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Depression is like being forced to wear a cloak made of lead
August 12, 2014 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Depression is like being forced to wear a cloak made of lead. You don’t get to choose when to put it on and take it off. It is a second skin which gradually seeps into your own real skin and poisons it until you are a walking, toxic, corrosive bundle of infectious awfulness. The thought of suicide is the only real respite and the only chink of light at the end of the tunnel. You can "pull yourself together" only inasmuch as you can make yourself three feet taller.

Pianist James Rhodes describes what it's like to be depressed in the wake of Robin Williams' death.
posted by guster4lovers (109 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know that I totally agree with his premise that "there is no payoff" for being depressed. Depression definitely gets in the way of creative work, I don't argue that, but in the pursuit of freeing myself from depression I have become a kinder, more conscientious, empathic person who (when not depressed) is more present and appreciative of the beautiful things in life.

"Cloak of lead" is spot on, though. And the payoff isn't enough exactly but it keeps me going when things are bad.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:24 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


""Cloak of lead" is spot on, though."

On really bad days I feel like I'm stuck in amber. You can see everything but you can't do anything about it.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:40 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


Amber is too pretty, but you're on to something.
(also: eponysterical?)
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:42 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I like the "cloak of lead" metaphor, though I would say depression is a cloak of something less solid and more permeable. Because, over time, that cloak seeps into your pores and then into your blood and eventually saturates your entire being, until it becomes you and you become it and there's no separating the two. After awhile, it's as natural to your being as the color of your skin.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:44 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


The best metaphor I've heard used is that it's a Dementor attack. I have a lot of people in my life who grew up with Harry Potter so they implicitly understand what this means.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:44 AM on August 12 [17 favorites]


But an attack that can last for days/weeks/months :(
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:45 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


The first time I read about dementors, I absolutely thought yes, exactly. Of course she based them on her experience of depression, which apparently is similar to mine. (Not everyone's is; I found Allie Brosh's descriptions totally alien, for instance.)
posted by jeather at 9:47 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


But an attack that can last for days/weeks/months...

Lifetimes. Fucking lifetimes.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:49 AM on August 12 [13 favorites]


The cloak of lead is part of it, but not the worst part of it for me. After my first successful treatment for clinical depression, I was amazed that not everyone walked around with this painful static in their thoughts that was with them every waking moment. Or sharp pains in their stomach and chest. Or skin so sensitive to pain and touch that a shower felt like an assault. That not everyone had to work so hard to get everything done--catch up and ahead of time--in the lulls between the agony.

It was so freeing, to be unshackled from that. I have felt sad in my life, deeply sad and connected to very sad events. But it is a whole other thing completely different from clinical depression. Where even sleep was no respite.
posted by jeanmari at 9:52 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


Since I feel like action and exercise, including running, help me with my depression, I feel like depression is something I'm trying to outrun or stay ahead of, like The Blerch from The Oatmeal. When I stop moving, it can catch up to me but if I keep moving, maybe it will stay away.

That's also why I'm so tired all the time.
posted by kat518 at 9:58 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I'm all for taking depression (more) seriously, and last night in the shower I said a pre-emptive thank you to the universe, because I was and am fairly certain Robin Williams' suicide would start a much-needed conversation about depression. It's not something we talk about enough. It's still something considered left best underneath its rock.

That said, I did not like this article at all.

When we misuse words like "depressed" something insidious and destructive happens. They become part of our vernacular, their meaning is diluted, it becomes much harder to give weight and necessary attention to those who really are suffering from depression. Real depression is something so serious, so life-threatening, so heavy, that it is more than disingenuous to bandy the word around lightly – it is dangerous.

But see, making ALL depression out to be life-threatening is as disrespectful of depression as saying you're depressed because your favorite football team didn't make the playoffs. Depression varies in severity, and it varies by person. I've suffered depression for a long time, some times have been worse than others, but I've never been suicidal. My depression is not "life threatening." Life altering sometimes, yes, but not life-threatening. That doesn't make it not-depression.

Depression is like being forced to wear a cloak made of lead. You don’t get to choose when to put it on and take it off.

Well, can't disagree with that. And the frustrating part about depression -- which Allie Brosch articulated so well in her Depression part II comic -- is that people will seriously, and with good intentions, advise you to just take off the lead cloak already. Which... well, no. It doesn't work that way.

This is why people "admit" depression. They "reveal" it and "come out" about it. It’s not good enough to simply have it.

Wha...? People don't "admit" or "reveal" or "come out" as having depression because it wins them tragedy points. ("It's not enough to simply have it?" Fuck off.) People "admit" or "reveal" it because once you cross that line and tell someone that you have it too, people look at you differently. There's a calculated risk. Those words appropriately and concisely acknowledge that risk.

The thought of suicide is the only real respite and the only chink of light at the end of the tunnel.

This actually makes me seethe. The thought of suicide is not the only "real" respite for everyone who suffers depression. It is an all too unfortunate truth that it's true for some people, but suicidal tendencies (or even ideation) are not a "required" symptom of depression.

I get what he's saying. Depression is awful. It eats at you. It eats at the best parts of you. It's awful, and living with it is awful. Let's talk about it and destigmatize it.

But you can't, on the one hand, say people don't take depression seriously, and then on the other hand say that everyone who is depressed sees suicide as their only way out, if your actual intent is to help people understand depression. Because what you're doing is the exact opposite of that.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:58 AM on August 12 [52 favorites]


It's like a fitted lead cloak. It was made just for you and your's isn't quite like anyone else's.

Williams' suicide, for example, left many of my depressed friends feeling like "what hope do I have if he can't get through it? " I felt empathy for him but didn't feel especially more hopeless.

What made me feel despondent yesterday was returning to work and everything still being the same, including the new crisis. I can't change anything.

I can't know what Williams was going through beyond knowing that his description of the conversation he had with Mark Maron about suicide (at the end of the WTF podcast) sounded eerily like what goes on in my head all the time.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:01 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


As far as encountering accurate depictions of depression in media, Achewood probably has the single most solid one, or at least the one that speaks the most to my own experience.

"Going to the grocery store is easy! You just walk right in and there you are."
"Not if you have depression."
"Oh. I see."
posted by griphus at 10:01 AM on August 12 [16 favorites]


The strange thing (for me) about my past depression is how little I can relate to it these days. I was hospitalized for several weeks in my late teens, put on tricyclics (before the SSRI revolution) and did outpatient therapy for awhile afterwards. But I can't really feel what it was like; I can just reflect upon it in a vague abstract. A couple of years ago I did a brief course of meds and one of the side effects was "profound malaise." And for a couple of days, I was completely transported back into that time of desperate sadness and loneliness, and I thought, "oh, yeah." It was like smelling a scent from childhood.
posted by Auden at 10:02 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


Everyone who has ever been clinically depressed experiences or evaluates "payoff" differently, and I'm sure I've gained some worthy insight of the kind BuddhaInABucket describes. However, I would rather have the last 19 years back to live and love and really feel my life. Most of all, I'd like to have the first 4 years of my 5 yr-old daughter's life back so I could give her the warmth and depth of connection she deserved and that I was unable to provide. The cloak of lead functions as a strait jacket too.
posted by Poeia8Kate at 10:03 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


"If I think about what depression really feels like, I imagine a kind of featureless black substance that causes intense psychic pain as I approach it. As though there were a psychiatric analogue of radium and I was trapped in a very small room with it. This pain makes me adopt a wide range of behaviors like self-loathing or cutting or drinking or snorting heroin. The despair itself is none of these behaviors, it only engenders them. These behaviors are what you would call the symptoms of depression and all of them serve as layers of insulation from this primary, elemental despair. The symptoms of depression are all, in a sense, forms of treatment. The self-afflicting weapons that I, a depressed person, aim at myself are only accidentally pointed in a suicidal direction. Their real target is this elemental and featureless despair, which lies behind and beyond my self, at the nearest approach my awareness can have to a purely physiological aspect of my mind."
posted by Iridic at 10:13 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I've long thought about my depression (or whatever; if you picked my past Behavioral Health Specialists out of a hat you'd get a number of different explanations about What Is Going On) as both a cloak and a shackle. The shackle part is what people are describing here as a cloak.

For me, the cloak (and everyone is different; I'm not making a statement meant to describe anyone else but me right now) is that depression *can*, at times, hide you from things and feelings you don't want to have to deal with. It's like being in a co-dependant relationship with yourself. It surely breaks your legs but then sometimes, sometimes, it also brings you your food. It can be a scary thing, for some people, to really lean into getting rid of/ dealing with depression, because you can't mentally process who you would be without your "legs" being broken, but you can totally imagine what it would be like to not have The Thing that sometimes, sometimes brings you your food, and it's terrifying.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:15 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


This actually makes me seethe. The thought of suicide is not the only "real" respite for everyone who suffers depression. It is an all too unfortunate truth that it's true for some people, but suicidal tendencies (or even ideation) are not a "required" symptom of depression.

What mudpuppie said. In the worst, blackest part of the time I spent in this kind of state -- which lasted bit more of a year but was the culmination of something that started when I was ten or so -- suicidal ideation never entered into it. Dying was the very opposite of what I wanted. I wanted to be alive. Dying would have meant, in effect, that what I was experiencing would be the last thing I ever experienced -- in a sense, making it permanent or the final state of affairs. That is the one thing I could never, ever have accepted.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:16 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


It can be a scary thing, for some people, to really lean into getting rid of/ dealing with depression, because you can't mentally process who you would be without your "legs" being broken,

This is true, but also it's like being in a basement that's in flames, but the only way up is a metal ladder. Sure, once you get up it will be cooler, there won't be flames -- at least, that's what people tell you -- but you're sort of used to the flames and metal really conducts heat; getting up the ladder hurts much more than staying where you are. And what if the ladder goes on forever, or what if you fall off, or there are flames on every level?
posted by jeather at 10:20 AM on August 12 [24 favorites]


Dying was the very opposite of what I wanted. I wanted to be alive.

You said it much better than I did. Thank you -- now I know how to articulate it.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:21 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


There are so many descriptions of depression; it's a personal thing that has one common denominator for all who experience it - a sense that they have lost themselves, and they can't get themselves back.

I have heard it described as "another voice" has entered one's consciousness; an unkind voice that won't go away; a critical voice; a voice that preaches hopelessness; a voice that is always angry; a voice that negates anything positive; a voice that says one is undeserving; a voice that suggests a "way out" that on its face fills one with horror and anxiety while at the same time feeling like a warm blanket.

Tom Waits song, "November" is his elegant way of describing depression. Dark... (trigger warning)


No shadow
No stars
No moon
No care
November
It only believes
In a pile of dead leaves
And a moon
That's the color of bone

No prayers for November
To linger longer
Stick your spoon in the wall
We'll slaughter them all

November has tied me
To an old dead tree
Get word to April
To rescue me
November's cold chain

Made of wet boots and rain
And shiny black ravens
On chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd
You're my firing squad
November

With my hair slicked back
With carrion shellac
With the blood from a pheasant
And the bone from a hare

Tied to the branches
Of a roebuck stag
Left to wave in the timber
Like a buck shot flag

Go away you rainsnout
Go away, blow your brains out
November


Depression is an awful disease ("dis-ease"!). Maybe, soon, we'll have better treatment, diagnosis, and education about this scourge.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:23 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


For me it's like the weather. Some days I wake up and it's raining out and there ain't shit I can do about it. Other days, the sun's out.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Insights like this: "If you’re so depressed you want to die then you should be in hospital, medicated to the point that breathing is pretty much the only thing you can consciously do, under 24 hour supervision and incapable of rational thought" are pretty much EXACTLY what kept me from seeking help when I was suicidal. Maybe, just maybe, you could have gotten me to admit I had a mental problem. The life I was trapped in was bad enough without worrying that I could be trapped physically as well, either lose my job or get my career sidelined while I was hospitalized, and the price of getting better would be knowing that everyone knew I was that level of unbalanced. I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted out. I certainly didn't want a humiliating and confining "fix" that would make everything that was status quo worse, and all I'd get in return was my same lousy - but now worse - life.

