Friday, August 19, 2011

The Dark and Lonely Place

Depression is a tricky thing. It's not like a cold or the flu, where you wake up one morning and it's pretty obvious that you're ill. In those cases there's a clear distinction from the day before: your throat is sore, your nose is runny, your bones ache. Depression is more subtle than that. It creeps in from the margins, infiltrating every aspect of your life. It happens so slowly that often you don't realize it's there for weeks or even months.

I've been around that particular block enough times to know what depression looks like for me. Generally speaking, I know when I'm depressed because I feel like a teenager again: almost always on the verge of tears, suffocated by the people around me, irritated by nearly everyone and everything, and uninterested in doing much of anything except sleeping for long stretches of a time. It goes on for weeks, and even though I hate the entire world, I can't put my finger on any one thing that's actually wrong. Instead, everything feels wrong.

It's an incredibly frustrating place to be. Sometimes I want to scream at the top of my lungs, other times I want to curl up in a ball and cry, and most of the time I want everyone to leave me alone. More often than not, I want all three things at once. Every day feels like I'm walking around carrying 100-pound weights. Life feels heavy, and every movement is labored. Even my brain moves slower, and simple decisions can be paralyzing. Coffee or tea? I don't know, I don't know, please, stop asking me questions, leave me alone.

I lash out at people when I'm depressed. I heard someone say once, "depression is anger turned inward," but it turns outward too. My temper gets shorter and my empathy evaporates. I have no patience for whining or people's need to talk about their feelings (my feelings are an entirely different story, of course). A silent, low-level anger simmers constantly below the surface.

I never said it was pretty.

And then there is the immense pressure not to be depressed. Nobody wants to be around a Debbie Downer, so instead I stuff it down and push it aside, pretending it isn't there. I've more or less perfected the art of putting on a happy face for a short period of time. If the mask cracks and someone asks if everything is okay, the answer is always, yes, yes, fine, just fine. Until someone asks at just the wrong moment, and I dissolve into tears. Most people mean well, and they try to say comforting things. They reassure me that everything will be okay. They tell me that really, it can't be that bad. They remind me that I have a job and my health and lots of friends. But I don't want them to placate me with platitudes, and I don't want to be talked out of my feelings, and I don't want to be chastised for pitying myself when children in Somalia are starving. I also don't want them to pull me aside and offer to talk about it, and I don't want them to ask me whether I'm okay. All I really want from them is the space to be depressed.

All this is my way of saying that I haven't been feeling so hot for the last month or so. Maybe longer. I don't know, I've lost track. Some people have noticed, others haven't. It ebbs and flows, depending on the day and the circumstances and the quality of the beer available to me (two of those things are true, but I'm not telling which ones). So far I've managed to avoid watching day-long marathons of "Toddlers & Tiaras" while eating Nutella by the jarful, but only barely.

I'm not sure how to work my way out of it this time around. I have this way of explaining depression to people who have never really been depressed: depression isn't rational. You can't argue with it or talk your way out of it. It's more like an amorphous blob that you can't ever really grab hold of or pin down. In the past, it's always just been a matter of time. But when the days feel long and lonely and the sleepless nights feel longer and lonelier, time is the last thing I want. Right now I'm going through the motions, showing up at work and going to social events with friends and even stumbling through the occasional date. I don't know what else to do, so I do that, and I hope that it works.


Anonymous said...

Are you still on antidepressants? Have you found medications to help?

Erin said...


Yes, I'm still on antidepressants (and have been for the last 10+ years). They've been very effective for me, and I consider myself lucky because of that. But they're not miracle pills, and even they can't eliminate the occasional, situational depression (not for me, anyway). Since they've worked so well for me for so long, I'm loathe to fiddle with the dosage unless I absolutely have to. Luckily, the funk passed in 6 weeks or so, and I'm feeling much better now. I think it was just one of those occasional dark clouds passing through an otherwise blue sky.

Anonymous said...

I have suffered depression and anxiety for many years, but it was not until I reached new lows that I finally decided it was time to seek professional help. I will be going to my first therapy session this week. It is possible they may start me on medications, but I am fearful of becoming dependent on them and of the possible side effects (which include suicide ideation and increased anxiety). Can you tell me more about your experience with antidepressants? What have you tried? What do you currently take? How was it for you when you started on them? What side effects did/do you experience? How long did it take for the medications to exert a positive effect? Have you ever work with a psychiatrist? If you have, did you find them to be helpful?

No one else I know speaks as openly as you do about depression. I applaud your bravery and greatly appreciate your candidness and honesty. Reading your blog inspired me to start facing my depression/anxiety issues and motivated me to begin the process of seeking help. No words can express how thankful I am to you.

Erin said...


First, I'm sorry you've had to struggle with these issues for so long, but I'm also so proud of you for seeking help. I'm happy to share my experience with antidepressants, but I want to be clear that it's just that: only my experience.

I first went on an SSRI (Zoloft) and lithium when I was 14. I stayed on them for 6 months, then transitioned off. When I was 19, I went back on Zoloft and have been on it ever since. I've had to adjust the dosage a bit over the years (always upwards), but I've never changed meds. I now take the generic version and can't tell any difference between it and the brand name (I used to think I could, but now I actually think that my first time on the generic actually coincided with a minor situational depression).

I've seen a counselor at several points in my life. I saw a psychiatrist who also prescribed for me when I was 14. When I went back on Zoloft in college, my GP prescribed for me and I did counseling separately (first group therapy at the university's counseling center, then individual counseling later). When I moved to Austin, I found a new GP who prescribed for me, but opted not to find a counselor. About 3 years ago, I decided to start seeing a counselor again, and I still see her once a week now. I've found that I tend to process my thoughts verbally, so having someone to talk things through with has been very helpful for me. She helps me process events and emotions, formulate coping strategies for dealing with things, and generally feel better. I was very lucky to find a counselor I really like on the first try, but it does often take a few tries to find someone you really click with.

As for side effects, I've always been very lucky - I never experienced any (except perhaps weight gain, though if I'm really honest with myself, I also just like to eat). I was also very lucky in that I found a drug that worked for me on the first try and have been able to stay on it. Some people have to try a few different meds before they find the one that works best for them, and some find that a drug they've been on for years stops working over time. I haven't had either of those issues.

Most doctors have told me it takes about 3 weeks to build up in your system before the medication will show its full effects. I didn't experience any issues tapering on, or any particular side effects when I did.

I'm so proud of you for asking for help, and I hope you find it quickly and easily. If it does take a few tries, be brave - you'll get there.

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