How Depression Feels

A while ago I started drawing what my depression felt like. It was a way of expressing myself without actually hurting myself. Now that I am better, I feel like I can share these drawings. These are actual thoughts or images I had while in the depths of depression.

***Warning, these drawings can be a little graphic. I am boldly expressing a sensitive topic, which can make others uncomfortable.***

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I would often just see blood on my arms- at church, work, school. I would see blood everywhere. I didn’t even want to hurt myself sometimes, but the images would come anyway.

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Sometimes when I was lying in bed, I would see demons coming out of me. And more often, I would just feel like I was tied to the bed with barbed wire- moving or breathing or anything would just hurt. There were days when I just lied in bed and silently screamed because the pain was so bad.

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I often felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t find anything to hold onto. The only escape, the only thing that I felt like was there for me to grab as I descended into the abyss was suicide. Suicide became my flotation device.

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I often saw myself hanging or choking myself.

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I would see myself hanging from the ceiling as I went to bed. Or sometimes I just felt so stretched to my limit that I would feel like I was trying to pull myself up while being chained to the ceiling.

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I wanted the end. I just wanted the end so badly. I thought about cutting through to the bone. I thought about just hurting myself so much that I would end up in the hospital and maybe then I could get the help I needed.

I am so happy to say that I am out of that now. The images have gone away. The pain is mostly gone. I don’t picture doing any of these things to myself anymore. This was the darkest time of my life. Darker than any other time I had depression or tried to hurt myself. This time I wanted to be better. There was so much good in my life and so many reasons to get better. Depression is an illness. It is a sickness. And these are some of the more disturbing symptoms.

Also, sorry for the low quality of the images. I have limited resources to take pictures at the moment and pencil drawings are hard to see sometimes. 

Why I Break Down

I’m a pretty easy going person. If someone asks to do something at the last minute, I will usually say yes. The problem is that I don’t really have an accurate sense of time. I don’t think about how long things take, I just think about what I have planned for the day. And I don’t panic until what I have planned is getting to the point where I might not be able to do it. When my schedule fails is when my mind fails to process the situation. The world closes in and I want to disappear, and life becomes so overwhelming that I don’t know how to even start to deal with it again.

This is why I panic.

I remember in middle school when I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. We had an IEP and the adults in the room decided that I should be given more time to finish homework assignments as needed. I remember resenting this decision a little bit. After all, I was fully capable of doing everything my classmates were doing. Why should I be treated differently?

I now realize the reasoning. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. It’s that I panic. I don’t notice time going by until it’s too late. I don’t notice that I have worked on a tiny portion of my project until an hour before the assignment is due, and I haven’t even completed half of it.

The thing is, I get lost in the details. I get lost in the joy of creating, the beauty of being, the fun of doing. I get lost because I love it. I love life. I love learning. I love people. I love looking at the wheels of cars as they roll by and the shapes that make up buildings. I get lost in the little things that no one really notices. I get lost in simply being.

And it’s great. It’s wonderful. I love it and I love life. The problem is that you can’t do that kind of thing in this world. This world has demands and requirements and obligations. And as soon as I come out of being lost in the beauty, I get overwhelmed by the demands.

On the hard days, you might find me curled up in my car after work, trying to distract myself from all the noise and light and heat and pressure of the world. You might find me walking around with ear plugs in because it makes one less thing to deal with. You might find me rubbing my hands or arms in an attempt to relieve the tension inside of me.

No, it’s not that I can’t handle the world. It’s that other people don’t know the world. They don’t see the things I notice. They don’t experience sights and sounds like they are part of them. They don’t get lost in the beauty. It’s not that I can’t handle the world, it’s that no one can. No one can take it all in.

The thing is, most people don’t try. Most people filter it out automatically. They filter out what they feel is unnecessary to only focus on what they feel is important. But to me, to my mind, it is all important. And how do you handle the world when everything is important?

