Depression isn’t just being sad or upset. It isn’t just having a bad day. It isn’t something you can just fake-smile your way through, have a cookie and forget, or go on a shopping spree and use your new toys to chase away. It’s a thick black curtain that drapes itself over everything, muffling sight and sound, numbing taste and deadening smell. It’s a leech fastened at the base of your neck, greedily sucking away any sense of enjoyment or passion you might have otherwise and leaving you an empty husk. It’s a bone deep weariness that a hundred Java Monsters chased by 5 Hour Energies will not banish, that makes you want to drowse off all the time just to get away from everything, but no matter how much you sleep it won’t get any better.
You can try that cookie, that shopping spree, that fake smile. Often you may, in a desperate attempt to find something – anything – that can make that shroud pull back, even just a bit. The really depressing part is that sometimes it works. For a minute. You have a brief flash of happiness, contentment or satiation. Entirely too brief. Then you’re back in the dark again, often the worse for wear because you remembered what being “normal” was for that moment, or because it was your last-ditch attempt to bring yourself out of the funk and you’re now out of ideas, or because of the resources, time and effort you expended on something that didn’t work.
In some ways, it’s even worse if you’re bipolar, manic depressive, or whatever alphabet soup designation the DSM IV gives it these days. Because there are days where you feel “normal.” Maybe even great, though you learn that “great” feeling is often false and gets you into stupid trouble. And then, one day, for no discernable reason at all, it’s like someone flipped a light switch and you hate everyone, everything and yourself again. There’s little warning, and frequently no discernable cause. You can be up, raring, ready to kick the world’s ass and be the superstar you are absolutely certain you are, and literally five minutes later you’re quiet, anxious, withdrawn and wanting to just crawl into a hole and die. To an outside observer, it’s frequently bizarre. “What happened in those five minutes,” they ask. “I smoked a cigarette. Drank some coffee. Watched a cat video on YouTube. Bought a soda.” Those or any of a hundred other daily, inconsequential things may be the answer, and none of them seem a likely reason to go from being ruthlessly perky to suicidal in five minutes or less. But it happens.
And then you always encounter that guy. The one who says “Cheer up, Charlie!” Who thinks it really is as simple as faking a smile, not brooding, not crawling into the closet with the lights out and staring at the walls until sleep claims you for eight or ten or twelve hours. Who doesn’t get it. Some of them mean well, I really believe that. They’ll buy you a cookie or make you come with them to a movie or someother “fun” activity, and sometimes those things help, if only for a moment. But they don’t get why it doesn’t make you instantly okay again. And their bafflement (or growing frustration or irritation with your state) only serve to make it worse, because guilt-tripping themselves is something depressives and the bipolar-afflicted are typically very good at.
So when you see us sitting there, staring at the wall, please don’t be that guy. Check on us, sure. Invite us out (but don’t be pushy or angry if we opt instead for a bit of solitude.) Let us know you’re there if we need you, and reassure us it’ll be okay, eventually, if you like. But don’t be angry with us, or act like it’s as easy as flipping a light switch.
Speaking of light switches… This video amused me (briefly), and does make me wonder if there are any “cool little Mormon tricks” that work on depressive states, so I can get more than a sentence down on my manuscript, enjoy Yakuza 5, or get something productive done today.