t these people understand that you can’t just will depression away? It’s not something solved by “reaching out” or “knowing that people love you”; depression is not, in point of fact, you at all, but a malicious program that’s taken up residence in your brain that runs alongside your you-ness, and turns your brain into a zero-sum landgrab between malware and firmware. Not only does the depression chip away at your energy and focus and clarity, but what you do retain is so exhausted from the nonstop defense of its resources that at times you just want to give in, give up, sink all the way into the warm, quiet darkness.
And then I realized why I felt that confusion: Right now, today, I just assume everyone is depressed. That it’s the cost of doing business with a human brain, an unavoidable externality of the beautiful brutality of being a conscious, thinking mind.
On the heels of that realization I had another one: I haven’t taken my antidepressants in about 6 weeks. In the last few months, the cost of a single one of my pills has skyrocketed to $20, so I haven’t gone to pick up my prescription, and I’ve entered into an inertia feedback loop: Not taking the pills leads to the TV static creeping in at the corners of my brain, which leads to me not wanting to take the pills, leading to more static et cetera et cetera and on and on.
Here’s the thing: I LOVE my antidepressants. Different people have different experiences with different drugs, but for me, they’re tiny little miracles. They make me into me — they don’t boost my mood, they don’t give me energy. They just shove back the malware so I’ve got plenty of room to be my standard self, happiness, sadness, and all.
Until I started taking my antidepressants, though, I didn’t actually know that I was depressed. I thought the dark staticky corners were part of who I was. It was the same way I felt before I put on my first pair of glasses at age 14 and suddenly realized that trees weren’t green blobs but intricate filigrees of thousands of individual leaves; I hadn’t known, before, that I couldn’t see the leaves, because I didn’t realize that seeing leaves was a possibility at all. And it wasn’t until I started using tools to counterbalance my depression that I even realized there was depression there to need counterbalancing. I had no idea that not everyone felt the gravitational pull of nothingness, the ongoing, slow-as-molasses feeling of melting down into a lump of clay. I had no way of knowing that what I thought were just my ingrained bad habits — not being able to deposit checks on time, not replying to totally pleasant emails for long enough that friendships were ruined, having silent meltdowns over getting dressed in the morning, even not going to the bathroom despite really, really, really having to pee — weren’t actually my habits at all. They were the habits of depression, which whoa, it turns out I had a raging case of.
The point here is simple: I didn’t realize I had depression until a magic pill made my depression recede. I thought everyone felt the way I did. Until I realized that this wasn’t how everyone walked around feeling all the time, I thought, in effect, that everyone had depression.
That’s the same thought I had this morning, because — having not taken these pills in a while, which yes, I am going to remedy today, or at least I will try, because I can already feel the inertia flexing its obscene muscles — my defenses came down. Without me even realizing it, the depression silently cried hell yeah! and came rushing back. And one of the things depression is really good at doing is disguising itself as normality. At saying that it isn’t what it really is. At refusing to acknowledge that you’re not wearing your glasses, at saying “no, no, there were never individual leaves on that tree. It’s always been a green blob. Everyone in the whole world only sees green blobs.”
You might not know whether you have something malicious in your brain telling you that this is normal, that this is how everyone feels. But if your brain is telling you anything contrary to the fact that you are good, capable, and in control, and that the world contains paths to happiness which you — yes you, shitty unworthy fraudulent lazy waste-of-space you — are qualified to walk down, then you should consider the possibility that you are fighting malware and you don’t even know it. It might not be depression. It might not be something that a magic little pill can fix. But this is not what it’s supposed to be. This isn’t what you deserve. You don’t have to accept this. Everyone doesn’t feel like this. The darkness is a lie.
Do you see those trees? There are leaves. There are leaves.