Trying to make people stop using the word depression trivially would only make the burden of carrying it harder. Defining severe clinical depression as something that requires being strapped down and locked away? No thanks.
posted by my left sock at 10:29 AM on August 12 [42 favorites]


I always say it's like a parasite that lives in your head and wants to keep living there. A tapeworm that speaks with your own voice, so somehow it seems entirely reasonable that the doctors would never help you, best to not even try.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:31 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


For me, depression is like trying to walk up an escalator that's moving downwards. Not being depressed is standing at the top, on the edge.. where one step back starts the fight all over again. Sometimes I'm close enough to the top that I can recover, other times I'm down at the bottom before I notice it.
posted by royalsong at 10:36 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Since we're describing what our depression looks like, mine's an itty bitty toddler trapped inside me -- like right around my rib cage. It's seems constantly on the verge of sobbing or screaming or throwing things. On the verge, though. Never quite gets to the actual act. It keeps me in suspense.

Then again, sometimes it just sits there quietly, playing with its toys and drooling.

posted by mudpuppie at 10:36 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Couldn't agree more about how the cloak functions like a straitjacket. And Ghostride's parasite, too. Since the age of 14 I have suffered from the obsessive-compulsive tendencies (another term often abused) and depression. It was only when I hit my mid-twenties that I sought treatment, and struggled since to keep an even keel. I am 32 now, and I have learned coping strategies that get me by. However, the sense of lost time can be crushing. I'll repeat what has been written more eloquently than me: suicidal ideation was, and is, not part of my difficulties. Far from it - the thought of having not lived, or not living life to its full potential can still be paralysing
In Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, there is a passage that describes Patty Berglund's distorted sense of time - that (I'm paraphrasing here) her hours were full of incident, but her days were empty. Although I am wary of using a piece of popular fiction to describe a complex and varied illness, I must admit I got an overwhelming sense of recognition when I read that. That feeling of falling helplessly into lost time.
posted by alexordave at 10:42 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


After my worst depressive episode, I started trying to describe it to people as feeling like drowning in a gray ocean that's exactly the same temperature as you are. A fluid, with pressure, above you and around you -- you can't see it but seeing through it distorts your vision; you can't feel it as cold or warm, but it insulates you from feeling anything else; and you open your mouth and it fills up your lungs and you can't get a breath, your chest is heaving but you can't breathe at all.

Which was close but not quite there, like all metaphors.

In high school I had a biology teacher who brought in his tarantula once, and let us hold it and pass it around. And he told us we had to hold it in a very special way, because if we held it too close and breathed on it, it would flick us with stinging, irritant hairs and leap off of our hands. This is because when the tarantula feels a breeze on its back, it thinks that it's the breeze off of the wings of a bird who is sweeping down to snatch it up in its claws, crush it and kill it and eat it, and when it feels that little gust it thinks it is about to die and it does the only thing left available to it to try to fight off its killer. So depression is also like feeling a shadow and a breeze above you, and knowing that the talons of a great black bird are about to close on you and kill you and you have only an instant of total panic to try to survive, you would do anything to get away, and it's like that's happening all the time.

And it's also like being hounded by the big black dog, and it's also like a lead cape, and it's like psychiatric radium, and it's like an unceasing chattering in your head, and it's like that moment when you know with certainty you are going to throw up but you haven't yet begun to throw up, and it's also like DFW's analogy of people in the windows of a burning building, and it's like Plath's quote about when you are insane, you are busy being insane. All of it's true, at different times and to different people.

I don't know. I spent a couple early hours up with a new puppy this morning, and found myself thinking a lot about "beating" depression in the context of Robin Williams's death. Maybe you can be totally healed. Maybe you can beat depression. I'm fine now, functioning, pretty happy, but I know I haven't "beaten" depression and never will. I'm not depressed right now, which is enough. Or at least I'll never actually know if I beat depression. Because my only victory will be if some day, something else is what kills me.
posted by penduluum at 10:48 AM on August 12 [26 favorites]


I've reached a point where my depression is being managed just enough that it's hard to describe. It's always going to be there, I think... but I've put out traps for the parasites.

I have to agree with penduluum though: sometimes it's drowning, sometimes it's being chased... or any of the other descriptions people have given here. I think, though, all of those descriptions have something in common: a lack of control. Something affecting you that you can't--or is virtually impossible to--change.

As far as the suicide thing goes, one of my psychs at the hospital told me last year that for a lot of people with MDD who have suicidal ideation, those thoughts never fully disappear. They become kind of a safety valve; knowing that you could have an exit, no matter how drastic, from your current situation makes the situation paradoxically easier to deal with. It's that lack of control thing. Even the illusion of a small amount of control helps to avoid despair.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:07 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


Sometimes, depression means I want to be dead. I don't want to die. I don't want to hurt myself. Living with depression just gets so exhausting that I want to not exist. Allie Brosh nailed it. I hate that I may be on antidepressants for life, but not as much as I hate being so depressed all I can do is sit on the couch crying pretty often.

If you are considering suicide, or dealing with suicide, I recommend you read this:
Art Kleiner,How Not to Commit Suicide. It sounds clinched, but I still want to see my family, still want to see the sun come up, still want to see what happens. I want to wake up and have my dog wag his tail and be thrilled to see me. I know that depression won't last forever, that depression is a lie that says I will always be sad and hurting. You can describe depression any way you want, but it's always a liar. It will end.
posted by theora55 at 11:09 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


I have had depression as a dark passenger (to steal from Dexter) since I was five. It fills up my lungs most days and it feels like I am just breathing in grey mud that weighs a thousand pounds. So many mixed metaphors to describe it and it took me a long time to realise that everyone's experience of it is different.

I spent years (and still slip back into it) of wondering why everyone else with depression is handling it better. Why they can get on with life while I sink in the mud. It took awhile to realise that some people just hide it more.

It is very hard for me to accept that there is no getting better from the type I have. There are no more medications for me to try my psychiatrist admitted to me this week. Twenty years I have done them all. In the end this is it. This is the happiest I get. Some days that is OK. I still find moments of joy in my dog or something like the Muppets but in general I breathe in more grey then I do air.

Depression has taught me a lot of good things. How to find black humour in most things. How to deal with facing my mortality easier than people who don't have it. Empathy. How to clasp tightly to any joyful moments.

It has taught me a lot of hard things about myself too. It weighs me down every day and it takes tremendous effort sometimes to stay standing. Suicide ideation is my default thinking. I get angry at people who think medication fixes everything. I get resentful of those it helps while at the same time being happy for them. How unfair the mental health system can be.

It alternately makes me appreciate the small things and be an angry fuck.

I don't know. Everyone's experiences are different and I would literally rather have a horrible painful fatal illness than this one that erodes me day by day.

It's a hard life out there. I just got back from weekly therapy where we both admit we are stuck. All I can really recommend is sometimes you got to watch the muppets and hug a dog.
posted by kanata at 11:12 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


Bang on the metaphor. Every time I get a dental x-ray and get the lead blanket, a small voice in the back of my mind says, Ah yes, that's exactly what it feels like sometimes, inside. Every time. That soft, enveloping weight, like gravity just kicked up a notch or two.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:17 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Williams' suicide, for example, left many of my depressed friends feeling like "what hope do I have if he can't get through it? "

I think this is one of the hardest things for people to understand about depression, whether they suffer from it or not.

One of the best episodes of The X-Files features Mulder stuck in a car with a guy driving westward as fast as he can. There's this noise, you see, that only some people can hear, and it's maddening, and this guy absolutely has to get away from the source of it. And at the end, they get to the west coast, can't go any further, and the guy's head blows out.

When people look at famous, successful people who commit suicide, they tend to think that the person was crazy, or didn't know how good they had it, or they don't understand at all, because how could they have been so successful if they were so depressed. What they should be thinking is, this person drove to California as fast as they could, and it didn't stop the noise.

Which isn't to say that there's no hope, just that our instincts of how to cure our own depression tend to be like trying to climb a ladder by kicking it.

As for the dementor analogy, one of my favorite touches in that is Sirius explaining how he handled Azkaban. He knew he was innocent, he says, and since that's not a happy thought, he was allowed to have it, and focusing on it kept him alive. That understanding of not being allowed to have happy thoughts, of knowing that daring to think such things will make the internal bully beat the shit out of you, and searching for something you can focus on, is absolutely spot-on.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:18 AM on August 12 [14 favorites]


Trying to make people stop using the word depression trivially would only make the burden of carrying it harder.

This is an interesting article, and I think it gets some things right, but I agree with my left sock on this point. There are degrees of depression -- just because you're not actively suicidal doesn't mean you aren't suffering. I have had severe major depression and been suicidal in the past. It's fucking terrible. But lately I am struggling with a less severe, but still very painful, depressive episode (or whatever you want to call it). And because of this feeling that it's not that bad and I should probably just get over it, I've just forced myself to keep going even though it's not getting better.

It seems that a lot of people are depressed right now. They’re depressed about Gaza. About Iraq. Yet another series of X Factor. The traffic. And weather. And interest rates. They "want to die" because they didn’t get tickets for next year's Hamlet.

The idea that you shouldn't be depressed unless you have a "valid" reason to be depressed is one of the reasons that prevents people from seeking help.
posted by Librarypt at 11:24 AM on August 12 [14 favorites]


The issue I have with this article is that the author seems to be making the assumption that teenagers whining about parents not buying them the next iThing or that their favorite pop star doesn't follow them on twitter aren't actually depressed. Well, sadly, far too many teenagers commit suicide or attempt suicide every year. There are lots of people who are truly suffering and ill, who seem to bitch about inconsequential things.

And one thing depression is really good at is convincing you that everything is a godawful catastrophe, that's it's just another sign that no one loves you, no one cares, life isn't worth living, and that you are worthless.

But the lead cloak analogy is really spot on. I was talking to someone the other day, who was telling me he's depressed but he don't want to take medication or go to therapy because he thinks his depression fuels his creative side, that he liked himself and thought medication would change that. And I thought, damn, we are just talking about two different things. At my worst, I couldn't like myself, because there was almost none of me left. It was like I became a non-player character in my own life.
posted by inertia at 11:29 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


One thing that I think is missing in accounts of depression and its workings is the willingness to be open to the possibility that the worldview of depression is actually a more accurate1 assessment of the human condition than the worldview that we classify as neurotypical. My depression — admittedly, not everyone's, but mine — involves long periods of anxiously dwelling on the idea that the moment of death means not just the cessation of all future experiences, but actually the retroactive obliteration of all past experience, since past experience is something that is manifest only through recollection in the present, and death removes all future presents in which recollection could happen. And while I'm stuck in it, I'm shivering paralyzed, alternating between sleepless staring grey terror and attempting to numb everything with endless, endless, endless unfocused internet browsing.

So on the one hand, I've reasoned myself into a position where I'm convinced that nothing exists; there's a crack in everything, and (contra Leonard Cohen), this crack isn't how the light gets in, it's the entrance through which everything that appeared to exist (which is to say, everything, full stop) is revealed as false. But on the other hand, I really fucking love this world, this unreal agonizing brightly colored noisy beautiful place that doesn't exist, and desperately cling to any hope I can find that we or someone else or Someone else could make it actually exist for real, instead of just a pattern of colors on an immediately-popped soap bubble. Unfortunately, all of those hopes — in a god, in my consciousness somehow living on in a vitiated way in the minds of people who I've interacted with, in the Singularity, in aliens at the end of the universe who reconstruct it all in computers or whatever — are on the face of them ridiculous.

I mean this isn't particularly original, right? The existentialists, as far as I've read (not much) and understand them (likewise) seemed to have double-backflipped their way into celebrating the fact that nothing exists,2 which, well, it's a nice trick, but I don't really believe anyone can really celebrate the nonexistence of everything without lying to themselves. And the Buddhist concept of Suññatā (as I understand it, which, well, isn't much; it's telling that I'm linking to a Wikipedia article here) gets at it more clearly than anything else: the world is empty, insofar as it is lacking a self or anything pertaining to a self.

And so whenever I want to actually do anything I have to unthink my conviction that nothing exists, not even the statement that nothing exists, and pretend to the stance that I shouldn't worry about the retroactive obliteration of everything after death, because I won't be there,3 and I have to perform Orwellian crimestop on any thought that might let back in the reality of the aching grey terror or the black dog or whatever. But I always have that nagging thought4 that I'm just passing time (that doesn't exist) by pretending to something that I know isn't real.

I guess this is just the long way around to saying that I wish treatments of depression were more about learning to pretend to the illusion, without treating that illusion as in any way real. Correct me if I'm wrong about how treatment of depression works, or if I've just like been going to the wrong therapists.

1: I'm tempted to say "accurate," here, in quotes like that — I'm well aware of the problems with suggesting that a worldview corresponds or doesn't correspond with external reality.a
a: whatever that is.
2: Not even the fact that nothing exists exists!
3: Am already not there? Once you've gotten yourself in a corner where you're arguing against the meaningfulness of time itself, grammar becomes real weird.
4: No, not thought — thoughtcrime! I must always remember that it's thoughtcrime and crimestop it before it starts!

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:34 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


I think the article also misses out the tricky fact that severe depression can easily co-exist, or alternate, with a state of mind that is apparently very rational and lucid. You end up working out a totally rock-solid set of reasons as to why your family and friends would be better off without you around - that you are a burden that has finally become too much for you and everyone around you.

It often feels like a manifesto of self-loathing presented by a very persuasive politician rather than a thrashing mess of mania.
posted by colie at 11:36 AM on August 12 [17 favorites]


And one thing depression is really good at is convincing you that everything is a godawful catastrophe, that's it's just another sign that no one loves you, no one cares, life isn't worth living, and that you are worthless.

Man...depression is the lyingist liar that ever lied.
posted by malocchio at 11:39 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


There are lots of people who are truly suffering and ill, who seem to bitch about inconsequential things.

Sometimes bitching about the inconsequential things saves you the enormous pain of having to confront the big things. Defence/coping mechanism.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:44 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


For me, depression is not necessarily a pain or a weight. It's an overwhelming sense of emptiness, a massively hollow feeling, in which everything seems equally empty and void. But not one that can be alleviated just because you want it to be. My mother never understood my (or my father's) depression. She'd say that "everyone's sad" or implore us to get past it or get over it. Why, she'd explain, she'd be depressed, too, and a day of shopping and having fun would make her feel all better. We just had to find what worked for us, she'd say. But she really got where we were coming from a couple of years ago when I dropped the truth on her (politely, no fight, just talking): that depression you felt? Imagine it was stronger, pervaded everything you did, sucking out joy and wonder from your experience, and that, no matter what you intended or did, it wouldn't go away or really diminish. At most, it would fade into the background for a little while as you went about your day.

"Jesus, really?" she replied.

Yep, mom. Imagine going through every day not liking your very existence. And at most tolerating being alive. Now my depression rarely sucks the absolute life from me (anymore) but it's not gone, nor can it be cured. Imagine, I continued, that it's less "sadness" and more "emptiness". She was speechless. Which, if you know her, is a big fucking deal. I could almost hear the *click* when she got it.

"That's awful," she said after a minute.

Since then she's become more sympathetic about depression as a serious condition. I just hope other people can understand it. It's the same as my ADHD. When someone says "Yeah, but we all get distracted!", I point out that the difference is normal people can get past the "distraction" with normal effort. Some of us can't simply be more attentive or less sad just because we put in the effort. It's like saying to a person "You don't have to be 5'2"! Just be taller!" Yeah, no. Any med, exercise, or trick you can find in which someone is overcoming their depression/ADHD/height issue is a stopgap measure at best, a hack. Not a real solution. The worst thing you can say is "Get over it". The best thing you can do is understand.

I've said before that depression is a severe loss of perspective. I think it still stands.
posted by grubi at 11:48 AM on August 12 [16 favorites]


One thing that I think is missing in accounts of depression and its workings is the willingness to be open to the possibility that the worldview of depression is actually a more accurate assessment of the human condition than the worldview that we classify as neurotypical.

This entire comment is spot-on (at least with my experience). There have been studies that show that depressed people actually have more accurate perceptions than neurotypical people. Apparently there's a term for this, I just learned from googling, and it's called depressive realism.
posted by Librarypt at 11:53 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


Grubi's comment really nailed it for me. It's not, in my case, a feeling of crushing weight so much as emptiness. How am I supposed to do something I enjoy to take my mind off it if I don't enjoy anything anymore? Depression is so terrible because it's not just a feeling of 'bad things keep happening to me' or 'the world is against me' or anything. It's that things I know are good and that I used to appreciate either do nothing for me or get distorted in such a way that the good thing is now bad.
posted by downtohisturtles at 12:00 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I've said before that depression is a severe loss of perspective. I think it still stands.

I agree with every word in your comment but one. We have to be open to the possibility that it is a gain of perspective, not a loss.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:18 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick, I see what you're saying. But that doesn't make it any easier.
posted by grubi at 12:20 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I just gave a small presentation on a very complex topic to a VP, CFO and Sr. Director that they were impressed with, and all I can think is what's the point, my life is empty, I wish I did not exist.

That's depression. Yeah, I need to go talk to somebody and adjust my medication, clearly. I hope I can get up the energy soon.

edit: and while I will not say I'm thankful to my depression, it has given me a wonderful perspective on how much it means to be in the moment when I'm not depressed.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:21 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I guess this is just the long way around to saying that I wish treatments of depression were more about learning to pretend to the illusion, without treating that illusion as in any way real. Correct me if I'm wrong about how treatment of depression works, or if I've just like been going to the wrong therapists.

The thought you've described -- arriving at the belief that your "self," in every meaningful way, is a flicker and a soap bubble and, along with all of your experiences, will just go poof at the moment of death -- it was depression that brought you to that thought, but it's certainly possible to arrive at it even if you have no depression at all. That isn't the distinctively depressive part. The difference is that thought -- yes, really, the thought of the imminent end of everything -- does not bring heavy-hanging terror or horror to most people who think it. Not because they won't be there -- it just doesn't bother them, period, no pretending needed. That's the part that's depression's angle.
posted by ostro at 12:38 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I've always felt connected to the quicksand metaphor. When I'm in it, I'm physically unable to pull myself out and every cell feels like it's been infused with extra weight. There were times in the deepest of my depression that I could barely lift my head, much less commit suicide. I imagine that if I had been able to have coherent thoughts and string together a plan I would have.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:39 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


The thought you've described -- arriving at the belief that your "self," in every meaningful way, is a flicker and a soap bubble and, along with all of your experiences, will just go poof at the moment of death -- it was depression that brought you to that thought, but it's certainly possible to arrive at it even if you have no depression at all. That isn't the distinctively depressive part. The difference is that thought -- yes, really, the thought of the imminent end of everything -- does not bring heavy-hanging terror or horror to most people who think it. Not because they won't be there -- it just doesn't bother them, period, no pretending needed. That's the part that's depression's angle.

Then non-depressed thought is a form of lunacy. You'd have to be a fool to take nonexistence so lightly.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:41 PM on August 12


...last night in the shower I said a pre-emptive thank you to the universe, because I was and am fairly certain Robin Williams' suicide would start a much-needed conversation about depression
I don't think the article linked in the OP is the start of that conversation. It seems to be a rather confused sermon about what's allowed to be called depression.
posted by fivebells at 12:41 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I don't think the article linked in the OP is the start of that conversation. It seems to be a rather confused sermon about what's allowed to be called depression.

I don't disagree at all. But I still have hope that the conversation will emerge and, hopefully, be productive. Sometimes it takes a celebrity -- either dying or speaking out -- to validate something a lot of other people have been struggling with for a long time. Not saying it's right by any stretch, but it seems to be the station at which we've arrived.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:45 PM on August 12


That is completely insane. You'd have to be a fool to take nonexistence so lightly.

Then I guess I am insane when depressed. Which is a pretty hurtful term. I want to not exist with every fiber of my being when depressed. Luckily, I know I must not and it will pass, and I am also too listless to do anything about it.

I'm reminded of some very fascinating studies about how a trivial prevention to a suicide plan or removing the easy availability of the method will thwart it in the vast number of cases. Britain and their ovens is a good one, but I forget the exact research.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:45 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


one of the hard parts of being a nihilist is resisting the urge to spread the bad news
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:46 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


As mudpuppie said so well upthread, there are many strands of mental illness. It is grossly insulting to those who suffer real and palpable pain to suggest that anyone contending with negative feelings should be "medicated to the point that breathing is pretty much the only thing you can consciously do, under 24 hour supervision and incapable of rational thought." Because part of the very difficult journey of climbing out of the pit of sadness involves facing recriminations from those who never knew the score and contending with an emotional debt towards those who helped you during a crisis that you can never possibly repay, even as you are doing everything to stay sane, kind, and positive. Rational thought is the very force you need to tell yourself that you deserve to live, that you are a good person living the best that you can, and to acknowledge the pain that put you into this crippling fix in the first place. This Telegraph writer's shameful bombast prevents him from making the distinction between active depressives and those who have completely given up, although both require our solicitude and patience. Because helping people out of their pain involves a lot more than locking someone up and throwing away the key. And we can't even begin to have a healthy conversation about suicide and depression until we understand that people and their problems are more complex than 140 character tweets and tendentious articles that are more about clickbait than giving a good goddam.
posted by ed at 12:47 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of some very fascinating studies about how a trivial prevention to a suicide plan or removing the easy availability of the method will thwart it in the vast number of cases. Britain and their ovens is a good one, but I forget the exact research.

I know a lot of bridges have found this. Additionally, there is a train station in Japan, I believe, that was a major suicide location for a while. When they changed the lighting from red-tinted to blue-tinted, suicides there dropped to almost none.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:48 PM on August 12


Then I guess I am insane when depressed. Which is a pretty hurtful term. I want to not exist with every fiber of my being when depressed. Luckily, I know I must not and it will pass, and I am also too listless to do anything about it.

