Depression and Happiness

Happiness has about as much to do with depression as hygiene has to do with being healthy.

Happiness definitely influences depression, and it is an important thing to learn in overcoming and living with depression, but there is so much more to treating depression than learning to be happy.

Depression is like a blanket that covers you from everything around you. It makes it hard to see the light. It makes you feel like there is nothing else in the world but how you feel right now. But as bad as it is, it makes you feel safe somehow. It makes you feel like if you stay in that state, if you isolate, if you don’t do anything but stay in bed and cry, you won’t have to deal with all the worse things in the world. Because while others around you see a world filled with light and hope, and they wonder why you are staying under a blanket when you “don’t have to,” you see the dark shadows of the world. 

You see the demons that hide inside of you and everyone else. You have nightmares that wake you up or make it hard to sleep. You feel the pain of the world- the hurt and neglect, the children that are abused or starving, the wars and violence and men and women that show no respect for others, that take advantage of people and tear people down and take away another person’s ability to feel human. You hear the screams that no one else seems to notice. You see the pain in the eyes of someone that has been hurt. 

In the depths of depression, depression can feel like a safe place because depression shows you everything wrong with the world and tells you that it is hopeless to fight against the dark and the only way to find peace is to get out. Depression tells you that getting out of depression will only make you have to face a broken world with no filter, with nothing between you and the hurt. Depression is your shield in an uncertain world because depression is very dependable.

Depression is there at the end of the day when the world is quiet and there is nothing left in you. Depression is there when you wake up in the morning. It is there when you eat your cereal and get ready for your day. And it is there anytime you need it. If something hurts you during the day, depression is there to surround you with grief and tell you it’s okay to cry. Depression is there because sometimes people are not.

People can tell you to stop crying, to suck it up, to get over it, that things aren’t that bad, that you’re exaggerating, that you have no reason to be sad or upset, that you just need to try harder or think happy thoughts or pull yourself out of it. When people are not understanding, depression is there to turn to. When you feel isolated and alone, depression is there to stay with you. 

Depression is comforting. It doesn’t expect you to fix yourself or make yourself happy or get better. In fact, depression is perfectly content if you never improve. And that in itself is comforting. It is comforting to not have any expectation of change or progress because those things are hard, and depression doesn’t expect you to ever improve.

Depression has little to do with happiness because depression is everything. It is an entire world, an entire being, and an entire state of mind. Depression is not about being happy. It is about learning to cope in a world with unhappiness. Depression is about living in a world that is broken, that is imperfect, that is difficult and sometimes impossible.

The most surprising fact about depression, for people who don’t understand it, is that you can be happy and still be depressed. You can be amazingly happy, incredibly happy, ridiculously happy. You can be laugh out loud and dancing in the rain kind of happy, but just outside of that happiness or underneath that happiness or coexisting with that happiness is a depth of discouragement and hopelessness. Depression does not steal your happiness. Depression masks your happiness. And sometimes happiness masks your depression.

I see depression as the absolute acknowledgement that something is wrong with the world. It is a whole body, whole mind, whole heart perception that nothing is okay. Can you still be happy in a broken world? Yes, but that doesn’t make the world stop being broken. That is the key to depression. 

The difference between someone who is depressed and someone who is not is that freedom. Not having depression gives you the freedom to believe that things will change. It gives you the freedom to believe that what you do makes a difference. It allows you to go into the world with purpose because the world is there for you to put light into. For someone without depression, the world is changeable, able to become better or different or whatever you make of it. The world is yours.

Depression is hardly ever a one lane road. You have glimpses of the other side. You have moments when you feel like you’re making a difference and that you have purpose. The trick is getting those moments to stick. That is what I try to do when I am depressed. I try to give myself reminders that there is purpose, there is change, there is reason to believe that things can get better. This world isn’t that bad, but you have to see the good. You have to expose yourself to the good. And when you are depressed, you have to remind yourself of that good. Because otherwise, you will stay under that safety blanket of depression until you pass away or the world passes away because without the good, there is no real reason to come out.