You get lost in it until it becomes so much that you break down.

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Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!

How Autism Contributes to Depression

I have been lonely for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know how to communicate with people that I wanted to spend time with them, and I didn’t know how to just go and talk to someone. Most of my conversations with my parents were on car rides because that was the only way I knew how to initiate a conversation, when I knew I would be with someone for a designated amount of time and they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go or anything else to do. One of my best friends was probably made because of that exact situation. I would give her rides from work and we would talk on the car ride. We would also talk at my desk when we finished our work and didn’t have anything else to do.

Thinking about it, I still don’t know how to initiate conversations with people outside of those parameters- a defined period of time, a setting where we are required to be in the same general area during that time, and a specific task or event that requires our focus on the moment. People are often surprised by how naturally I start and continue conversations in these situations, but they are just about the only situations where this is possible.

Here is where depression comes in. I used to think that my depression was a direct result of my loneliness. I felt that if I could make friends and be able to spend time with them, I would no longer be depressed. I have now realized that my depression is not just from loneliness. I am prone to thoughts of depression. I am vulnerable to thoughts of suicide and self hatred even when I am not lonely. However, my lack of communication skills always contributes to the severity of my depression.

I have two best friends. They are both completely amazing and I would do anything in the world for them. They help me through my depression on a daily basis. However, my need for their love and approval, and my lack of the adequate skills I need to interpret their actions and communicate my needs, often contributes to thoughts of suicide, depression, and self harm. One of my best friends has been my friend for about 7 years. I don’t worry about losing her because I know that she will always need me at least as much as I need her. I have a problem communicating my needs with her though. I do not know how to tell her that situations are too overwhelming for me and that I need an escape. The biggest issue I have with my other friend is that I do not know how to read her signals. I do not know how to tell if she enjoys being friends with me, or if she wants to talk or wants some space, or if I am too much for her at a particular moment or not enough at another moment.

This is where depression and autism entwine and run away with each other. Depression tells me that since I can’t read someone’s signals, that must mean that they think the worst of me. Autism tells me that I lack communication skills to remedy the situation so I might as well consign myself to a state of depression because this will never get better. Depression tells me that since I cannot adequately communicate, I am a worthless human being and no one would ever really want to be my friend unless I do amazing things for them all the time. And since I suffer with major depression, there are times when I cannot do anything for other people because I am struggling so much myself. And these thoughts all cycle in my head. Depression feeds off of lack of communication skills, which I don’t feel I can improve because autism makes communicating harder, and then depression feeds off of my hopelessness, which leads to increases thoughts of worthlessness, which leads to greater isolation and self doubt, which increases my desires to die, which deepens my depression.

I know that the only way to reconcile these thoughts is to untangle depression from autism, to look at each one separately and see how they contribute to each other. The only way to sort out my thoughts is by communicating them with people to find what is true and what is only a reality in my head because I’m looking at things through the lens of depression. It really is okay that I can’t be in crowds for very long without needing to have a break at some point. It is okay that I carry ear plugs around with me everywhere I go. It is okay that I’m not sure how to communicate my feelings and I stumble on my words when I try to speak without taking the time to construct the conversation in my head first. Depression wants me to see these things as unforgivable faults that can never be understood by others.

The truth is, that my friends already see it. They know that when I walk quickly through a crowd, it is not because I don’t want to walk with them. It is because I need a break from the sensory input that has been too much for me for longer than I was able to express. They know that I try to do more than I’m capable of because I care too much to let autism stop me from trying. They know that when I lash out at them, it is because I have been trying to stay calm on my own for too long and I finally reached my breaking point. But most of all, they know I love them more than I am capable of expressing. And that is the one thing that depression can’t touch. That love, that amazing, wonderful love that I have for them and they have for me, will always get me past the thoughts of depression and inadequacy. And I know that despite the autism, despite the depression, despite how hard things get, I will always have a reason to keep on trying and keep on living and keep on keeping on.