Strike that and reverse it. I'm saying that of people actually do realize the gravity of nonexistence (as ostro argues they do) and nevertheless aren't paralyzingly terrified by it, then they are completely insane.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:49 PM on August 12


That is completely insane. You'd have to be a fool to take nonexistence so lightly

I'd have to disagree, and you're being kind of insulting here. Personally I can take nonexistence pretty lightly because I won't be around to know I don't exist anymore. It's a non-issue, and when I was suicidal it was a positive boon to think of pain, gone, forever--even if I wouldn't know about it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:49 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I'm the spouse of someone with depression...which is like watching someone disappear, and yet being utterly. utterly. utterly. powerless to do anything about it.

So yeah, fuck depression.
posted by melimelo at 12:50 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I think we're talking about two different things. Your depression manifests as a desire to not exist. My depression manifests through paralyzing me with terror of the likelihood that I don't exist and nothing else does, either.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:50 PM on August 12


I've never sought out diagnosis so in fairness I have no idea what I have, if anything. But if we're going with analogies, the one that works for me is that I go through periods where my brain feels like it's constantly waterboarding itself. It's perpetually on the verge of drowning. There's days where it requires superhuman feats of mental fortitude just to, like, be a basic functioning human being and not just be a drooling vacant stare in front of people. So that's fun. I think some of us are just forced to be very, very aware of the messages we allow our brains to receive, and the messages we're forced to cut off at the pass, because they're the illogical bad crazy kind that will put our heads under water (you're unloved/unloveable, you're worthless, you're a fraud, you're unforgivably weird and alien, etc.) It's kind of the same insight some people receive when they take hallucinogens, and realize that bad thoughts plunge the world into hell, and that you have to block them out to have a good trip. Except apply that insight to every day functioning and going to work and being productive and normal.
posted by naju at 12:54 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah, so that's your depression lying to you, YCTAB. Calling the rest of us insane is... well maybe you could realize how tone deaf that is in a discussion about mental illness?

It's not just my depression though. There is no afterlife; once my brain winks out I am gone. No longer existing. There's no point in being upset about that now because there'll be no I to be upset after it happens.

naju, I hope you've found some sort of help to deal with that. I've been there and it's awful.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:56 PM on August 12


note: Everyone needs a hug.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:01 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]


My handy-dandy personal analogy for understanding my depression is "orbiting the black hole". You know it's there. You can't see it, because it's nothingness, but it's nothingness with gravity. It's always there. You always feel it pulling you down. It requires constant effort and vigilance to not dip past its event horizon, beyond which you know there would be no escape.

I feel that this is moderately appropriate, given that it's how our galaxy works.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 1:02 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Because the fact of nonexistence is like the noneuclidean spaces and colors from space in an HP Lovecraft story, in that it drives everyone who notices it insane in one way or another?

I guess I'm doing one of my standard moves here by flipping the term that's considered the baseline - instead of classifying functional behavior as the de facto baseline against which everything is measured, I'm categorizing functional behavior as a form of denial raised to the level of madness, because this universe is completely mad, and the only way to function is through failing (willfully or otherwise) to correlate the evidence of the universe's fundamental ontological untenability. But that's maybe a tweaky word game and I should excuse myself from this thread.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:12 PM on August 12


Buick: I agree with ostro, and I don't think that paralyzing terror necessarily follows at all. I think the nihilist position you've described is likely, and I don't find it especially fearsome.

If nothing of consequence exists or ever can remain, if every single action is pointless, then all action is pointless in exactly the same way. So all the things we do are tears in rain, the wisps of shadow on the cave wall. So all we do is vanity. Our choices only have meaning to us, temporarily, ephemerally. Well then that's fine -- I don't have to worry about permanently fucking up or causing a net negative to the universe. I'm just enjoying the little play I'm acting in along with everybody else. Nothing else is, so nothing else matters.

It would be orders of magnitude worse if some things matter and others don't, and you can't tell which is which. If nothing matters, then all things matter equally, and we're all playing our temporarily little parts, and our candles one day go out, and so be it. Void, being inexorable, isn't scary because there is no alternative to compare it to. Inescapable means you can stop looking for the door.

So as a thought experiment: take it as a given that you don't exist and neither does anything else. This is only relevant if things could be otherwise. If they couldn't, existence has no meaning as a concept and therefore isn't anything to be concerned about. And if things could be otherwise, then who's to say that they aren't? Maybe things do exist after all. Maybe you in your limited, mortal powers of reason and perception wouldn't be able to tell the difference. And whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. [...] He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

For what it's worth, when I was caught in the intellectual whirlpool you're describing, here's the story that let me give myself permission not to worry: Indra and Vishnu, as told by Joseph Campbell.
posted by penduluum at 1:13 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Just two weeks ago, I had a depressive/anxiety flameout that landed me in the ER, because I seriously wanted to just leave the planet. A friend got the medics, they and I decided that perhaps this was an unwise choice of recreational activity, and off we went to the ER via non-siren ambulance. It was just like a pressure valve that popped, because I felt that I could get any sort of release, and the stress and depression was really getting to me.

My health insurance is messed up, I'm trying to move, the bills are going to suck, and my job ends in 10 weeks - but at least I'm still alive. They also hooked me up with a Social Worker who gave me a concrete plan to follow (move out of the bad place first, call the Psychiatrist about a counselor, insurance and bills can be dealt with in a few months, etc.) which I am. It's helping quite a deal. Because now I have an actual strategy and priority list, rather than feeling that I have to do everything right away, by myself.

And I'm still here.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:18 PM on August 12 [20 favorites]




Strike that and reverse it. I'm saying that of people actually do realize the gravity of nonexistence (as ostro argues they do) and nevertheless aren't paralyzingly terrified by it, then they are completely insane.

That argument seems circular to me. I mean, it's not like nonexistence implies any other dangers that people are somehow overlooking. If you fear nonexistence, you fear it. If you don't, you don't.

Put it this way: A genie comes to Joe Random and says to him, "Joe, starting right now, I'll grant you as many wishes as you want, and you can be anything and do anything -- but only for one week. After your week is up, time will be turned back and you'll be right back where you're sitting now -- and you'll have forgotten completely that it ever happened." Effectively, then, his week of wishes would vanish when it was over as completely as if it had never been. But would it be irrational of Joe to be happy and excited that he'd been given the week of wishes, for the pleasure it would give him while it lasted? I wouldn't say so.
posted by ostro at 1:22 PM on August 12


Reading the Robin Williams thread and this one, I am in tears. I have to go outside and get some sunshine and remember that I am alive.
posted by theora55 at 1:23 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I've spent a grand total of six months of my life not being actively depressed. That ended about six months ago. It was really weird; I didn't know myself at all for those months. Returning to "normal" was all the harder for knowing that it was physically possible to achieve remission, just not to sustain it..
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:28 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I appreciate the sentiment of the article, but it was a bit off putting. Should I feel like a fake if my dose of Citalopram is only 10 mg? Maybe I am. I'm not really sure most days, except that it seems to make things better. That means something was wrong with me right? But maybe I was just weak, or didn't want to face that particular day, and the pill was a nice crutch. I really should just fess up to the fact that I can't stand the pressure of the situation I've put myself in. It was my choice to be here, so who else do I have to blame? Besides, other people seem to be dealing with it fine. I really just need to eat better and sleep more, though I've tried that. I probably had just been doing it wrong.
posted by mariokrat at 1:40 PM on August 12


My mother never understood my (or my father's) depression. She'd say that "everyone's sad" or implore us to get past it or get over it. Why, she'd explain, she'd be depressed, too, and a day of shopping and having fun would make her feel all better. We just had to find what worked for us, she'd say.

My first major bout of depression came when I was twelve, and my soul just started reeling like a wingless Bird thrown into a chasm for no apparent reason. And my parents weren't entirely sure what to do with the fact that all I seemed able to do was cry or silently stare downward. So they tried suggesting things that might help, just kind of desperately, whatever came to mind, people I could talk to or things I could do, while I muttered some variant of "it won't change anything" to every suggestion.

And finally my dad was like "We haven't been candlepin bowling in a while. We could.. uh.. maybe go candlepin bowling this weekend?" to his twelve-year-old son who was just a mess of tears and total existential despair.

And I think the sheer out-of-left-field-ness of the suggestion was weird enough to sort of knock over the axis of my mind a little, and even though there was nothing all that appealing about candlepin bowling as an activity, I was like "okay"

So then we went candlepin bowling that weekend. And the weekend after that. And the weekend after that. And it was not exactly curative, but it was a thing to do, to hold onto enough to at least be a thing besides Not Existing that I could look forward to while I felt like a big empty wind blowing through a decaying wooden hallway. Well, there's candlepin bowling this weekend, I guess.

So this is why I'm really worried that Big-Ball bowling might eclipse candlepin in the Northeast, because if it does then how on earth will I in turn help my Horrible Goth Children someday? With those unnaturally huge balls that you only get TWO of per frame? Ridiculous. Simply awful. A clumsy, oafish sport that BARELY deserves the NAME of bowling.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:44 PM on August 12 [27 favorites]


IME, sometimes the deadening and insulating qualities of depression make it possible for me to survive the emotionally unbearable. The abusive family. The homophobia. The antisemitism. The sexism/gender-policing. The commodification. The cancer. The whole murderous (which has tried to kill me in the literal sense over and over) world I wake up to daily.

I'm surprised I have good times at all. As many others have said, the good days are appreciated all the more. I don't know what I'd do without daily music and study.
posted by Dreidl at 1:51 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I think there is every possibility that I am operating, and have been operating, under a level of depression for some time. I just can't work up enthusiasm for anything. Everything I do is an act...well, everything that isn't sleeping or being left alone to muddle about doing whatever it is that I do when I'm not responsible for feeding and cleaning up after others.

If you ask people who don't really know me, they will tell you that I am the most vivacious, entertaining, hysterically funny human they know. What they don't know is the sheer volume of will it takes for me to put on shoes and leave the house. How the whole time I'm being *ME!*, I can watch the energy reserves get lower and lower until I can't stand it any more and I have to go hide. And I have no choice, I don't know any other way of interacting with people, I'll be honest.

If you ask people who know me, they'll tell you they don't know, because I haven't talked to anyone, or been on any social networks (my mefite family aside) for a month or so, since Gaza started because I couldn't handle the constant stream of tragi-porn and political nonsense. At least, not while I was trying to figure out how to get money into Gaza to pay someone, anyone to bring a friend's body back to the West Bank for Christian burial, and so they weren't shoved into a mass grave.

I've canceled writer's workshops I'm supposed to attend next month, and conventions where I should be on hand for the remainder of the year, because I just can't imagine having the energy to deal with all those people...all of them wanting something from me that I just cannot summon the energy to provide.

I'm just so tired. So tired. If I didn't have to maintain and keep appearances at least semi-normal for Boy and Man, I swear, I would have retreated to a cabin in the woods by now.

If the universe could just stop being so goddamn awful for a while. Just a little while. That would be awesome.
posted by dejah420 at 1:57 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


There is so much to loathe about having depression. The one currently on my mind is hatred for the mask. When depression lingers for months so you gotta put on the mask to deal with the daily stuff. Smiling on the outside, screaming on the inside. Because the cashier really, really doesn't want to know when s/he asks, "How are you today?"
posted by _paegan_ at 2:38 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I can't compete with others' metaphors, but I can relate a specific example of the kind of thinking I had in my 20+ years of suicidal depression.

A friend asked why I wasn't dating anybody and I said something like "because we'd either break up or stay together till one of us died."

It's such a reductive argument it's absurd, but I think it's also a great example of what depression is: being so afraid that your misery could be made worse that you would deny yourself the possibility of decades of happiness.
posted by johnofjack at 2:39 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I really can't recommend mindfulness meditation enough as a way of approaching depression. In my experience, the real suffering of depression comes not from the physical heaviness, the dullness in the stomach, the ache in the chest or behind the eyes. It comes from the thoughts that surround those feelings and bring them vividly to life; thoughts in the form of plans that seem impossible to accomplish, hopes that seem futile, friends and family who seem incapable of understanding (if not actively annoying), a world that seems hostile and uncaring and horrible and futile, memories that seem inescapable, a self that seems inadequate and like a failure, etc.

These thoughts comprise a fog that the depressed person slogs through, day after day. Sometimes, this fog lifts of its own accord, although when you're depressed it seems like it never could. But sometimes it lingers for quite a while. Mindfulness meditation penetrates that fog and thins it out. And as the fog starts to lift, one feels an increasing inner freedom, even amidst the pain and ache and all the other physical sensations of depression.

Mindfulness meditation is a specific practice -- it's not sitting on a cushion and thinking about the same stuff you think about the rest of the day. There are many resources online that describe the basic process. I don't want to represent meditation as a "cure" for depression - it certainly is not that. However, I do believe that it can be helpful both in easing the vicious cycle of negative thoughts leading to negative feelings leading to even more negative thoughts, and in offering a way to make tolerable what, from the perspective of the depressed person, often seems too much to bear. And ultimately, when the depression lifts (as mine mostly has, and as most depressions do in time) the foundation of mindfulness will be there to support a (re)emerging awareness of the wonder and joy of life, the experience of which is waiting there beneath the fog.
posted by haricotvert at 2:55 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


If the universe could just stop being so goddamn awful for a while. Just a little while. That would be awesome.

So much this.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:57 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Even more useful than mindfulness meditation is Buddhist concentration practice. Approaching the physical sensations associated with depression using techniques like this is very effective for throwing off the "lead cloak," at least temporarily.
posted by fivebells at 3:07 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Seconding Apocrophon about the David Wong piece (which I, unaware of this thread, posted in the Robin Williams thread).

As long as I'm cutting close to my own bone today, I've been taking antidepressants for almost 11 years and I'm feeling relatively-good-enough that my biggest worry is having my SocSec Disability reconsidered (it was based on part-depression, part-heart condition and that second part is NOT getting better). I was at my lowest point in late 2003 and without insurance, and the way I figured to get somebody's attention was to walk into the Emergency Room of a County Hospital carrying a vacuum cleaner hose and point out that I knew how to hook it up to my car's exhaust pipe. I got a 72-hour admission that stretched into 9 days before they were convinced I could be trusted to use the hose only for vacuuming. When I was led to my bed in a four-patient room, I lied down and thought "okay, I'm never going to move from here ever again", then they gave me a pill to take, an old-school Prozac (it was a County Hospital, after all). I dozed off and was awakened a few hours later to take another, and I noticed a very strange thing... I was actually feeling better. Miracle drug (at least for the moment). I just had never felt such a profound change over a short period of time; of course the initial euphoria wore off, but when I went home I corresponded with a fellow blogger who had become an editor at a Major Media Website and two weeks later, Wendell's byline was on this (which perked me up almost as much as the Prozac). I've had a decade of emotional ups and downs since, but never have gotten as low as I was then, and I will never allow myself to forget it (even if things like this thread weren't here to remind me). I feel damned lucky (the Disability introduced me to a lower-but-sustainable standard of living, thanks to my previous 25 years of steady income) and I'm not going to forget it because the mere months leading up to that were something I wouldn't have survived if it had continued on much longer. And I have massive amounts of empathy and respect for anyone/everyone who has kept going on through all this for a lot longer than I did with little or no relief (and I am NEVER going to tell anyone 'I got mostly over this and you can too'). And I'm keeping this on my RSS feeds, just as another reminder. You all deserve hugs; if you're ever coming up Highway 101 between L.A. and S.F., stop by and I'll give you a big one (sorry, I don't deliver).
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:08 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I know that things have gone pear-shaped with my depression when the only word I can seem to use, for describing pretty much anything, is "relentless."

When I am depressed I will try to shower and realize that I am just going to have to keep on showering, pretty much every day until I die. I am going to have to keep eating. I am going to have to keep waking up. In a healthy state of mind these reliable daily routines are a wonderful comfort! But when the depression switch flips all I can think is that life is so goddamn motherfucking relentless, and it's the cruelest thing ever that we aren't allowed to take breaks from being alive.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:11 PM on August 12 [23 favorites]


Coming to this thread made me realize why I had to recuse myself from social media last night.

I've got a diagnosis -- I'm official, and everything. But like a number of you, I've never been suicidal. Like maybe some of you, I don't know, my sadness and anxiety present as anger and irritability.

All I could read last night were the generalizations about depression that, for years, helped to stop me from finding help. They made me angry and irritable. Which means that what they really made me was sad.

Thank you for helping me figure that out.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:11 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


I hate to say it in case it gives the impression that I am comparing my depression to others and saying "you aren't depressed enough" but I really wish I could find more stories about depression that doesn't lift. From people who breathe in grey every single day and will for the rest of their lives.

I suppose it goes back to feeling resentful of people who medicine helps and is a horrible thing to say but sometimes I feel alone with the idea that this is my entire life. 35 years so far and that's because I can't remember before the age of 4. I yearn some days to just know that I am not alone with this being my world.

But I know that probably comes across wrong. This is such a bastard no matter what level you experience it at. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. It is just too cruel.

Sometimes though things don't get better. Sometimes treatment isn't possible and you have to just fall back on the pure animal instinct to survive.
posted by kanata at 3:15 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


For me, it's less like a cloak, and more like a single lead weight, hung from a chain around my neck every morning. Maybe 2.5 lbs., on a good day. 5 lbs., tops. Totally doable.

And I've been lucky enough not to have the thoughts of worthlessness intrude, as plague so many others with this issue. I'm too arrogant for that. Plus, I have people who love me, and I know that I am important to them. So what's the problem?

I'll try to describe what chronic depression feels like to me for anyone who may be curious (but of course if this is at all successful, this could be triggering for some, so please skip this if you are prone to despair):

# # #

Imagine that you are carrying a bag of potatoes. Feel the heft of it. The awkwardness. Now imagine that you slip that bag of potatoes into a backpack and put the backpack on. This backpack was made for you. It's a good fit. The weight now suspended easily from your shoulders. Resting against your hip. You can relax your arms for a moment. Shake it out. Get comfortable. You will be carrying this around with you all day.

Okay - Now, still carrying that backpack full of potatoes, with that slight weight pulling at your shoulders, project yourself one day into the future. First thing tomorrow morning, maybe just a tiny bit tired from the extra exertion of carrying that backpack around with you all day, you will be given another 5 lb. bag of potatoes. Now hang it around your neck, or from your shoulders, or, hell - keep it in your arms. The thing is, though... you don't get to put down the last bag, first. In fact, you don't get to put down the last bag ever. You can't hand it off to someone else. Or tomorrow's bag. Or the one coming after that. Or the 363 new 5 lb. weights every year of your life until you are eventually, inevitably crushed.

These are your bags. Your lead weights. This is the weight of your days. No matter how hard you try, the weight of all your yesterdays will always be with you, and every tomorrow will add to the weight. Even the good yesterdays. Even the good tomorrows. Can you imagine the horror of looking to the future and knowing you can't possibly be strong enough to hold up the cumulative weight of a lifetime even if all of the days to come are basically good ones?

And those are just the days, themselves. That's just the price of admission. The weight of living. That's not bad shit happening to good people. That's not hard lives and hard times. That's not really having something to worry about. To mourn. That's just... being.

Now, drag 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 year's worth of daily 5 lb. weights around everywhere you go and try to get anything done. Try not to resent every new request for your time and energy.

If you're really, really lucky, most days, the love of friends and family is enough of a push. If not the strength they give you, then your commitment to them. Not to add to their weight. But... that commitment actually adds to your weight, too. It's an obligation, and obligations require energy. And it also means there's no end. No escape left, as each day's new weight is hung around your neck.

# # #

So that's what chronic depression feels like to me. Not every minute of every day, you understand? I've been incredibly lucky. And I would never try to reduce my life to a single emotion or note. I have, as the man says, seen things you people wouldn't believe. Beautiful things. Wonderful things. But in the context of this conversation, I wanted to add my two cents and 2.5 lbs.

What's amazing to me isn't that a successful man who was so dearly loved by so many people finally succumbed to the weight of a lifetime of chronic depression. What's amazing to me is how thoroughly he managed to transform that pain into indescribable joy and in so doing help to ease the weight of countless others for 63 years.

And he did help ease that weight. I know. Because I lied to you, up above. Sometimes, you can put the weight down. Or at least, I did. And sometimes, your friends and loved ones can help to lift it with you.

And sometimes, you can help to lift their weights, too.

And sometimes, that's more than enough.

Be well, everyone.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:49 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


IRFH: Try not to resent every new request for your time and energy.

This, for me. It's like, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE AND I CAN HOLD IT TOGETHER.

I mean, like most of us, I tend to hold it together anyway, most of the time -- but at some points, every email or phone call is not just annoying but devastating.

Argh.

You all are awesome.
posted by allthinky at 3:52 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


For me, depression is a stone. Sometimes it is a boulder and I am Sisyphus - the boulder is all I can see, all my energy is used up pushing the boulder in front of me. Sometimes it is a stone the size of a basketball; it takes both hands to hold and I can't do anything but at least I can see. And on good days it is a pebble that I can put in my pocket. But it's still there, I can always feel it.
posted by K0dama at 4:04 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Like many here, I bristle a bit at anyone saying "what depression is like" in some unqualified, universal sense because like so many things, it can vary a great deal and making universal, categorical statements is implicitly denying the experiences of other people when theirs is divergent. It's much better to say "this is what depression is like for me" and then, perhaps, continue with careful elaborations of "I've also heard that it's like X for many other people" and "you hear Y a lot".

For example, haricotvert's comment doesn't resonate with me because I don't experience depression as that looping set of thoughts. But I know that many people do. And, when I was young, it was what depression was like for me. But it's not what it's like now. My own experience is that there was a lot of self-hate and stuff -- it's a cliche, but I told myself a lot of things which were the shitty things my dad said to me when I was growing up -- that in my late twenties, especially after my divorce, where I just jettisoned all that stuff. I mean, seriously, I had a life-changing epiphany where I realized that there was a lot of things in my head that were literally killing me and I said no more, I'm done what that shit.

And it worked, I survived. But, well, it wasn't a magic bullet. I still struggle with depression. What I mostly did was learn to interrupt the things that led into full-blown panicking despair, which is great, believe me, I'm non-ironically thrilled with not having to live in those repeating crises like I did when I was young. What used to be several times a year is now once in a decade, or less. A break-up four years ago caused me to fall into a relentless five-month state of crisis and I don't even have words for how relentlessly, excruciatingly painful it was. It wasn't a heavy blanket, it was like feeling a heart-attack and the need to scream and constant thoughts of suicide all day, every day, for freaking months. I mean, I can't speak for anyone else, but a perversely shitty thing about going through trauma like that is that it makes it more difficult for me to take seriously a major dysfunctional depression that is lasting years now because it seems so much more tolerable in contrast.

