Depression's Edge

Yesterday was one of those days. One of those days when my heart played at the edge of depression. No, that's not really true, it was really one of those days where I allowed myself to completely fall off the cliff. I kept thinking about a conversation I had last week.

"Do you have a history of depression." She asked.

"Well, yeah, kind of..."

"I won't ask how you're sleeping because I know Sage keeps you up at night, but are you eating? Are you hungry? Are you interested in food?"

"Well, not really. I mean I do feel hungry sometimes, but I haven't felt very interested in eating much lately… It's just too much work."

"Do you think you're depressed now?" She asked and then quickly added, "It would be totally understandable if you are with everything going on."

"I think I'm on the edge. I've been depressed before. I don't feel like I'm quite there... yet. But I can see myself heading that way." That is how I answered her question last week, but ever since I've wondered if that was really an honest answer.

How do you know when depression sets itself on your soul? What are the warning signs?

Psychologists say "depression is anger turned inward." I can see that. I can understand that. I've had those types of depressions where you turn on yourself and eat at your own heart, where your anger becomes self loathing, where you criticize and blame yourself, where you carry the weight and guilt and shame of the world on your own shoulders and it presses you down until you have lost all self dignity, all courage, and even all sense of reality.

But I think there is another type of depression. A depression that has more to do with grief than anger. A depression of hopelessness, helplessness, and loss of control. The depression that comes when one loss begins to color all of life with loss.

This second depression is the depression I felt after my first real heartbreak. It's the depression I felt when one of my dearest friends moved away from Prague and the community we were involved in spiraled into change.

This depression of loss, of grief, of helplessness, this is the depression I can feel trying to creep up on me.

And I find myself asking a question...

How do I know when I've given into that depression? Have I already given in, even though I claim to be fine and just on the edge of it?

Psychologists, councilors, social workers and the likes, have clues and warning signs they look for, like if you are eating or sleeping. But, these things are general indicators. What I want to know is what are MY personal signs, what are MY indicators. What are the specific things I do when I get depressed and how can I be on the lookout for those things and preemptively work against them?

As I thought about this question I realized three things that I consistently do when I get depressed.

1. I stop doing, or finding interest in, the things that I usually love.

For me this specifically means I stop writing, or at least cut way back on writing. I have often tried to explain to my mom when she comes to me all worried about something I wrote on the blog - perhaps something like this post from a few weeks ago - that as long as I'm writing she doesn't really need to worry that much. It's when I stop writing, or when my writing gets sporadic (perhaps only two posts a month for example), those are the seasons when I'm really struggling. Even if I'm writing about things that are very difficult and painful the very fact that I'm writing about them means that I have not sunk so very far.

But, when I stop writing... when I can't even find within me the desire to write, that is a clear sign that I am sinking into depression.

2. I completely stop carrying about what other people think.

Now there is a healthy level of disregard for what others think of you, but I also know that this can be taken too far. We can go to an unhealthy place when we completely abandon social norms. It can be a sign of an unhealthy disregard for others and for self.

For me this specifically looks like not showering, not brushing my hair, wearing pajamas all day, not doing the dishes or picking up the house, letting the laundry and trash and bills pile up indefinitely. These things show a lack of regard for myself, my possessions, my family, and anyone else who may come into contact with me. When I become depressed I lose all motivation to keep up with these things.

3. I show an obsessive escapism.

For me this has a very specific application of taking my deep love for story and twisting it into an unhealthy addiction to TV. I am not one of those people who thinks that television is bad or evil or even that it should be dramatically limited. I like television, and movies, just like I like books and plays and musicals. Really I love all means of storytelling and I think storytelling is a great gift.

But when I get depressed I take my love for story to an unhealthy place. I want to avoid my own story and escape into someone else's. Better yet I want to escape into a sci-fi or fantasy story - because when my own reality becomes too real, too painful, I want to surround myself with the impossible, the magical. I want to get as far from my reality as possible.

This leads me to watching hours and hours of ridiculous television - TV usually being the story medium of choice during my depressions, since it takes less imaginative energy than reading and is more ongoing than a movie or play. Often it gets taken to a level where I don't want to do anything else all day long. Definitely unhealthy.

In the past week I have had a number of days where two or even all three of these things have been true. Add to that the fact that food sounds entirely unappealing and that even the rare moments when my daughter does sleep I often find myself staring at the ceiling, and, well, I guess it's safe to officially confess that depression isn't just something I'm flirting on the edge of. No, I've already fallen over.

As the reality of Bryan's last PET scan sinks deeper and deeper into my psyche I feel myself falling farther and farther off that cliff called depression.

But, there are days, when none of those things hold the same pull. Days when I feel more balanced. Days when I shower, put on a nice dress, and do the dishes. Days when I am productive and don’t sink so deeply into a TV show. And most significantly, days when I write.

Perhaps there is a part of me that is still holding on to the edge, still fighting to stay on top of the cliff.

What about you? Have to ever been depressed? What are the unique warning signs you see in yourself when you are fighting depression?


Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany