Depression has been a part of my life for the better part of 25 years. I started noticing changes in my mood and behaviour around the age of 15, but I didn’t understand what was happening, so I just shrugged it off as something weird about myself that I shouldn’t tell anyone about. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that someone finally pointed out to me that the “weirdness” that I was struggling with was actually depression, and that I should probably do something about it. But of course I didn’t, because I had the kind of obnoxious self confidence that people in their 20’s often have, and I preferred to boast to anyone who would listen that I was FINE rather than admit that I was actually a crumbling, disastrous mess. That was around the time that depression decided to crash right through that delusional wall like a drunk friend showing up late to the party, make-up smeared, slurring her words, and throwing insults at anyone who dared to get too close.
This was one of the times in my life when my depression was at its worst. I had been in denial about my feelings for so long that they finally had had enough of being suppressed and ignored, and they decided to do something about it. Hence, depression sashaying and stumbling onto the scene, demanding all of my attention. But did I do the responsible thing and take care of my erratic, dysfunctional friend? No. Did I sit with her, hold her hand and tell her that we would get through it together? Also no. Instead, I shoved her in a corner, threw a blanket over her head and told her to sleep it off. She didn’t like that. Depression doesn’t like to be ignored, so rather than sobering up and heading on her way, depression decided that it was time for shit to get real. My depression turned into a huge drama queen and started spilling her sob story to anyone who would listen. She whimpered and wailed, and had a complete breakdown in front of everyone. That was the point during the party when everyone left.
It’s not easy being alone with depression. In fact, it’s scary and exhausting, and it’s not something that anyone should face on their own. I didn’t ask for any help to deal with my depression. Once I realized that she was there to stay, I decided that the best thing to do was to leave. Depression and I packed up and moved, then we moved again, and then we signed up to work on a cruise ship together for the better part of a year. My plan was to throw depression overboard or maybe leave her on an island somewhere, then head home without her. Turns out she’s incredibly stubborn, highly resilient, and annoyingly clingy. Yes, depression is a bit of an asshole.
Over the years I learned to live with my depression, and I just sort of accepted that there was nothing I could do to get rid of her. Sometimes she walked behind me, out of sight but still close enough that I could feel her breath on the back of my neck. Other times she walked in front of me, blocking my view of the world and stopping me from finding my way. Most times though, she walked beside me waiting for me to talk to her, to acknowledge that she was there. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t).
Around the time I turned 30 I experienced a trauma that left me completely unable to cope with life anymore. Depression was no longer just a pesky, bothersome joke. She had completely taken over my life. She was me, and I was her; I had completely lost myself. I went for counselling. Week after week for just over a year I sat in a small, cramped office with mildly cheerful, buttercup coloured walls. There was one small, narrow window off to the side that offered absolutely no view whatsoever. But I wasn’t there for the view, was I? I was there to get the help I needed; to talk through all the issues and problems that had ultimately landed me in that office in the first place. But more importantly, I was there to finally give my depression a voice, and to give her the chance to be heard. She had been waiting all those years for someone to listen and to help her make sense of the world.
So that’s what we did. It wasn’t easy, and there were many times when I tried to give up, but in the end I stuck with it and I learned how to sit with my feelings and to recognize that they were there for a reason. I learned that when depression shows up, she usually has something important to say, and she really just wants someone to put their arm around her and let her know that she’s not alone. She wants to be recognized and validated, but more importantly she wants to be understood. Because depression is more than just a difficult nuisance. Depression is a valuable tool that lets us know that something is wrong, and that we need to pay attention and address it.
Today, depression still shows up from time to time, but it is a lot less often. Sometimes she just stands outside the window and stares at me; I know she’s there, it’s kind of creepy, but I can still carry on with my life. Other times she bursts through the front door and demands that everyone stop and pay attention to her. Those are the times when, rather than shove her into a closet, I take her hand and we sit quietly together. I listen to what she has to say, try to figure out why she’s here, and together we work towards finding whatever it is that she needs to feel at peace again.
So if you ever find yourself embarrassed or appalled that depression has shown up uninvited to your party, please take the time to acknowledge that your slightly eccentric party guest is likely there for a reason. Listen to what they have to say, and if it doesn’t make sense to you, or you don’t know how to deal with it, ask for help or find a professional who has the experience to start the kind of conversations that your depression is hoping you will have. Trust me, life is way more enjoyable without having to deal with a sloppy, drunk friend lying face first on your living room floor shouting obscenities at anyone who dares to get too close.