Depression is a beast. It’s a beast I’ve fought many times. A beast I have stood face to face with, even recently. I stared into its cold, black eyes and I felt its warm breath on my face, sending a shiver down my spine. This beast dug its sharp claws into my flesh, ripping it to shreds. I wrapped my arms around myself, doing my best to hold myself together. Just hold on…someone will find me…someone will come. Just don’t let the beast win.
If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You know what it’s like to hold yourself together when you feel like you’ve been torn to pieces. You know the terror of staring into the eyes of the beast, as it threatens to overtake you.
I hate the word “depression.” I’ve been scared of that word. No, terrified. Because it meant there was something wrong with me. It meant I was messed up. Less than. Crazy. Too emotional. Overreactive. I’ve been afraid to talk about it because I felt like I was supposed to have my life together by now. But I don’t.
So, I kept my mouth shut. I forced a smile for as long as I could. I pretended everything was okay for far too long. But I was lying through my teeth.
It was one lie after another. “I’m fine” turned into “I’m just tired,” which turned into “I’m sick…I can’t come to work today,” because I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed.
I told myself to cheer up. Just think positive. So many people have it much worse than I do. I should be grateful for what I have. Just choose to be happy.
All the while, I could feel my insides rotting. There was nothing wrong. No big life events, no major changes, no heartbreaks. There was nothing to justify the way I was feeling. In fact, my life was going pretty well. So, my positive affirmations just made me feel guilty for being depressed.
I went to work, went home, and then watched Netflix until it was time to go to sleep. And then I did it all over again the next day. My heart sank each night as I set my alarm for the next morning. I was already dreading the morning. Already overwhelmed by a day that had not yet arrived. Already wishing I could just stay here, in my warm, safe bed forever.
And each morning as my alarm jolted me awake, I could feel the hot tears on my cheeks. I felt the familiar pain ripping through my chest. “I just can’t do this. I can’t get up. I can’t get out of bed. I can’t go to work.”
I was drowning. Before I even got out of bed, I was drowning. I could feel myself slipping deeper and deeper under the surface, and I was out of air. I was out of fight.
Some days, it took every bit of energy, every bit of motivation, every bit of courage inside of me to sit up, swing my legs over the side of the bed, and stand up. I told myself, “Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.” Because as long as I focused on my breathing – and I mean truly feeling the air flood into my body, and then feeling it rush out – then the feeling of drowning almost subsided.
So, I got up, got dressed, painted on a smile, and went about my day.
But there’s only so long you can fake it. Simply existing was draining. But to try to keep a happy face on at all times got to be too much. I tried so hard, but I could feel the facade slipping. Faking it was so hard, so exhausting, I just gave up.
I was done hiding. Done pretending. Though, not in the brave, courageous sense. You know, when someone comes out of hiding and stands tall, saying, “This is me! Here I am! I’m done pretending!” No, it was nothing like that. It was more like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m too exhausted. I don’t care who knows.”
On one hand, it felt good to let my guard down. To take off the mask. “Maybe someone will see me. Maybe someone will rescue me. Maybe someone will pull me out of the water.”
On the other hand, I was more terrified than ever. “What will they think? I’m just overreacting. This is stupid. Get yourself together!”
Finally, I reached out to a friend. I wasn’t sure what to even say. I wasn’t yet convinced this was the right thing to do, either. So I just sent a Facebook message. Before I could stop myself, I hit send. I saw the message go through, and my heart sank. “What did I just do?!”
I had just spilled my guts to my dear, unsuspecting friend. And I wished there was a way to take it back.
Moments later, I got a response. “Can I call you?” That phone call began what has been a seemingly endless stream of encouragement. It has brought peace to the moments I needed it most. It has been a breath of fresh air when I felt like I was drowning.
I began to have moments of being okay. Moments of life. And in one of those moments, I somehow mustered up the courage to call another friend. When she answered the phone, I had no words. Only tears. But that was enough. I wasn’t alone anymore.
I remember my first good day after this last battle with the beast.
I should have enjoyed it. I should have been delighted. But I was terrified. Because good days end. They always end. I was afraid to allow myself to hope, because the moment I began to believe things could change, I became acutely aware of the water rising around me. Soon enough, I was drowning again.
Again, I focused on my breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I’ve had a lot of good days lately. Mostly good days, actually. For a while, I was still afraid to enjoy them. I couldn’t focus on the here and now, because I was always thinking about the bad days that were inevitably around the corner.
But now, I’m learning to enjoy the moments of good. The moments of happy. The moments of joy. Because those moments make up the hours, the days, the weeks, the years of our lives.
Sure, hard times come. Depression comes. Sadness, pressure, anger comes. But so do the good times. Happiness comes. Wonder comes. Awe comes. Satisfaction comes. These are all the things that make life worth living.
Today, I looked the beast in the eyes and said, “No. Not today. Not this time. You don’t get to dig your teeth into my flesh today. You don’t get to rip my body apart today. You don’t get to threaten me today. You don’t get to win today.”
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.