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This is My Life

I was officially diagnosed earlier this year with chronic depression- early onset, which basically means I have had depression for as long as I can remember and it will likely keep coming back for the rest of my life. I hadn’t really pursued a diagnosis before this year because it seemed pretty obvious that I had depression and I didn’t need someone to tell me. But even with a diagnosis, it is sometimes hard to believe that this may never go away.

There are times when I am just so happy and at peace with the world that depression seems like a distant memory, hardly relevant to the joy I am experiencing. But the truth is, those exquisite moments of joy are possible because of the deep craters of despair that have come before them. This is my life. This is my reality. I am going to have moments of despair so strong that I forget anything good ever came before them. But I am also going to have moments of joy that are so incredible that I forget what pain feels like.

I feel like I am a pretty happy person. I love life. I see the good in it. I see the good in everything and everyone. I love people more than anything else in the world. But I wrote a post a couple years ago where I talked about drinking up happiness as much as I could when it came so that I could get through the next period of depression.

The last few months have been really amazing for me. I progressed so much mentally and emotionally that I felt like maybe depression was finally gone. All the self doubt and self hate and hurt from past experiences had all disappeared. I felt completely and totally whole for the first time in my life. But… I have chronic depression. So, it came back.

The point I am trying to make though is that sometimes having depression feels like trying to drink happiness through a cup with a hole in it. You do what you can to fill your cup and to keep it full, but it doesn’t always work. The thing is though, I have come to the point where I realize that it is okay. It is okay that I have chronic depression. It is okay that I have nothing to be sad about, and yet feel such deep despair that I cannot begin to describe the pain I am enduring. It is okay because I am alive. After everything, all the brokenness and lonely nights and heartbreaking thoughts, I am still here. I am still here to enjoy the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I am still here to listen to the sound of rain outside my window and drink hot chocolate and watch fun movies. I am still here to experience all that life has and all that life is.

So, maybe in an hour, I won’t be able to get out of bed because depression grips me so tightly that I can hardly breathe. But in the moments that I am well, during the times when I can see the beauty around me, I plan to love it all as much as I can. I plan to find joy in the difficult situations and enjoy the good times. I plan to live because I am here for a reason. And whatever that reason is, I’m going to make it a good life. This is my life, and I’m going to love every minute of it.

 

Keeping Myself Safe

I have depression. I have had it for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes, but it never really leaves. It does not mean that I cannot be happy. It does not keep me from living a good life. It is not obvious to an outsider that I have this chronic illness. However, it does mean that I have to do some things differently to make sure I stay safe. Just like someone with severe allergies might carry an EpiPen to keep themselves alive if they are inadvertently exposed to something that can harm them, I do certain things to keep myself alive during an unexpected depressive episode.

I limit anything in my room that I could use to hurt myself. I do not have any long cords in my room. I have one belt that I keep in the back of my closet. I have one pair of scissors that I keep in a box on my desk. I do not keep any other sharp objects in my room. I keep a limited supply of medicine in my room, which is also at my desk. Both my desk and my closet are on the opposite side of my room from my bed. If I really wanted to harm myself, I would have to get out of bed and walk about 15 feet to reach anything that I could use to hurt myself. Generally, when I am extremely depressed and suicidal, I cry so much that it is hard to get out of bed. If I do make it out of bed, I generally don’t make it farther than the floor next to the bed.

Of course, it does not really matter where I keep things when I am doing well. On a normal day, I can walk past or use a million things that could potentially hurt me without any fear. The problem is that I never know when I will feel suicidal. I can go from being completely well and not feeling depressed at all, to feeling extremely suicidal in the space of a few hours. My world is unpredictable because my mind can quickly become overwhelmed by undesirable thoughts and feelings.

Studies have shown that limiting someone’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases their risk of dying by suicide. I know this to be true. I know there are things I will never do because of my depression. I will never own a gun. I will never have an internet server or other device in my room that requires a corded connection. I will never hike to a cliff by myself. I will never step onto a balcony of a tall building without someone nearby. I will never look over a bridge or overpass that does not have a protective fence. If I feel depressed, I will not go for a walk down the street without someone with me.