Aside from major depression being a disease with numerous etiologies and presentations, it's also probably true that it changes over a lifetime as it progresses. That's certainly been true in my experience and so we should be very careful about talking about what depression "is".

"Since we're describing what our depression looks like, mine's an itty bitty toddler trapped inside me -- like right around my rib cage. It's seems constantly on the verge of sobbing or screaming or throwing things. On the verge, though. Never quite gets to the actual act. It keeps me in suspense."

That matches a lot of my experience. And that almost screaming or sobbing or throwing things -- that's an awful feeling, isn't it? I'm afraid of it. It's only recently that I realized that a component of my depression is anxiety, and most especially when I'm in crisis or nearing crisis. Which, in retrospect, given that I've lived with this chronic major depression for most of my life, it's really, really weird that I didn't realize long ago that anxiety is involved. I guess it's because I don't feel like or think of myself as an "anxious" person. But, for me, major depression is generally like that weight that people so often describe but major depression in crisis is, I now realize, very much also something like a panic attack.

So in a crisis, I'm feeling that toddler inside of me wanting to freak out, like I'm just on the verge of it, though I don't express it, because something is very, very wrong and I feel like I'm going to go crazy if that feeling of wrongness doesn't stop. Or when I'm getting closer to being in crisis, what I feel is more like that inner toddler maybe being a little twitchy or restless or just, I don't, like a whisper that I am trying to ignore that is saying "something is very, very wrong".

I have some family (by marriage) who suffer from anxiety and agoraphobia and over the years I've learned about it, a little bit. And so it really was a recent epiphany when, for whatever reason, I thought to mentally make a list of what I usually feel when I felt like I was nearing or in a depressive crisis and what I knew about how people suffering panic attacks felt and, wow, they seemed to be mostly the same things. There's this sense of intolerable wrongness, that I have to do something right now because there's this pain in my chest and I sort of feel like my arms want to flail and I need to scream. I have no idea at all if this means that I have some anxiety disorder in addition to depression, or if this means that severe depression can become severe anxiety under the right conditions. But what's plain weird is that I'm going to turn fifty years old in a few months and it was only this year that it ever occured to me to think about it in these terms.

But, mostly, I only rarely have those crisis anymore and, I think, that's because I am absolutely terrified of them. I sometimes feel a little bit like cursing my own strengths because what I've noticed is that when I'm really pushed to the edge, something will sort of click and I'll identify something as an existential problem for me and I'll just say, nope, that's it, I'm done. I did this with drinking when I was 24. I did it with all that self-hate and self-blame I used to carry around. But when it's stuff that doesn't rise or hasn't risen to some ultimate crisis where I recognize my survival is at stake? I just sort of passively abide. And so I'm stupidly, crazily able to be almost not-functional and severely depressed for literally years now and it's tolerable to me because, hey, I don't have the urge to hit myself in the head with a brick (that wasn't a metaphor or hyperbole). My fear is that I only have enough strength to ensure that I survive but as deeply, quietly unhappy. And my deeper fear is that, eventually, that abiding through decades and through middle-age into late middle-age being quieter and quieter, accepting less and less happiness in my life because it's quiet and that's preferable to narcissistically flailing about in a crisis and disrupting the lives of the people around me, which I loathe that I ever behaved that way in the past, that someday a line will be crossed and I will think, in a way that seems reasonable to me, well, it would make more sense for me to die now.

And in there somewhere, though this is my own story and is dependent upon my own idiosyncratic experience, is, I think, something essential about depression. It's about how it's a kind of relentless unhappiness, whether great or small, that you drag around for years and years until, one way or another, it kills you. I don't mean that literally, mostly. It certainly doesn't kill everyone and I think while a large number of people experience chronic major depression, it doesn't kill most of them. But it sort of wants to. The threat of it, and that relentless squashing out of what it means to live a life ... that's depression.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:31 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


My therapist actually gave me the analogy of wearing a lead apron at the dentist years ago, and I thought yes!

And yes, emails become devastating.

You need the focus and discipline of an elite athlete to get through the day. That is how I've been thinking of it lately and it kind of helps.
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:00 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Thank you everyone for sharing yourselves. I could call out so many specific posts in this thread but just take my word that I've appreciated all of it. For me, I always had the image of a cork bobbing in the ocean swept along by the world around me but unable to do anything about it, or of a hole inside that I thought something could eventually fill so that I would stop hurting. It came in two week cycles of mania and depression, though the mania always felt like days and the depression like months, but that's what depression does, distorts everything. I'm not someone who's written much more than quippy comments on MeFi, but I have lived with depression since junior high school (that would be the early 80s for anyone counting). Everything said really resonates except for the inescapability of it all. Not that it doesn't feel inescapable, because it certainly does and I know that feeling so well, but that it is actually inescapable or, maybe from a different angle, that escapability is a helpful way of approaching depression.

Someone I knew asked me years ago, 'why do you want to be a depressed person?' This could have been the awful question of someone who does not understand what it's like. But something about the way it was asked, the moment I was in, something rang my bell. Of course, I didn't want to be depressed, right? Who wants to be depressed? It's a physical thing that I can't control, right? But I had lived with it for so long and been in and out of deep depressions that I did not separate the dis-ease from myself, that I could not see the two things apart from one another. When I have a the flu, I don't think of myself as the flu, I sleep a lot, eat lightly, watch a bad movie or two, and let my body take care of it.

In 1997, I was on the verge of suicide, but I didn't really want to die, I just wanted to pain to stop and since I didn't know how to do that, this seemed like a reasonable option. After laying out the pills in groups of three on my table, I called a friend, hoping to be talked down despite telling myself at the time that I was calling to say goodbye. I am so glad that I reached him because I hate to think what it would have been for him if I'd gone through with it after a missed phone call. He got me out of town, though my friends there didn't know what had happened and in their concern, when I returned, they basically pulled an intervention on me and got me to see a councilor. I did out-patient group therapy that introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy. That may have been the first time I started to get a sense that there were things I could do to work with depression (despite on-and-off periods of counselling and medication before that). Years later, I got into yoga and that was the first time I ever started to connect with my body, with breathing, with how not connected I was, to myself to anything around me.

More recently, I practice Zen (and I really hesitated to get into this because I know how religion can push people away, but practicing has given me so many ways to turn myself around and see the world differently). I've really opened up my understanding of what depression is for me. I've come to see how much I did not want to be alive and how much that was keeping me from living. I've come to see my patterns of pain and reactivity. I've come to see that all my anger and rage that I lashed out on the people around me is my way of defending against pain and fear and profound sadness and lack of control over pretty much anything in the world, even within my small sphere of influence. I've come to see how my confidence (or lack thereof) was rooted in not feeling able to cope with strong emotions (especially that anger). I've come to see how much I am able to affect my own behavior, to not only hurt myself, but to be kind to myself, to not only hurt people around me, but to be kind to them. I've come to see how much I can love and how hard it can be to let myself do that (still working on the being loved). I've come to see how much of the way I feel is stories I tell myself that grow from seeds of emotional twinges and how much I can change those stories and uproot those seeds.

Just last week, I was realizing that I really am no longer 'depressed', I still have times of exhaustion and incapability, dark and suicidal thoughts, but they have context now. And the context makes the difference even though the symptoms are the same. I know that I have things I can do (primarily meditation, exercise, and eating well) that will see me through difficulties, that this too will pass, that this is a part of my life and part of how I am sometimes (and it's important to remind myself 'sometimes'). And there's a curiosity there - what am I trying to tell myself? Because, I've started to think that depression is not what we think it is. I've started to feel like it's a pointer, that it's an alarm system - one part of my mind trying to tell my conscious self that something isn't right in that way I'm going about things, that something needs to change. Figuring out what that might be is not always a straightforward task, and it's certainly not easy when everything seems dark, but if I muddle my way through that, there will be hope and direction somewhere, if I can be patient and listen for a while, something will point the way.

Some things that have helped me...

* medication: I don't take meds now, but have in the past. They helped me to the extent that they raised me above the waterline enough to right the ship, but inevitably I would max out my dosage and find myself less able to cope, even with councelling. I also didn't like the side-effects, but there's no denying that they were helpful to me and are helpful to many people.

* diet: Sugar is poison to me and almost guaranteed to trigger depressions (wish I'd realized that when I would self-medicate with pints of Ben&Jerry's). Alcohol is a close second. When I paid attention, I could see that eating X had one effect, eating Y another. Some things might make me feel good for an hour and terrible for days while others were less sugar/fat/salty pleasurable, but sustained my spirits far better.

* exercise: It took me a long time to accept that I had a body and that I if I took care of it, that my depression could lift, that I didn't need to be at war with myself or loathe myself. If nothing else, exercising gives me something different to focus on than my mood, but just making the connection to this body and this breathing also changes how I feel. If depression is a physical thing, chemicals in the brain, habits of thought patterns, whatever, that can drive behavior, then changing physical activity can change behavior.

* meditation: This has probably been the most significant thing to change my understanding of depression. I watch thoughts and see that they are not permanent, that they are reflections of even deeper feelings that are also not permanent. I sit with my pain and sorrow without turning away from it, without pushing it outside myself and just allow it to be and me to be with it. Pain can become pleasure can become pain again, like watching a stream flow through the forest.

* curiosity: Even just noticing the sounds of the wind in leaves can raise me out of being sunk so deep into myself that the world has ceased to be anything but an enemy. Little things. Nothing special, but allowing any curiosity about anything at all to take root, to guide me, helps pull me away from the cyclical trap of hopeless thoughts.

* compassion: I used to beat myself up for lost time, for a wasted life, for making mistakes, for lashing out. I used to have a running voiceover in my head (or more accurately many simultaneously running voiceovers) that was nothing but insults and attacks. Those voices are less loud now. Kindness. It's so important and so undersold. Acknowledging the littlest thing as important and valuable. I got out of bed and took a shower. I ate a healthy meal. Nothing earth-shattering. I'm not going to change the world, but I'm also not going to give up on living. Even just telling myself 'may I be happy, may I stop suffering, may I be happy for people around me' can shift things.

What I'm writing is my experience and I can only speak from that, but I also hope that some of what I'm writing does resonate for anyone reading it. Life can feel so hard sometimes but we are alive, we have this life, whatever it is, and in there we can share moments of love and kindness amidst the pain and suffering.

If anyone out there ever needs someone to talk to because you don't feel like there's anyone who cares, drop me a MeMail - I'll do the best I can to listen.
posted by kokaku at 6:16 PM on August 12 [17 favorites]


Ivan, if I may attempt to defend you to (against?) yourself: You describe your current situation as "deeply, quietly unhappy." And so it may be. But I read a great deal of hope in your self-description. You have already triumphed over the hollow world of "narcissistically flailing", as you put it, which is a great victory and one that many, many people never achieve. Seeing through your self-destructive thoughts, seeing that they were "literally killing me", you have had the wisdom to set aside that drama (following a "life-changing epiphany" no less!"). Instead, you have moved into a place of quiet "abiding." You have developed the inner ability to persevere when conditions are painful or trying. You've begun to explore the very deep-seated anxiety that runs beneath the superstructure of your depression, to see it plainly for what it is in its irrational character. This is all really superb work and I feel you are depriving yourself of some well-deserved credit for the inner work you've done.

