…But Not For the Reason You Think
An Apology To My College Boyfriend
I still remember where I was the night my very first boyfriend in college told me he took medication to help him cope with his struggle with depression. I, very condescendingly I’m sure, told him that he shouldn’t be on medication for that. He just needed to focus on the positive in life and have more faith in God. I knew that I was right because I had zero experience with depression and was an all-wise 18-year old.
Even though that relationship was short-lived and we lost touch soon after it ended, I still cringe every time I remember that night. I should have been grateful to him for bravely opening up to me. Instead, I invalidated his struggles and the realness of his illness. If our paths ever cross again, I will be so grateful for the opportunity to apologize for my foolish insensitivity.
You know what they say about karma though.
I have been on the flip side of that conversation so many times. And I’ve really kind of had it with people refusing to believe that depression is a real thing and that when it’s really bad, no amount of positive thinking can will it away. And I really really really can’t take any more people believing and suggesting that those of us who suffer with depression are somehow choosing to be depressed instead of choosing to “think more positively”. This is just ludicrous and disrespectful in the worst way.
Depression is real, folks. But you’re right—I do choose depression.
I’ve kind of had it up to here (imagine me raising my hand up as high as it will go) with this mentality that I am lazily allowing myself to be depressed rather than pulling myself up by my bootstraps and squaring my shoulders and just functioning like all of the “normal” people.
So, to all of the people who think that people like me are choosing depression: You are right. We do. But it’s not the choice you think it is. It’s not a choice between A) Dwelling under a cloud of darkness, self-loathing, and all sorts of scary negative thoughts or B) Floating on the bright clouds of happiness and sliding down beautiful rainbows of positivity.
No, our choice is between living a life with depression, or ending that life and the depression that comes with it.
Let me paint you a picture of what living with that decision is like when things are really bad:
I know it’s hard to live with me when I’m incredibly down day after day, so I try very hard to keep it all together so that my husband can have a semi-nice evening at home. But by the time we head to bed, the heaviness is just too much and the thought of waking up in the morning and still having to bear that heaviness is more than I can take. And I start crying. And then I just can’t stop. I sob and sob and sob. And then I hold my breath until things start to go black at the edges. I drag myself off of the bed and manage to get ready for bed with only minimal crying. My husband keeps asking how he can help, but my shame from knowing how much I must be disappointing him overwhelms me past being able to talk or explain or ask for help. He knows from past experiences that if he pushes too hard, things frequently only get worse, so he backs off and hurts for the both of us as he helplessly watches me continue to struggle. And my guilt just grows.
I sob through my bedtime prayer. Have you ever prayed to God and only been able to beg for death? And then to apologize for having such an unworthy desire? But then to still insist that death is the only desire of your heart?
If you’ve read my other posts, you know that I do not take any regular prescriptions to treat my bipolar. However, last September my anxiety got so extreme, my doctor prescribed lorazepam for me to take on an as-needed basis. It can be highly addictive and becomes less effective (requiring increased dosage) the more it is used, so I really try to limit my intake. Even though what I am experiencing at this point is more depression than anxiety, I take a pill. The main benefit of this medication for me is that is puts me in a highly sedated state. I know that if I can just hold on until that sedative effect sets in, I can probably survive another night of this. Without the meds, I know that I will manage to quiet my sobs long enough for my husband to fall asleep and then I will ransack my home in search of lithium pills. I no longer take them, so I apparently gave them to my husband months ago to hide from me, knowing they would be what I would turn to at a time like this.
So, I take my lorazepam and continue to cry as I desperately cling to what little rational control I have left while I wait for it to take effect. This is one of those truly ugly cries. Inhuman sounds escape my lungs, broken by gasps for breath, as my whole body shudders from the pain of just wanting to cease to exist.
I believe in an afterlife, so at times like this, not even death sounds comforting any more. Because if everyone else is disappointed in me (as my depressed brain tells me must be so), surely God is too. Especially because He has given me so many beautiful blessings and I am selfishly longing to throw it all away in order to escape this burden of life. I cannot bear the thought of standing so shameful in His presence. All of my beliefs of His loving forgiveness, of having the limitations of my physical body (including bipolar depression) lifted, and His ultimate desire for me to be happy, are distant thoughts that I cannot grasp or accept as truths at this moment.
In this moment there is only pain and never-ending darkness. And the desire to make it end. The only way I know how.
My doctor and my therapist say that I am a “success story.” My husband says I’m a “fighter”. Both of those labels feel foreign. My story is not yet over, so how can it be considered successful? And I don’t feel like I’m fighting so much as barely hanging on. Unwillingly, at that.
But I manage to hang on for one more night. My husband rubs my back and tries to calm the sobs racking my body with words of comfort and love. And eventually, the lorazepam begins to take over and the pain is dulled enough for me to finally rest and sleep.
Every time I wake up in the night, the pain of the sadness hits before I even experience conscious thought. Eventually, morning comes. I have a routine and plans to follow—something I learned to do so that I could survive these times. I get up, go for a run, try to not give in to the pain of the thoughts that won’t stop coming, come home, get ready for the day, and put on a smile.
You cannot see even the slightest hint at the pain I’m covering up inside. Most people I know like me are very good at hiding it. In many ways it’s just easier. I couldn’t function while simultaneously giving myself over to those racking sobs again. But that doesn’t mean it’s less real. That doesn’t mean it’s “all in my head”, that I could just will it away by thinking more positively, or that I really can control it. All I can control is how I behave and what you see.
But, I guess it does mean that I choose depression, like you think I do. There are a lot of people in my life who say they love me and I know they count on me. So, nearly every day of my life I choose depression. I choose depression so that these four little people that I helped create can have a mom, so my husband doesn’t lose his wife, so my family doesn’t lose a daughter and sister, and so my friends don’t lose a friend. My depression tells me that these people would all be better of if they did lose me. But, I also choose to not believe that. Or at least, I do my best to choose to not believe it. And when I can’t choose to not believe it, I take medication that I hate in order to escape having to make any choices for a little while.
So the next time you think that someone is choosing to be depressed, remind yourself that they really are. And that is one of the hardest and bravest choices anyone can make. And then try offering them a little encouragement and support for their choice. This life is hard enough for every one of us. We should be kind to each other as we journey through it.
Note from the Author: Some concern has been expressed about my decision to not take regular medications to treat my bipolar II disorder. This came after over a year of trying several different meds and combinations of meds and finally realizing I was only getting worse. My doctors not only agreed with my decision, but encouraged it. However, my experience is not typical. I am an advocate for doing whatever it takes to help you with your personal battle and if medication is helpful for you, please keep taking it!