The true experience of being depressed isn't romantic, Gothic, or magazine-editorial chic. There isn't a lot of fainting onto couches, staring with deep yet picturesque misery at the nearest sunset, striking out dramatically across cliff tops, or even staring out the window with a single (strangely attractive) tear down one cheek. It's a lot more like cereal-on-pajamas, snotting-in-the-shower, sleeping-in-dirty-sheets-because-you-don't-have-the-energy-to-do-the-washing listlessness. And if anybody pretends otherwise, they're either lying or have read too much German poetry. (Goethe has a lot to answer for.)
Everyday life is the domain of the depressive, and its most seriously challenging battleground. For those with mood and serotonin disorders, the ordeal of ordinary function — what other people can do without a second thought — becomes excruciating. There's a constant voice in your head going "What's the point? Nobody cares. Everybody dies in the end. You'll look ridiculous. They won't believe you. Just give up and go back to bed, you lazy butt." This is, obviously, not conducive to maintaining a decent existence, let alone a cheerful conversation with a bus driver.
If you're friends with a depressed person, use this list to give yourself an insight into the peculiar daily struggle of life with a mood disorder. If you're suffering yourself, don't worry, you're not alone: there are lots of other people who have tantrums in the middle of brewing a cup of tea.
1. Getting out of bed.
Ah, the first hurdle. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, and behaving in general like an adult who has a place in the world can be exquisitely difficult for depressives, because what on earth is the point of doing anything? The world is terrible, you're terrible, your entire body feels like it's dropping from a great height with no end in sight, your lungs and head hurt, and there is no earthly reason for you to inflict yourself on anybody, because they will probably look at you awkwardly and edge away before you touch them with your greasy hair and palpable air of distress.
2. Washing up.
Self-care in general is a huge part of managing depression, and you may be surprised to know that cleaning up after oneself is actually a therapeutically recommended part of treatment. The reason? Being clean, washing yourself or the sheets or the plates encrusted with four-day-old mayonnaise, implies effort on behalf of your own wellbeing, and therefore self-respect. Working to make your own environment good for yourself means that you think you're worth having a nice place.
Which means, obviously, that the Depressive Gremlins think it is a terrible idea and that you should live in filth, you pig.
I have had a full-blown crying fit in the kitchen because preparing any kind of food is so much effort. Putting pasta in a pot of boiling water seems like an affront to my miserable existence. Actually flavoring it is a step beyond comprehensible action. (Depressives are not good at taking care of themselves, is the basic message here.) Hence we end up eating a lot of bread, carrots, and whatever we can grab that will make our stomachs shut up with a minimal amount of effort. Or we have roommates or partners who make us eat actual food.
4. Getting out of the house.
Outside is bad. It involves getting out of slub-pajamas, stopping pretending to be a slug, washing, putting on shoes, and exposing oneself to the horrors and stresses of everyday life. This is a genuine challenge. If you're in a negative thought spiral, the work of getting ready is an uphill battle, and the world outside may simply be full of messages that you are bad, abnormal, a poor member of society, and a failure.
A bookstore may be a prompt that you've never had a book published, a happy couple that you're alone, an unhappy couple that you whine too much and don't have anything to be sad about. It's a wonder any of us ever open a door.
5. Maintaining a normal conversation with somebody who isn't your therapist.
I become excellent company while I'm in a severe depressive spiral, ironically enough, because I morph into a very good listener. I just do not want to proffer any information about how terrible everything is, and welcome listening to other peoples' struggles, because they make it easier for me to beat myself up about how stupid I am. And after every conversation the self-torture commences: Why did I say that? What on earth was I doing? I am an idiot. (I could go for gold in self-castigation. Usain Bolt would look at me and throw up his hands.)
I am one of the very lucky depressives for whom neither the condition itself, nor the medication I'm taking for it, have killed sex drive. This is, however, pretty radically rare. Feeling isolated from others includes, obviously, a block when it comes to physical intimacy, and if you add the libido dips and anorgasmia that can come with antidepressant use, you're basically talking epic mood-killer.
7. Coping with minor difficulties of any kind.
Normal (or emotionally stable, at least) people might meet a small problem in the course of a day — a lost bus ticket, for instance, or a colleague who made an aggravating mistake they can't fix. The healthy reaction to this is "huh, that's annoying, but it's not too bad, let's solve it". Depressives, on the other hand, have what psychologists call chronic lack of resilience , particularly when it comes to stress and problematic situations. We're just not able to call on emotional reserves to help us, even with the most minor of problems.
We go around with the emotional equivalent of skinned knees, bumping into everything and getting pain afresh. So the lost bus ticket becomes a tragedy that means we are incompetent and should go home immediately. Be gentle and patient with us.
Image: Giphy (4)