Unfortunately, in spite of this, you still seem to hold a fairly bleak view of your future, rather than seeing it -- as it reads to me -- as a movement in the direction of maturity and wisdom. And that is where I think meditation (some in this thread are suggesting Zen or Buddhist meditation, which is great. I didn't mean to exclude any meditative traditions) can be helpful. Through meditation, you start to see the thoughts that you are adding on to your situation (about your future, about your "unhappiness", about your fears). You get out of your own way, basically, and deal directly with facts, not fears or hopes or regrets. And as you do, I suspect you may discover that the quiet "abiding" that you now seem to equate with mere "survival" and ever-diminishing happiness can instead become a wellspring of inner peace, even in the midst of the pain.
posted by haricotvert at 7:03 PM on August 12


Imagine going through every day not liking your very existence. And at most tolerating being alive. -grubi

This is the best explanation of how I feel nearly every moment of my life that...it actually comforted me. So...thanks, i guess? But, jeez, to see it all in blue and white is SCARY. Often, I don't actually think I'm depressed, I think I'm just smart enough to know that I am a failed existence. What messed up DNA, bad parenting and the tragedy of regret boil down to. I'm just waiting for my parents to die, because I'm not that mean, ya know?

Because for me, depression feels like I... I SO want to like me! I've done all this damn work to build the life I thought would finally make the pain subside and it's still fucking here! I work SO HARD, I get out of bed every day, I pretend to be part of the world, I quote Dory "just keep swimming" and I'm fucking drowning. And it's totally exhausting.

All the drugs I've tried have made me way more messed up than I was before. Prozac worked when I was in my early 20's. Now it makes me anorexic and the heartburn...I can't live in that much physical pain constantly when I'm already depressed. It's just too much. I just can't. Rather be depressed. All the rest seem to have the same effect...Either completely uncontrollable rage, or floating in a worse grey soup than I had been in before.

I also found this article maddening, because it seems to want to boil all depressed folks down into one shared experience, and I can promise you it's more Anna Karenina than that.
posted by metasav at 7:36 PM on August 12


I think an underappreciated dividing line (among many, but probably a decently important one) among experiences of depression is between folks for whom there is a big interaction with anxiety and those without. It seems, anecdotally, like the presence or absence of active rumination leads to pretty qualitatively different experiences of the various pieces of depression that in micro seem pretty similar in how they are felt by different people.

(it was a really big and useful deal to think of my anxiety as driving my depression. Oddly enough it's now much easier to remember what the panic attacks felt like than the suicidal ideation)
posted by PMdixon at 7:41 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Because for me, depression feels like I... I SO want to like me!

This raises a question I think about often, namely: If you hate yourself, who are you? The "you" who hates or the "you" who is hated? I feel most people would say the former, but then that doesn't make sense because if they weren't totally identified with the latter, why would they care? "I hate Fred" -- there's me, and there's Fred, and I hate that fucking guy. I hate myself...well...obviously not the part of myself that's SAYING that, right? That part gets a free pass! I'm not trying to be glib -- this is a serious question that I have.
posted by haricotvert at 7:47 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Prozac worked when I was in my early 20's. Now it makes me anorexic and the heartburn.
Try an SNRI. They are quite effective for depression mixed with anxiety.
posted by fivebells at 7:56 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Depression can sometimes be the loss of the just world hypothesis and trust in a "god" or "order of things" that will make things right as long as you try or whatever.

Too much of a sense of the true weight of the level of injustice in this world is too much to bear. I think there is fruit in those dangerous waters but if you aren't ready or able to arm yourself with all the powers of will you can muster to enter into that knowledge with the duty to come out again with awareness of what needs to be done to make the world a better place, you-- and the world- could possibly be better off if you hide in the bliss of ignorance and positive self talk and comforting activities. EVERYONE needs some time there, in the blessed state of not knowing or being in touch with suffering or strife, where laughter can grow, peace can surround.

But unfortunately, ignorance can lead to problems-- when you think about people who cling to their worldview like it's salvation--- they literally may be protecting themselves from too much new knowledge-- of their own flaws, of suffering in the world, of suffering they may even be causing. And innocence, and that bliss of unknowing can sometimes guide straight into suffering (climate change, diseases, wars) because we are outright ignoring information in front of us we could be using to make things better but we are too busy claiming they are fine the way they are and we shouldn't have to change our behavior because of the harms it's causing.

Those who venture into the depths, they may have great treasures for us. If we can keep them supported and healthy and safe to reach a healthy frame of mind to share what wisdom they gained. Sometimes those with higher level of emotional need, can also have the greatest emotional gifts to offer, though sometimes not until they are in a place where they are truly being emotionally supported to the degree they need to be healthy. We talk about special needs children, I think to often there are special needs adults and instead of acknowledging some people have different levels of needs for support, we deny them the support they need and THEN label them as sick for needing it. Williams played deep empathetic painful roles well, because he knew that space well. And there is no way to gain knowledge of suffering that isn't painful. There is no way to ensure it will be an easy- or even safe, or healthy ride. But I don't think expecting that given the level of suffering in the world, people shouldn't be ALLOWED the dignity of being burdened to the point of needing care from what they have seen or experienced. And sometimes we don't want to allow people to be in that pace because caring for them there is hard. We want to shock it out of them, or medicate it out of them, or shame it out of them- but sometimes they are right. And that is sometimes what we are so terrified of, if we stop long enough to listen we'll see the level of suffering they see in the universe too.

We'll see they aren't mentally deranged or mispercieving reality and our cognitive bias and defense mechanisms that protect us from seeing a brutal reality will also fall apart. I think when there are multiple generations of people in healthy conditions (across the entire spectrum of every atomic detail of conditions that promote health for that specific strain of person) and conditions in the community as a whole over all are pretty good, there is less suffering to see in the world. I think the deep souls do important work for our communities, they are willing to see the pain, the horror, the loss, the crimes and sufferings and torments of our ancestors, of the most meager in our communities. But so too the bright souls keep the light of joy alive even in a world where there is too much darkness. And some people do both.

We can use their knowledge, as the bird in a toxic mine- to cultivate awareness of where conditions are not so good. Granted they often need a lot more care and financial support than the average person and may struggle in the traditional workforce. I am all in favor of providing people supports of their choosing, herbal or chemical, or none, therapy and housing and care. But also understanding that these are just humans, they (we) aren't a different species and their brains are not necessarily factually incorrect (unless they are experiencing distortions of reality which is also a real health problem).

I have found that fascinatingly much of what I felt was unjust "in the world" or life- correlated quite well to things that were happening in my life and in my biological family and distant ancestors. To me, that sense of injustice tells me what I what must do.

When I think the world is sad I think "which specific things" and look into what I can do to improve those things- such that even if it doesn't fix all of the effects of what I've been through, it may pave the way for people who are born into a better world.

It's amazing the similarities when people create fantasy utopias, despite the differences of how it's maintained there typically is no disease, no early death, harmony with nature, a sense of purpose and a clear path and skill set for each being. Often, just as our behaviors and beliefs help us survive in an individual life, over generations people develop instinctual responses and thought patterns that have matched their specific circumstances. Sometimes, the circumstances were bad, and building trust in the stability of new better circumstances can take time, even over generations.

I am quite hopeful for human beings and earth despite that being in my body and psyche can be extremely painful at times. I am thankful for the awareness I've gained when I've been willing to dive into the depths of my own suffering to understand it, ask questions, bring comfort, healing, and find out what can be fixed and repaired, including seeing where I am correct that the problem is in fact specific wrongs in the world, not my perception of it (as well as where my perception may be off). I am also thankful for those escape mechanisms and coping mechanisms that have given me relief along the way and respect others use of what works for them and decisions about how much they can deal with at any given time and what methods of escape or pain management they need.

I am so thankful for the gifts Robin Williams shared with us. But I do wonder if hollywood was the right place for him (in terms of his wellness and personal growth, not in terms of the quality of his performances). I am saddened to hear of this news.
posted by xarnop at 8:13 PM on August 12 [10 favorites]


I am basically in love with that comment, xarnop. Thank you.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:33 PM on August 12


I used to think I had not experienced suicidal ideation, but then I realized I had, because while I had never seriously thought about doing it, I had frequently thought about it insincerely: that is, thinking about killing myself made me feel better. And then I realized the difference between the two is very, very thin.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:37 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Okay, so I don't feel like anyone here. "Depression" has so many levels that just using the word doesn't really specify well, I don't think. Like, I don't really consider myself depressed, though I'm sure my shrink and any doctor at all would be pushing pills on me within 2 seconds of my talking. But I don't feel like you do. There is no Happy Shiny Jennifer and The Depression as a separate entity. They are not even two threads winding around each other. There is one thread and one me and that is not separate from me. It is me, I am it.

I can be fine. Mostly I feel rather "meh." More meh than usual has come upon me over the last almost two decades due to long term shitty life circumstances I had no choice but to endure, and my feelings died off so that I could survive that endurance. so I care less about things than I used to. Sometimes that's good (no longer giving a crap about things that petty!) and sometimes that's bad (i.e. I have little to no motivation for much of anything). I am generally neutral/meh. I don't get Excited about things until they are actually in motion/happening--I don't anticipate. I don't have future dreams or daydreams any more because all I can see is what's in front of me and that hasn't really changed much and if it does, it probably will for the worse, such as losing a job. I don't think anything's going to be different--I see more "meh" or worse to come, but I've prayed for divine intervention in a good way and that hasn't come across, so it probably won't. I've never been able to figure out What I Want To Do, it's always been a fucking haze. It bothers me deeply, but that's never gotten clearer. I don't think I ever will get clear and figure out What I Want at this point. So I distract myself with fifty billion hobbies and classes and books to drown out the whine and the angry voices (see below).

I feel fine most of the time when i am alone or with nice people. Really. But when I am at work or with family or some other situation where I'm getting told how much of a fuckup I am again, there's all those nasty voices you guys talk about. I somehow don't think I would have had that voice had others not been telling me every single fault I ever had since the age of five. I wish people would lay off so they don't set off the chorus, but they won't. Again, this is why I have hobbies and distractions: to shut that off.

Everyone says I must have drugs, drugs are the only answer, ever ever ever. Nothing works except for playing drug roulette, which may or may not even work! Meanwhile I hear so many horrible stories about the drugs that sound a billion times WORSE than how I am feeling, and I cannot imagine how going through all of that shit is going to improve things. If I was fucked up on meds for six weeks with headaches and feeling bad and brain zaps, I'd get my ass fired long before they "kicked in." I don't think so. I'm not going to make things worse in hopes of "better." I can deal with things as they are. It's not great, it probably never will be great--but who do you know who has great going on, anyway? I don't think I can come up with much of a list.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:55 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I'm a long time lurker, just registered so I could post in this thread. Thank you to everyone who's posted about their experiences with depression. Reading all the comments here feels therapeutic somehow.

I'm surprised by all the people who have experiences with depression without any suicidal ideations. I've had suicidal thoughts as long as I can remember. Even during periods when I'm doing relatively well or wouldn't call myself depressed they're still there every single day. For the longest time they weren't something I paid much attention to. They were there and they were annoying, but I didn't feel any desire to act on them. I didn't know how to get rid of the thoughts, but I was in control of my actions and never felt like I was any danger to myself. Then at some point it progressed so that I actually did want to act on them, but I still had a strong philosophicle or moral objection to suicide, or at least had some rational understanding that it wasn't what I wanted to do, and felt like I had things under control. Recently it's gotten even worse, I have sort of a nihilistic view of the Universe and feel like it doesn't matter at all if I kill myself. I'm now at the point where suicide is almost an obsession, it seems like the only thing I ever think about and I fantasy about how I would do it. I feel like I'm hanging on only because I'm aware of how much it will hurt my parents and siblings and friends. I fighting as hard as I can but I feel like it's only a matter of time. It's getting real hard to think about my future, I just can't see myself still being around 5 or 10 years from now.

