What My Depression Feels Like
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at age 11, the most common impact for me being infrequent spells of depression.
FYI, about 7% of the US (that’s 17 million + people) deals with frequent depression and just under 3% have been diagnosed with a form of Bipolar. So this is pretty common among my compatriots.
In my teens and early 20’s I experienced debilitating, life altering encounters with depression. I have been on and off medication most of my life. As I have matured, increased my self awareness, and likely as my hormones balanced, I have been able to self-manage the cycle of depression.
I know the warning signs.
It feels like my heart and head are being driven apart and disconnected by a plume of dark clouds, my headspace becomes murky and I begin to lose my ability to choose how my emotions impact my body.
I have a list of reminders to myself.
The list is advice from my past self to my future/current self. It provides comfort and steps I can take to climb back to balance. And for many years now that list of reminders has worked. I’ve had small phases of mild depression, a few dips that lasted days — rarely do they stretch into weeks.
Over the summer of 2019 I dealt with the worst bout of depression I’ve had in a decade. I tried using my list of reminders for moving through it quickly. One of my top recommendations to myself is to talk about it, share about my headspace with others, to allow those who love to me lift me up and pull me out.
Thing is, that’s really hard to do when it comes on quick and I find myself deep in it.
When I’m in the midst of deep depression I feel like I’m in the Sunken Place.
When I’m in the Sunken Place (from Jordan Peele’s movie Get Out) I feel like my true, logical, grounded self is still in here, but I have zero control over my body or emotions. It’s like my true Self is locked away in a dark pit, watching my body and life on a movie screen but unable to impact the plot. It feels like a duality inside my own self - scary, hopeless, overwhelming and lonely. When it gets really bad I don’t even want to go out, even interacting with the kid at the drive thru restaurant feels like too much. I just want to be alone, and distracted from my self (binge watch things, play games on my phone etc).
Enter the dichotomy of knowing what I need, but having no energy to reach out from the Sunken Place.
This is exacerbated when our President is talking about policies that would allow the involuntary commitment of people with known mental health issues ‘for the safety of the country’. I’m not looking to start a political debate with this, I’m simply being vulnerable in sharing with you that these statements incite not just fear, but actual terror in me.
Our current political climate has me terrified to share openly about my mental wellbeing, afraid to search online for a good psychiatrist, terrified that leaving physical evidence of my known mental health could lead to me being targeted.
This fear is the complete opposite of what I need to be able to come out of this depression.
It took me two months of deep depression to find enough balance and energy to articulate for my Partner what was happening. Then another several months to write this article in August of 2019. I didn’t have the courage to edit and publish it until January of 2020. This process alone has taken an enormous amount of my energy.
Some other tips my past self left to myself future self: eat nutritious foods and move my body.
When I go to the Sunken Place and feel I can’t control my body, I often resort to old habits and methods of feeling in control. One of which is to control my food and results in a combo of not eating for days, then binging on junk food. It’s a vicious cycle that would make anyone’s headspace murky. My true Self sees how completely self-destructive this is….yet, I can’t quite make myself go to the store for vegetables and fruit and often end up not eating anything for the second day in a row. In this space I’m proud of myself for just ordering delivery, or even microwaving something, much less preparing a nutritious meal or *gasp* leaving the house or exercising.
Grasping for control is a warning sign for me, a trigger that Depression is looming.
A way that I find myself seeking control is to get overly involved in the life and choices of those close to me. My Partner was such a champ over the summer as I judged and tried to control every decision they made about their life, business, diet, sleep, breathing — sigh. I know I’m doing it, but I’m not the one controlling this body I walk around in, Depression is in control. Deep inside, I see it and feel horrible! And helpless.
All of these ‘poor choices’ lead to self-loathing which, again, perpetuates the situation.
In my case, I take comfort from knowing that this is likely driven by a chemical imbalance. For years I’ve been able to self-manage without pharmaceuticals. I think this current episode was brought on by new shifts in hormones as I age. Either way, after many months of being so low, I acknowledged that I couldn’t crawl out on my own.
I opted to go back on meds. This opened a whole new Pandora’s box.
The medical system in the US is not set up in support of mental health. For starters, the procedures my primary care doc had to go through when I asked for a referral to a Psychiatrist were horrible and degrading. In the end, the doc gave me a low grade Rx but failed to explain the potential side effects or to verify that it didn’t interact with any of my herbal supplements — which it did.
Well, you may think, follow up on the referral to a psychiatrist, they’ll be equipped to support you better. Nope. Psychiatrists only issue meds, they spend very little time with the patient (me) getting to know me, my situation, discerning physical symptoms from emotional, environmental or circumstantial. They prescribe and that’s it. For the rest of that I have to go to a Counselor or Psychologist and they do ‘talk therapy’.
Now, if the Psychologist and Psychiatrist would work together to dial in the right meds combo, that could work. But sadly, it doesn’t work that way.
So to follow up on my referral I must pick a random name from the list of Psychiatrists approved under my insurance and hope I find a compassionate one. Then, during my visit I need to have the energy and wherewithal to advocate for myself, ensure I understand side effects, interactions, costs etc. and monitor my own progress to inform the psychiatrist in follow up visits so they can adjust the dosage etc. This all sounds exhausting when I’m healthy and balanced. In the state I’m in this sounds daunting, impossible and pointless.
The system is broken.
My belief is that we are all perfect, whole and complete. That Bipolar and Depression are part of me and I love all of me. I try to practice grace, love and compassion for myself when depression takes over. That all sounds great and true, but in practice, when I’m living in it — it feels impossible.
Everything feels impossible when I’ve been sucked into Sunken Place.
So, here I am.
When I originally wrote this article in August of 2019, I was having a good day. The Sunken Place was there, threatening to suck me back in, but I felt fairly good, in control, able to communicate. I’d had maybe a dozen of these days over the past few months. I used them to fill my house with healthy food, sign up for exercise classes and recruit friends to go with me so I was more likely to actually show up, and to apologize to my Partner and loved ones.
As I edit this article in January 2020 I’ve transitioned back off the meds. And, I know that I’m still not out of the woods. The Sunken Place still taunts me regularly. I frequently have to question my own sanity and moderate my habits.
Every time I find myself wanting a nap I have to ask, is this a healthy choice, or Depression luring me back to the Sunken Place?
My Partner often says ‘I love and choose all of you, that includes depression, goofiness, PMS, how weird you can be, all of you’. Having them love on me through this has helped — I feel that, even from the Sunken Place. In fact, it feels like when that unconditional love comes at me, I move a little closer to being my Self again.
What’s my point with all of this? Depression sucks.
Literally, it sucks the life out of you.
And we don’t talk about it enough. There’s so little support or tools taught for how to deal with it.
Sharing what I’m going through is often the first, and most impactful thing I can do to help pull myself out of this.
I’m also sharing in hopes that others will see themselves reflected in this and know they’re not alone. People often call me a badass. I’m up to big things in life, I take risks and live out loud. And I also deal with intense spells of depression. Can I be both?
So can you.
PS: Here is my list of reminders to myself, just in case it can inspire you to create your own list.