Hello Darkness my Old Friend

To say I have been depressed for the last few months would be an understatement. To say I have been overwhelmed and stressed to the point of exhaustion would clarify a little more, but would still not give a full picture of how much I have been struggling. The fact is I have been drowning. You forget what it is like to breathe sometimes when life is so crazy that you don’t have time to focus on anything. I have been in a whirlwind of demands and emotions. I have been spinning in a sea of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, desires for self harm, and overall stress. The loneliness surrounding me has felt like walking around in a plastic bag, trying to gasp for air that wasn’t there.

I have checked out of life.

Before the last couple months, I never understood people who said that when they were depressed, they just stayed in bed. I am an expectation follower. I do what people expect no matter how hard it is, how uncomfortable, how much it hurts me, or how much I despise it. I cannot just not go to work because that is what is expected of me. I cannot just stop doing what I am expected to do, no matter how much I am struggling or how much I am hurting. The last month was a little different though. I realized that people don’t expect much from single people. You can pretty much just go to work or school and that is all people expect of you. I usually enjoy doing other things, but this time I did not care to do anything. I did not do any of the things I usually do. I avoided home and my family. I stayed out late and did absolutely nothing most of the time. I left church as soon as possible and arrived as late as possible. I did not go to activities or talk to most of my friends. I did not try to cook or buy groceries. I don’t even remember half of the last month because I was so out of it.

Suicide seemed so enticing. I thought about self harm nearly every day and succumbed to the thoughts more than once.  The darkness won out more often than it ever has before. And for once, I was not scared of suicide because I just figured it was a matter of time, and if it came down to it, I would not be opposed to embracing the darkness for one final time. I felt like a zombie going through the motions of life, and it didn’t matter if I lived or died because I felt like I was emotionally dead already.

The good news is that I’m getting better. I feel like I can breathe again. I feel like I can talk again. I feel like I may have more of a grip on life. It is a slow process. You don’t just come out of depression like that and simply go on with life. But slowly, steadily, I am working towards recovery. I am learning to breathe again. I am learning to see again. I am learning to be myself again. And it will get better. It always does.

Losing my Grip

I haven’t been okay for a while. I feel like I’m drowning. My dreams are disturbing and my waking thoughts are not much better. I lose hold of reality though I try to cling to the things I want to feel real.

I took a couple days off work to try to get back to a semblance of normal. It helped, but I still feel like I’m sliding down a mountainside, trying to find a grip in loose dirt.

I have panicked. I have broken. I have completely freaked out. My brother was telling me something the other day, and I yelled at him and then kept screaming because I just couldn’t stop.

All I keep thinking is that I’m not okay. I’m not okay, and I don’t know when I will ever be okay again.

My family is visiting. I love them, but I can’t handle it. I can’t handle the stress of everyone being here. I have always been the one expected to hold it all together, but now I am falling apart.

I’m trying to cling to a reality that doesn’t feel like it exists. I’m trying to get a grip on life that feels like it’s slipping through my fingers. I’m trying to do anything to be okay again.

Is this normal? It doesn’t feel normal… I feel like something is wrong with me, and I don’t know how to fix it. I just keep hoping for a better tomorrow because I’m doing everything else I can think of to be okay.

It’s Okay to Be Different

It’s okay to be different. I have to keep reminding myself of that. As I sit rocking in my car before class, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a failure. As I feel the urge to bang my head against walls or hurt myself in other ways, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a bad person. As I flap my arms out of excitement or anxiety, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be different.

I don’t know why I feel these things, but I have to resist the thoughts asking what’s wrong with me. Maybe nothing is wrong, maybe I’m just different. And maybe it’s okay to be different.

