A remarkable thing happened to me yesterday – from the time I woke up until I lay down in bed to go to sleep, I felt happy. I wasn’t on vacation, didn’t win the lottery, have a spectacular day in court, no, this was just what was otherwise a normal day during the middle of the week. I realize being happy for a whole day isn’t remarkable in and of itself, but for me it was, because I hadn’t felt like that in at least a decade.
It’s not that there haven’t been things that “make me” happy in the past ten or fifteen years; certainly my family comes to mind. But I honestly cannot remember the last time I “felt” happy, a happiness that is one of contentment, optimism, just feeling, well, happy. Even when I’ve had things that make me happy, the feeling of despondency, helplessness…depression…has always been present, like something lurking in the shadows of my mind, its presence always felt; those “happy” things a distraction that made me less aware of those feelings, but never eliminating it entirely. Yesterday was different.
I can’t pinpoint when I recognized I was “suffering” from depression, but I know how I did; it’s when I suddenly understood suicide. Don’t worry, no need for an intervention – even in my darkest moments, it’s nothing that remotely appeared to me as a “solution,” and I have always believed it to be one of the most cruelly selfish acts a person could commit, especially if you are a spouse or parent – if you feel hopeless and worthless, fine, but suck it up; it’s not just about you, it’s about the people you leave behind. In that respect, I see the despair of depression as distinct from the selfishness of suicide, and always will.
The way my view changed is that when I was younger – happier, more optimistic about my future, the idea of suicide was absurd, completely without logic. I figured if my life ever sucked that bad, I’d pack up, move to Vegas, and just start over. What I came to realize, however, is that the despondency one feels when they’re suffering from depression is a pain in many respects as real and ever-present as the physical pain associated with an injury or serious illness. I realized “packing up and moving to Vegas” wouldn’t make the pain disappear, it would just change the backdrop for the suffering. Then suicide made “sense” – the skull-crushing depression wasn’t something you could just escape. I must admit, that was an epiphany I didn’t want to have.
I’m sure it bothers people for me to even bring the subject up. It probably will bother people to offer this bit of advice as well – if you know someone who is depressed (and I’m talking depression, not just being sad over a bad situation), saying things like “happiness is a choice,” “it’s all in your head,” “why can’t you just be happy,” or “I think you’re happier being unhappy,” might cause you to be throat punched by the person you are addressing this advice to. One of the most frustrating aspects of depression is that you recognize its mental nature, but you can’t force your way out of it. It’s like you’re in a hole – you can see the top of the hole, and know if you can just reach it, you can find happiness, but you can’t get there – it’s not for lack of effort or desire. And the frustration leads to despondency which leads to deeper depression, and the “hole” gets deeper, the light just gets further away. “Just be happy!” Uh, yeah, fuck you.
That’s the thing – for people who aren’t depressed, the idea of depression is so alien, they can’t fully appreciate what it’s like to suffer from it. For them, they think of the “bad” things that have happened to them – break-ups, lost jobs, deaths in the family; you feel horrible, but as time passes, the pain recedes, you suck it up, and you live and move on. Depression, however, is always there – it’s not tied to a specific event, it’s a weight, a millstone around your neck, pulling you down, ever present – it’s not something you can just cast off. Because a person can’t escape it, and sometimes appears to resign themselves to their fate doesn’t mean they prefer or choose to be unhappy – on the contrary, it’s how one copes with it, because not coping would literally drive you insane. So, if in attempting to help, you suggest a person is choosing to be depressed, understand that you are likely to be tuned out from that point on, and any advice you give will fall on deaf ears.
That’s what made yesterday so remarkable – it felt so different. It reminded me of what I felt like when I was younger – “Oh, YEAH, that’s who I was.” I have no idea why this happened, or how long it will last (I may not be depressed, but I’m still a pessimist), but I sure liked feeling like the person I used to be.