In TV commercials for the latest medication, Depression is portrayed as a bathrobe with eyes that jumps onto a woman and makes her sad. In other commercials, we’re told that “depression hurts” while sad-looking actors sit staring out of windows and sigh dramatically. Most people know what depression is and think that they understand it, but the reality is that they know portrayals, stereotypes, and imagining based on their experiences being depressed. I don’t blame them, since living with any form of illness is something that can’t be imagined accurately without experience.
I’ve come to view depression as a vampire.
Not in the literal sense, of course, since dealing with a genuine blood-drinking creature of the night would be both more terrifying and yet simpler than living under the mental and emotional fog of real depression. Being a writer pretty much guarantees that I’m a self-centered narcissist, but in recent years I’ve found myself wondering how much of that might be the depression. We artists like to romanticize our failings, believing that in suffering lies true art or, at least, that our private torments might one day inspire an iconic character or poetic verse.
I have to believe that the depression is separate and distinct from my creative ego, since I remember my creative enthusiasm and pride as a constant in my early years but can’t recall serious depressive episodes before high school. The chemical transformations of puberty changed everything for me and, by the time I entered high school, I remember worrying about my sanity, believing myself to be a psychopath, and wondering if I might grow up to become a serial killer. As you might imagine, I was a blast to hang out with.
Depression is not sadness. That’s the first misconception that I’d like to try to break. Depression is also not a cynical or pessimistic attitude—though those can become factors over time. Depression changes the way a person perceives the world and, worse, the way they react. The reason I call depression a vampire is because it sucks. It sucks away your desires, your energy, your patience, and your passion. It’s not a comfy bathrobe, it’s a big shot of Novocain that leaves you feeling empty, exhausted, and without value.
When I hit one of my lows—and these things come in cycles, just like other biological rhythms—I will sleep for ten to twelve hours before dragging myself out of bed and still feel tired for the rest of the day. This will go on, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a week or two. My mom gets angry at me because I’m lazy, which is a common reaction I’ve gotten most of my life. I’ve grown accustomed to believing that I’m a lazy person, and maybe I am, but I’ve noticed that when I’m really motivated I can work as well as anyone. Again, is this my depression or just part of who I am? I can’t tell anymore.
I’ve always had a temper. I inherited it from my mother and, while I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding it behind a professional smile, I’ve had some epic meltdowns that have cost me friends, relationships, and (one time) my freedom. When I get angry, my thinking quickly slips into the irrational. This irrational thinking usually serves to provide fuel for the fire until something as simple as a malfunctioning computer program becomes the evidence I needed to justify committing suicide. This kind of irrationality is also symptomatic of genuine depression, but it went undiagnosed in me for most of my life. People assumed that I was being dramatic for attention—which I did, sometimes, because I needed to hear people tell me that I was worthy of living—or they just considered me an asshole.
I think about committing suicide at least once a week, and probably more often. Not in a serious, call-the-cops kind of way, but in an oddly detached and intellectual way. I constantly debate the value of my continued existence versus the cost I inflict upon my friends and relatives. I am currently taking medication for my depression and it definitely helps. Looking back, my egotism and desire to justify my life’s existence with fame, success, and fortune is really the only thing that consistently kept me alive prior to my trying to get a handle of my condition. The medication is great, honestly, it doesn’t zombie me out but it usually stops my lows from spiraling down into the oblivion of despair and also helps keep me from getting hyper and keyed up the way I occasionally would.
My writing is honestly the main thing that keeps me alive. My characters, my stories, and my determination to see them make a place in the world are what push me past the temptation of a quick end time and time again.
The thing is: there’s no cure for depression. Managing it doesn’t make it go away. It’s always there, rising again and again like Dracula from the grave to renew its assault. Depression drains me a little at a time, dampening my hopes and slashing at my self-esteem. It never goes away completely. Sure, I have good days like anyone else, but the depression is still always there on the edges, waiting. Then there are days when I feel as if I’m walking underwater, where everything looks twice as difficult as it should and requires twice the effort. I search the internet, I eat whether I’m hungry or not, I call friends, and I look for some distraction, some rope to climb out of the pit.
I think the worst thing about depression is its ability to dampen your enthusiasm for the things you love. Writing should be an escape for me, but one of the first things I lose is any desire to write. I could read, but somehow even picking up a book seems like too much effort. It knows my sources of joy and builds walls around them, derailing me toward boredom and daydream. So I sit on the couch watching TV or in my office staring at Facebook trying to feel creative without making the effort to actually create. How many hours have I lost to this psychic vampire, how many days?
I wish I had some pithy bit of wisdom to share with you all, but I don’t. My battle continues as it will for the rest of my life, but I’ve become quite the vampire fighter by now. I’m hoping that perhaps this look from the inside might help some of you understand it. What I will say is that if you know someone afflicted with depression, please give them support. It’s often a thankless battle, but it’s so much harder alone.