“Frozen” and Mental Illness

I know that it has become cliche to say that Frozen is your favorite Disney movie, but there are a few reasons why I really connect to the story. I relate to the feelings of trying to conceal who you are because you are afraid of hurting others. I have thought about suicide since I was a kid. I always thought that these thoughts were bad, that there was something wrong with me because I kept thinking about suicide even when things were good. I tried to hide my depression, my suicidal thoughts, my mental illness, because I was afraid that if people knew, if people saw, they would get hurt.

In Frozen, Elsa is told that there is beauty in her gift, but also danger. She gets so afraid of endangering others that she locks herself away from everyone else. She hides her gift because it scares her that she cannot control it. Her parents unknowingly reaffirm these thoughts by telling her to “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Eventually though, she breaks. She is unable to hold it all in and does the very things she was afraid of doing by hurting the ones she loves. But by breaking, she finds freedom in allowing herself to feel and to use her abilities.

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This picture of Elsa is a very familiar scene for me. Sitting in my room, isolating from the world, feeling like I am a monster unable to control myself, feeling like no one could ever understand the darkness, feeling so alone because even though people are so close- they just don’t know what lies behind my closed doors.

I finally went and saw my therapist again. It has been about 6 months since I last saw him. When I left the last time, it was on such a positive note. My life was going well, I had been feeling hopeful about life and felt like I could handle my thoughts. Going back felt like somewhat of a failure, as though I was not good enough to keep up those positive thoughts, that I had failed in my recovery. My therapist told me that it is like riding a bike though. You have times when you are going downhill and you do not need to peddle because life is easier. There are other times when you are going uphill and you have to put all you have into peddling because otherwise you will start slipping backwards.

That is how I have been feeling lately. I had been doing so well for a while, but with the accumulation of health issues, disordered eating, added stresses of school and business, life became difficult. I got tired of peddling and started sliding back into the familiar darkness of depression and thoughts of suicide and self harm. When I recovered enough to look around again, I realized how far I had slid backwards and it was disheartening. It is difficult to realize how much your choices have affected you. I understand that eating disorders and depression are not entirely choices, but I had slipped. I had slid into familiar destructive habits and realizing the toll it took on my body was almost devastating.

I remember learning about addictions in my health class and the teacher saying that relapse is part of recovery. This was my relapse. I had fallen back into harmful behaviors that hurt me physically and emotionally. Realizing you have relapsed is one of the hardest parts of recovery. You feel as though you have failed, you have let everyone down, you let yourself down. At this point, it is easy to convince yourself to stop trying because you feel as though you are never going to get better anyway. I remembered that relapse is a step in recovery though. I am realizing that it does not mean I will not get better. I am better than I was and I will become better than I am. It is simply a process and I must have patience with myself.

Anyway, back to Frozen, thinking about the movie I realized something about myself. Elsa’s gift was beautiful and amazing. It brought people joy and made life more fun. It was only dangerous when she forgot how to love and open herself up. It was dangerous because she concealed the beauty in the process of trying to protect others from getting hurt. Suicidal thoughts are not my gift, but maybe feeling so much is a gift. I empathize with others. I understand things on a level that most people do not. I feel with everything in me. When I love, I love so completely that it hurts sometimes. Maybe this gift of mine is beautiful, maybe it makes being my friend better and more fun, maybe it is a good thing.

My therapist counseled me to not label my suicidal thoughts as bad, but simply to recognize them as thoughts and move on. I do not have to be afraid of my thoughts. I do not have to fear thinking about self harm or suicide or other thoughts that have been reinforced in my head as harmful. I can simply recognize them as part of my thought processes that have been shaped through years of reinforcement, but I do not have to hold onto those thoughts. I do not have to judge myself for those thoughts. My thoughts do not define me, but what I choose to do with those thoughts can define me if I allow it to.

So here’s to the beauty of mental differences. Here’s to the emotional breakdowns because that means I have powerful feelings. Here’s to the thoughts that I do not have to harbor because there are other thoughts I would rather dwell on. Here’s to seeing the beauty instead of the danger of my mind. Here’s to this beautiful, wonderful, crazy life and all that comes with it.