On Depression

I’m writing this from bed, which only seems fitting considering I’ve spent the majority of my free time between these sheets since November, or maybe even as early as October if I’m being really honest. (I’ve washed them a few times). I should be asleep, not because it’s that late, but because it’s what I’ve done the past handful of months to avoid my keyboard and my feelings, which most of the time are one in the same.

“I enjoy being alone.” That’s a phrase I’ve used so many times that I’ve become desensitized to the meaning of each of those words individually and when smushed together. The fact is, I can’t tell you the last time I enjoyed anything. And as for the being alone part, it’s something that I firmly believe in principle is important to me, but it’s become a defense mechanism from a single girl who hasn’t been given much of a choice but to utter that phrase because, enjoy it or not, it’s happened.

My 29th birthday was last month. I spent the week dreading that it was approaching, which is different from my usual month-long declaration of, “it’s my birthday month!” and “let’s do birthday shots!” that start the week after Christmas and last until Valentine’s Day. It was my golden birthday, a Wednesday, and I told my mother if she sent anything to my office that I would never speak to her again. I warned a coworker, the only who knew it was my birthday, that if she put any confetti in my office that I would never forgive her. Extreme? Perhaps, but the thought of being subjected to the false joy and celebration from strangers felt like a punishment.

I often take kindness as a pity party, which is my cross to bear, not the people who make an effort. There’s a part, albeit small, of my brain that is complicated, petulant, and on a loop repeating, “You don’t deserve nice things, you don’t deserve nice things, none of this kindness is real,” and while most days I can tell it that it’s full of shit, on important days it’s the only thing I hear. It’s a ghost that chimes in different voices. Sometimes it sounds like the children who bullied me in elementary school. Others it sounds the guy in college who broke up with me because he didn’t like my new haircut. Most of the time, it’s my own voice.

I tried to buy my way out of sadness. Someone once told me that no one will ever treat you as well as you treat yourself, which is true, but it has limits. Since I spend 12 hours a day in an environment with people who are wealthy and flashy, I got the Michael Kors handbag and Marc Jacobs watch I’ve been coveting. The watch was delivered on my birthday; Amazon sent me a text to let me know it was waiting at the front door. When I got home there was a remnant of an Amazon Prime shipping box and a note from my neighbor that read, “I think someone stole your package. I hope it wasn’t important. -2B.”

I stopped drinking on Christmas. I took my last sips of bourbon sitting in a hotel room with my family. We were supposed to be at my parent’s house, but the power went out and the best we could do was to pack the holiday feast into paper boxes and transport them to a Residence Inn where I’d be shacking up with a six-month-old, who was teething yet still happier than I was. That night I decided I’d see how long I could go without alcohol, and I’ve had only two drinks since. I also changed my eating habits. I cut out carbs, sugars, processed foods, chocolate, and I’ve spent months not dieting as much as seeing how far I can push myself before I start to feel something, start to miss something. I keep getting complimented for my willpower, but that’s not really it—it’s been easy because my mind has been too preoccupied to think beyond the banana and oatmeal that I keep in my desk to eat every morning.

I am working too much. Everyone mistakes that as dedication and commitment, but it’s really the one thing I do to prevent myself from sleeping 14 hours a day. Without the office, the travel, and the freelancing, I’d simply sit here and think, and who has time to think when there’s a million favors and extra projects that people will pay you for, just to keep your hands busy on something else?

I’ve contemplated changing my phone number several times recently not because it’s ringing too much, but because it never rings and I could accept that easier if I felt that people just didn’t know how to reach me. My text messages have dropped to around 200 per month, my g-chat lifeline diminished to just a handful, and the call I got tonight was the first in over 20 days that has been received (or sent, for that matter) that wasn’t from a telemarketer or a university asking for a donation.

There was a promise I made to myself when the offseason started: Do not park yourself in front of the television. I had two shows I wanted to catch up on, but I promised myself I’d read more and write more, and so I did. My bedside tables have nice lamps now, and they are festooned with magazines, novels, textbooks, and moleskines. Of all of the things I’ve done since October, this is the only one I’d mention proudly if asked. The rest of it, I’ve been busy lying about.

It’s important to put on airs not only when it comes to success, but also about self-possession. No one likes a train wreck, and, for if you’re the wreck yourself, the last thing you want is a pity party on days that are not your birthday. I live hours from my family, and since my closest of friends have moved on to their spouses and rites of passages, the only things they know are the things that I tell them. I’ve become the master of crafting press releases for talking about my day, and if anyone notices even a tinge of sadness in my voice, I just say “I’m tired and wish you were here.”

I remember the first time I told my mother I thought I was suffering from depression. Despite the fact that my unhappiness and reckless behavior were giant elephants in the family’s living room for years at that point, I’ll never forget the look of sheer terror and pity in her eyes. In that instant I resolved to never let that happen again, that I would shield people from truly grasping my daily struggles. But at some point, you reach a peak in personal development in which you realize there is no shame in this and that you can no longer sit in solitude with your suffering. What is life, if not an occasion to party pitifully with others?

So, I will tell you now, I am depressed. I am a depressed person. I’m fortunate that depression is the worst of it, but that doesn’t make it easier. I’m not too busy to come to dinner, I’m too withdrawn to put forth the energy for it. Depression has turned me into a bad friend, the type who gets angry that you don’t notice that I’m not around, yet refuses to come around if you do. Depression has forced me to fall asleep at 6pm to avoid the awkwardness of another free night, and if it’s the weekend, it has forced me to walk and feed the dog, only to take another sleeping pill just so I can spend a few more hours in hiding. Depression has forced me to sit at traffic lights with tears streaming down my faces as strangers walk inches from the driver’s side, and it’s forced me to excuse myself from my favorite coffee shop after spontaneously combusting in tears. It has caused me to cancel plans, block phone numbers, shout expletives, and it’s taken away my kindness, patience, and spunk and replaced it with impatience and hopelessness.

My fingers are crossed that this is just the harshest case of seasonal-affective disorder I’ve had since I willingly became a transplanted Southern in the frozen tundra of Chicago. Most days I think I would just feel better if I could get an hour-long walk with my dog in temperatures above freezing, but we haven’t seen those days in awhile. In the meantime, I’m learning my triggers and trying to tread water instead of losing my best friends, my family, and my self-worth to depression’s main goal of self-sabotage.

Most days aren’t easy, but most days aren’t easy for anyone. While I’ll ask for your patience, your forgiveness, and your compassion, the biggest thing to ask of anyone is simple: If you see something, say something. I realized that today as I sat in my warm car, flustered after a meeting, and saw a homeless man, roughly my age, standing on an off ramp on Lakeshore Drive. His sign said, “Homeless, Hungry, Freezing,” and while I couldn’t stop to learn his situation, I could extend my arm out of the car window and pass him $20 as I made the turn back to the office.

We never know someone’s struggling until they tell us, though. So here goes: Depressed, Tired, but hopeful that it’s going to get better.