These are the things I have to do to keep myself safe. These are the ways I make sure that I have time to think before I can harm myself. This is my insurance to myself and my friends that depression will not win easily.

Sometimes it is not easy to keep myself safe. Sometimes I have to rely on friends to help me out of an unhealthy state of mind. I know that it is hard for the people that care about me to know that because of my depression, suicidal thoughts can quickly rise to the surface of my mind. But my promise to them is to do all that I can to keep myself safe. I do all that I can to make sure that their fears will never come true. I will not make it easy for this illness to hurt me. And I will continue to do everything in my power to fight my depression for as long as I live.

Suicide

People who are thinking clearly do not want to die. Even those who consistently think about dying do not really want to die; they just want the pain to be over.

I think about suicide a lot- nearly every day, usually multiple times a day. However, it is just a thought. It comes and goes like a wave on the shore. And as long as I have moments of peace in between, I’m okay and I won’t hurt myself. But every once in a while, the tides are high and the waves don’t really leave and you drown in it.

Last night was one of those times. I had done everything to feel okay. I had read scriptures and prayed and read positive notes from friends and colored and ate chocolate. I did everything I could think of to save myself, but at the end of the night, it was not enough. I looked up the suicide hotline and wrestled with the thought of calling for half an hour. But when you can’t call the suicide prevention line because you’re crying too much before you even dial the number, you know things are bad.

I kept telling myself I don’t normally feel like this. It’s just a night. It’s just a moment. Maybe I should call to get me through… But once I finally pushed the button and saw the call going through, I panicked.
“I can’t really be calling the suicide hotline… That means these thoughts are real. That means I’m actually considering acting on how I feel.” That means that I’m not as well as I think I should be.
These were the thoughts going through my head.

But I have made promises to stay safe. I have made promises that if I am ever in danger or think I might be in danger, I will let someone know. So I did. I didn’t know if they could help or how they could help, but I knew that if something happened and I didn’t at least tell them, they would be hurt.

It took another half hour of talking with them before I felt okay again. I kept hearing in my head that I had a friend and that things were going to be okay until the darkness dispersed. I felt the thickness and weight of a dark fog lift off me. I still hurt beyond belief, but I no longer felt like I was drowning.

I know you can’t completely understand unless you’ve been through this, but I want you to know that we try. Anyone who has depression and attempts to end their life or contemplates suicide tries to be okay. We try to find ways out of the darkness. We try to get help. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work, or we don’t know what resources to turn to, or we can’t seem to find the capacity to use the resources.

They say that suicide is selfish, and maybe it is, but I want you to know that getting to that point doesn’t just come. It’s a struggle. It’s a fight for your life. And if you know someone that loses that fight, I hope you also know that they probably tried everything to be okay. They just didn’t know what else they could do.

If I Had Died

At the beginning of 2009, I tried to take my life. Something happened that made me stay.

I was thinking today about all the things I would have missed out on if I had died that day.

I never would have made my current best friend or my best friend before her.

I never would have met any of my nieces or my nephew, or had the chance to play with any of them or love them.

I never would have graduated from college.

I never would have gone to work at the humanitarian center, where I influenced hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people.

I never would have seen my siblings and friends get married.

I never would have done so many things and taught so many people and made so many friends. I never would have been able to be such an influence for good.

For some of us, it doesn’t get better.

Some of us have had depression for as long as we can remember and it may never go away.

But… just because it doesn’t get easier, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth it.

Sometimes life is hell. It feels like torture and every breath is agony and you desperately long for relief. But… between the agonizing moments, between the gasping for air, between the uncontrollable crying bouts, there are beautiful, amazing, remarkable moments of pure bliss. There are moments that take your breath away and make you cry or leap for joy.

No, it may not get easier, but… it is worth it.

Childhood Depression and Getting Help

My first year of college, I attempted suicide. It wasn’t the stress of college. It wasn’t a new environment. It wasn’t the people around me that caused these thoughts. I simply had the opportunity to kill myself, and I didn’t know where to go for help.

I have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember a time in my life when death did not seem appealing. But I was never alone growing up. I shared a room with my sister, and I had two brothers so someone was always around.