The worst part is that there's no reason for it. I'm young and talented and appear to have a bright career in front of me(assuming the depression doesn't eventually cripple me, but so far I seem to function well no matter how miserable I feel). I have a supportive family and great friends. I have hobbies and passion. There's no reason for me to be so miserable, but knowing that just makes it worse. I feel like such a waste
posted by zodballs at 1:19 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


zodballs- welcome to metafilter! And also, ow, it sounds like you're in a lot of pain and that sucks. I am in no way qualified to address that except to acknowledge it. I'd say it sounds like you're extremely depressed but after reading this thread I"m pretty sure I have no idea what depression even 'is'.

That is, the way that people describe their experience of depression it doesn't sound like a single thing at all, it makes me wonder how expressive the word even is, if it feels so different to different people, is it even the same thing? I realize that I have no idea.

The part I do know anything about is suicidal ideation, and I don't know what the fuck that is either. It does seem to be memetic and contagious, and I've had it in all kinds of situations, like you say- sometimes when I'm what I'd call depressed, sometimes not, it comes and goes. And it does get worse, in a way, as I get older.

But so I"m just saying it seems seperate from depression, it's this idea that I'll have… and in my case it's almost always just "I wish I was dead," not that any particular course of action suggests itself. But even so sometimes it sticks around, and seems to reinforce itself with repetition… so I'll be like, hmm, should I go get some lunch, or maybe just KILL MYSELF..

Which sounds frivolous as hell, and it is, but when it starts occurring to you every few minutes, as the answer to literally any problem you have, it starts to get more convincing.

As far as I can tell though, I don't really want to kill myself except that sometimes I think I do. But I share your scruples about the people I know.

I mean, I can think nothing's real, or actually existent, including me, all I want. But I also believe there are other people, or at least there seem to be, and I know- or think I know- that they think that they're real and that their thoughts and feelings mean something. And it would hurt them a lot, at least that would be their subjective experience, so that's a good reason not to do it.

I understand that sort of calculus isn't necessarily available to depressed people, but like I say, I'm just talking about the idea, meme, thought-virus, whatever thoughts of suicide might be, and for me, having Reasons not to, helps them to stay thoughts and not actions.

I should probably say 'yet,' there. Don't wanna jinx myself or anything. I feel weird even talking about it. But I was thinking about it already, reading this thread, and your post- pointing out the oddness of depression without suicidal thoughts, made me wonder how common the opposite is, so I felt like I should say something.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:46 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


For me, the only way I can describe major depression is that everyone has a baseline (draw a line on paper). Well some people go below an inch or two and feel it and somehow bounce up to baseline. For major depression, you go to the bottom of the paper and then more paper is added to infinity because there is no limit to how down you are falling. I call it bottoming out.
posted by stormpooper at 7:34 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


But so I"m just saying it seems seperate from depression, it's this idea that I'll have… and in my case it's almost always just "I wish I was dead," not that any particular course of action suggests itself. But even so sometimes it sticks around, and seems to reinforce itself with repetition… so I'll be like, hmm, should I go get some lunch, or maybe just KILL MYSELF..

Which sounds frivolous as hell, and it is, but when it starts occurring to you every few minutes, as the answer to literally any problem you have, it starts to get more convincing.


Yes. YES. All the yes. I seem to be past--at least for now--actively wanting to commit suicide. And it's not that I ever wanted to die, per se, I just didn't want to live anymore.

Here are some crisis/suicide prevention resources for those in need, or who know people who are in need:

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention - province by province listings.

International Association for Suicide Prevention - mainly web resources on coping and where to find help

Centre for Suicide Prevention - based in Alberta. Toolkits for coping with suicidal feelings, including specialized information regarding children, Aboriginal/First Nations groups, QUILTBAG populations.

Samaritans - UK and Ireland-based nonreligious and totally confidential counselling organization providing both telephone and in-person support. Linked page allows you to find the nearest branch.

Befrienders Worldwide - Global counselling and suicide prevention. The search box in the top right of the page allows you to find crisis lines by country. Site available in multiple languages.

USA national hotlines. All are toll-free:

1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
Deaf Hotline: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) (for Veterans, press 1. For Spanish-language support, press 2).

LGBT Youth Suicide Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR

Boystown Hotline: 1-800-448-3000

Covenant House Nineline: 1-800-999-9999

List of hotlines in the USA by state - List of worldwide hotlines (from the same site)

LifeLine Australia - provides counselling and support. Local calling in most of Australia. Also offers online support chats.

List of hotlines focusing on Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, Europe - also includes a large number of support lines for specific problems other than suicide; addiction, child abuse, domestic violence etc.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of all of these lists, and there is obviously going to be some overlap between some of them. But if you are in crisis, or approaching crisis, or just thinking about suicide, please use whatever links above are relevant to you. Reach out and talk to someone close. Check yourself into the nearest ER. Call 911 or your local free emergency services number.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:42 AM on August 13 [4 favorites]


Thank you all for what you've shared. It takes courage. And it helps me in my own depression to know I'm not alone.

I still want to give a shout out to everybody who almost said something but didn't. Maybe you couldn't even start because it felt like too much work. Or maybe you have a little voice that tells you "what you feel isn't as important as these people's feelings", or "nobody will respond anyway so what's the point". Or maybe you typed up a reply and then ran out of stem and couldn't finish, or you did finish but then it all felt like shit and you were never going to make the words come out right so you just deleted it. Or any of a thousand other reason I can imagine or a million that I can't. Maybe you threw away your answer because partway through you started feeling like a whiny poser who just wants attention, ike I just did.

I don't have anything clever or magical to say to you. Just that old "Hang in there" message you may be totally sick of hearing by now. I just don't know what else to say. I'm having to resist the temptation to go back and obsessively edit and polish this, because that's easier than hitting the post button.I'm not OK right now but at least I know I won't kill myself. I'm all tangled up inside and I have a lot of different parts of myself yelling and whispering and muttering at me and at each other. But screw it, I know this sucks and I'm going to post it anyway, even if it makes me cringe inside. Even though I'm going to feel it's worse about if for having gone all self-conscious and self-referential and all that. If I can make myself post something in the middle of a dark spiral, then that's something, even if it's not clever and all that other stuff I feel like I'm supposed to be in order to post here. At least I know my really bad moments don't last all that long, soon enough I'll get back to the usual gray meh, and somewhere along the line there'll be another one of those fleeting moments of goodness or beauty that come along every so often.

But anyway, this is for the people who didn't post. I hope someday you do. Even if you can't that doesn't make you a failure. Just keep doing whatever you can with whatever you have.

And if I go any further I'm not going to be able to make myself hit Post, so here you go.
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 8:30 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]


Here's one thing I can say about my experience: I had major depression. I could barely speak or get out of bed. This is no longer my life. I am still depressed. That hasn't gone away, the part of me telling myself how useless and hideous I am is still a daily obstacle, however, I'm better today than I have been in a good 25 years. I'm able to get to work almost every single day. I'm able to meet new people and answer the phone when it rings (sometimes) and take walks with my dog. For me, it's been 10 years of therapy, at first it was 3 days a week. Now it's once every 2 weeks. It's also been meds. I know that I will likely always be on them. I tried being off meds and the self-hate came roaring back so violently it was terrifying. I still cope with self-hate, but I can somehow live through it without wanting to die.

I had a wall. It was the wall I was going to crash into. I knew what was behind the wall, so no one else would get hurt. I don't think about the wall much anymore, and that's so lovely. I know many of us are hanging on by a thread, and I just want to say, hang on tight, because a day could come that you don't think about your wall, and it really is lovely.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:52 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Sleeping on a bare mattress for three months because not enough energy to properly make the bed.
No energy to do anything except what is absolutely required to maintain the roof over the bare mattress, sheets balled up in a corner.
Dishes stinking in the sink except the one or two you need to cook, when you eat.
Your friends encouraging you until you either ignore them or just alienate them. Go away!
Shower only when my own stink is overcoming.
The fucking long daylight when it's not winter.
Confined in a sewer pipe with no room to move my arms. No escape. Why even bother.
Politely ask the smokers outside your window to keep it down. Put up with their taunting.

Fighting, getting into stupid fights. Hurting people. Drinking. Drinking a lot. The cheapest and fastest.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck existing in a stinking muddy trench with no exit.

Hey dudes who want a fight, don't ever fuck with a wounded combat vet. We're all crazy.
posted by Pudhoho at 6:37 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Survivor guild is difficult to overcome. Shit just happens to the man standing next to you. It isn't luck or not luck.
I'm still here and they're not doesn't have anything to do with me. Understanding that fair doesn't exist helps a lot.
It took a long time and a lot of talking with men and women pretty much like me to fully comprehend and accept that we do not live in the just world that society attempts to inculcate.
Depression is insidious because depression insists you orient yourself towards minimizing yourself. Not toward life or death. Eventually there's just nothing. And then you just let go of that last tether. Bip.
I climbed out of the trench because I was tired of nothing, I was angry and I wanted to figure out why.
I don't want to sound patronizing toward anyone else. Anyone who thinks dying is the only way out, think again please. Living is a tough row but if you kill yourself you deny yourself the opportunity to find out otherwise. Dunno what else to say.
posted by Pudhoho at 7:34 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Sleeping on a bare mattress for three months because not enough energy to properly make the bed.
No energy to do anything except what is absolutely required to maintain the roof over the bare mattress, sheets balled up in a corner.
Your friends encouraging you until you either ignore them or just alienate them. Go away!


These are the sort of things that are the worst for me when it's bad. I can know, intellectually, all kinds of things I can do to cope or even feel better, but that's worth jack squat when the energy - physical, mental, emotional - to actually do any of them Just. Isn't. There. (Comorbidity with psoriatic arthritis doesn't help.)

Knowing you have friends who care about you can sometimes hurt even worse, because you know you don't have what it takes to be there for them, or to even communicate with them enough to keep them in your life.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:08 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


If these people could handle their drugs better, they wouldn't be killing themselves. Both Robin
and P.S. Hoffman killed themselves shortly after leaving rehab. The Rolling Stones did drugs for years, but, except for Brian, they survived. Burroughs was a junky most of his life, but he lived into his seventies. It's just bad management. A good worker doesn't blame his tools.
posted by eggtooth at 10:52 AM on August 17


Dude, for most people with depression, drug use is self medication.

Kindly refrain from commenting on subjects where you have neither knowledge nor empathy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:20 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]


If these people could handle their drugs better, they wouldn't be killing themselves. Both Robin and P.S. Hoffman killed themselves shortly after leaving rehab.

I'm having a difficult time responding to your post with kindness.

Have you, in your life, produced a body of work on par with Philip Seymour Hoffman or Robin Williams?
Have you brought the joy to millions of others that these men did?
Both men dedicated their incredible talents to entertaining anyone who wished to listen.
They constructed arenas of pure joy for their audiences - each person, drawn in, was provided respite from whatever shittiness existed in their lives.

The light of the world is dimmer because of their absence.

Your contribution to this discussion is a wisp of poisonous smoke, an incompetent attempt to dim that light further.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:40 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


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