Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In which I politely punch people in the face

I've been acting weird lately. Well, its not weird to me as I totally called it before the holidays. I set myself up for it, expected it to happen. And it did, with an intensity that all of my pathetic mental preparations and pep talks could not phase.

I wish people would truly understand that like many things, depression is NOT a choice. It is an illness that I am doing everything I know how to cope with. I take medication, I go to therapy, I am exploring alternative ways of managing this curse. I am not being a passive sufferer here. And yet, I see and hear others say, "smile, just be happy", "its just PMS, you'll get over it", "think positive", and "there are people who have it worse off than you", etc. One day I will punch someone in the face who says that to me or another person like me and I'll do it with a smile and then will run away bawling. Because that's what we do, fake it until we just can't any more and then we break down. Rinse and repeat.

I have broken down this past week.

I remember being a kid and not understanding why my father would sit in silence in his chair next to the wood stove with his head in his hands. I would say "be happy Daddy, its not so bad". And he would just look at me with dark eyes. I understand now and I am sorry for minimizing his pain. The pain that I didn't believe was real until it begin to creep up on me with a vengeance in my 20s and has only continued to worsen into my next decade of life.

I don't chose to be a crazy emotional bitch who lashes out, sleeps as much as possible, walks around listless and teary, and can barely muster the energy to face the day and sometimes doesn't even do that much. I hide so much of it that what people see is only the very tip of a massive iceberg of aching that I cannot begin to explain. I don't know why I am this way, why this happens. I could blame it on genetics and really, that's as good of an explanation as I've got.

I don't think about ending my life. Well, ok, I have thought about it, but not in a serious way. I have a family and a child to live for and that's enough to keep me from tipping over the precipice. But I must say that I understand on some small level why and how those who are tired of suffering so much that doesn't make sense to them finally decide to just end it because trying to cope is not working and they see no other solution. Depression is a burden. A colossal load that one carries on their backs every day. On good days it feels lighter but on bad ones it crushes me to a near breaking point that I am terrified to ever fully reach.

This post is a plea for understanding which in reality, I think is near impossible. Maybe it is more an entreaty for patience. I know it's a pain in the ass to deal with me, to live with me, to be my friend sometimes. I swear to you that I do not want to be this way. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. And when the illness is minimized as a "mood", it only adds to the burden I already carry.

"If you are chronically down, it is a lifelong fight to keep from sinking"
- Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation 

That's all I'm doing really. Just trying to keep from sinking.



  1. I doubt there's anything that I can say that will be of much help. But I understand everything you say here. To be succinct, you are not alone, and you'll always have an ear should you need it.


  2. I hear ya. Emotional illnesses are very difficult to understand by people who have never gone through it. Depression, anxiety, stress, each one is its own burden that nobody else can understand if they haven't lived through it. It's like going to war. In your head. And not having the benefit of the physical scars to show what it feels like. I especially hate when someone acts as though it was just a little mood for a few days, and the next time they see you they're absolutely, positively certain that, hey, things have gotten better, you're feeling better aren't you, right? And you have to explain, you know what, that's not how it works, and if you can't explain it, then they don't believe you.

    I wish people had at least the sensitivity to realize that they don't know everything, and that if someone says they feel like shit, to commiserate and offer to buy you lunch or babysit or something. That would be more helpful than downplaying.

    I have been on both end of this. For other people, I have to say I have been guilty at times, trying to make them feel better by reassuring, explaining, minimizing. There are times where this is appropriate, but for depression et al, no amount of rationalizing and downplaying will do. It just makes the water boil over. Maybe it's because I have been there and I know better now. Maybe everybody should go through a required 3 months of mental hell before they are allowed to become fully functioning adults, so they would know.

  3. I'm so sorry things are tough.

    Positive remarks are an easy way out somehow. We thoughtlessly throw about remarks like "it will be ok", "cheer up, it could be worse". But to a person who's really suffering it would be much more helpful to have a friend acknowledge the pain, and the fact that there's no knowing how long it will last.

    When I had a severe illness a few years back, people would say "I'm sure you'll get better soon, I just KNOW you will". To me it was equal to saying that I had no right to worry or despair, which actually made things worse by making me feel guilty for having perfectly normal and sound responses to a situation that was, in fact, both worrysome and desperate.

    Why not just say "hey, I can tell you're hurting, I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?" It goes a long way.

    But in order to say it, you have to face the fact that life is not always bright, and possibly even be prepared to face some of the pain your friend is going through. To some I think that's just too scary.

    1. Exactly. It's almost as though people have a vested interest in you being OK no matter what. Maybe you're right, maybe it is too scary. Because if you're not OK, oh god, maybe that could happen to me too!

      Understanding the root causes of emotional illnesses is one of the great quests of our age, I think.

  4. Oh, and I'd also like to add this:

    I think that there are great differences in how well different individuals deal with stress and troubles. I have only recently become aware that I don't respond well to stress (though with hindsight I can't believe how long it took me to see it), and I've also become aware that my mother and my grandmother were the same. Before I just thought I was doing something wrong somehow, that I wasn't trying hard enough.

    I now believe it's in the genes, and that the best you can do is to adjust your life pace to it. Too bad society as a whole does not recognize these differences... the same demands are on everyone, in work and in private life.

    I have chosen to have my own business in order to be able to lessen the burden when I need to, and I'm fortunate to have a husband who a)has a regular job with regular pay, b)likes having a regular job and c)understands that I can't always keep up with the pace that he and many others are at.

    This realization has helped relieve some of the guilt I've always felt about not being "up to par". It has also allowed me to start adjusting life to a level I can (mostly) handle, instead of trying in vain to adjust myself to the stressful demands of our society.

  5. My dear, I can understand you completely. I suffer from clinical depression and I've also been a Type 1 Diabetic for 28 years. I could have easily written this post. A great big Internet hug coming to you from the southeast.