I remember sitting in the car on the freeway and thinking that if I just unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door, it could all be over. The thought scared me. The thought that I wanted to die scared me so much that I knew I couldn’t tell anyone because it would scare them too.

When I was a little older and could look over the side of walkways at the mall, I had recurring images in my mind of jumping off. I never looked over a ledge for very long because it felt like something was drawing me down, that something was calling me to end it all now.

If I ever found myself alone in the kitchen because the rest of my family was in their rooms napping or working on homework, I would be drawn to the knives. I remember fingering the biggest ones a couple times before I got scared and put them quickly away.

I remember being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I remember going to the therapists for all the testing, and then doing play therapy after I was diagnosed. It seemed pointless to me. How was playing with an adult and talking about my family going to help me?

I asked my mom if it was supposed to help. I told her that we just played and I didn’t think it would change anything. Of course, my mom didn’t know that I thought about suicide, the therapy was for autism. So my mom listened to me and I didn’t go back.

The point is that I didn’t think anyone could help me and I didn’t think I could tell anyone how I felt. I never heard the phrase “mental health” or “mental illness” growing up. I didn’t even know that there were healthy and unhealthy states of mind. I had no idea that someone could help me process my thoughts so I wouldn’t have to be afraid of myself.

The only terms I was really familiar with were good and bad. So I categorized suicidal thoughts as bad. I was a bad person for thinking those things. I was a bad kid for wanting to hurt myself.

I didn’t know the term, depression. If someone asked me if I felt depressed, I wouldn’t know what to tell them. But adults don’t ask kids if they want to die. Kids aren’t supposed to want to die. Kids aren’t supposed to know what desperation feels like. And I was a smart kid. I was a brave kid. I wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything so being afraid of myself and my thoughts seemed ridiculous.

So I never got help. In college, I was alone a lot more. I had my own room, which allowed me to feel safe from others, but left me to myself. I drowned in my thoughts.

I desperately wanted to be saved. I tried to tell people how I felt. I just didn’t have the words. I knew the term suicide by now, but I still didn’t really know about mental health. I didn’t know that there was a healthy state of mind. I didn’t know that someone could help me become healthy in my thoughts.

I also didn’t know who to go to. I went to the other girls in the dorm because they were the closest to me. University officials didn’t think that was appropriate and told me I shouldn’t do that. They didn’t really give me other resources though. I went to my residential advisor, who was helpful but couldn’t do everything.

The thing is, we don’t really talk about what to do if you’re feeling suicidal. People say to go to therapy or to call suicide hotlines, but those things are just bandaids for the real problem. No one tells you how to find the help you need. No one tells you how to talk to therapists in ways that will help you get to the real issues. No one tells you that medicine is supposed to make you feel better and want to die less. No one tells you that there is a healthy state you can reach on the other side.

I’m finally at the point where I realize what I need. I have finally reached out for the help I’ve been searching for for years. I’m just hoping it’s soon enough.

Why I Quit My Job

I commute an hour to work and an hour back home five days a week. I got in a car accident about a month ago. After the accident, this commute has become incredibly stressful and anxiety provoking. But… That is not why I quit my job.

No, I could have moved closer to work. I could take public transportation or try to carpool with someone, even though either of those would likely mean I’d leave home an hour earlier and get back an hour later. The real reason I’m quitting my job is that I can’t handle it emotionally and mentally.

I can’t trust myself to be alone. I had to come back from my vacation early because I don’t have any more time off. The rest of my family won’t be back for a week and a half. But I can’t go that long by myself. So I’m planning on visiting my friend and my sister and trying to keep busy as much as I can.

It is hard being scared of yourself. I have things somewhat figured out with medications. I’m no longer as anxious as I used to be. I got off a medication that made me super depressed. I just don’t do well with being alone though. The last time I was alone for a week or so, I attempted suicide. The darkness just closes in so fast when you’re alone. There’s no one to stop it from eating you.

So… In the simplest terms, I quit my job so that I can live, and more importantly, so that I can live without so much fear. If I could be a hermit and live without any connection to anyone or anything, I would. But as long as I am connected to someone else, it’s like I can’t live by myself.