I’ve always been a Negative Nelly, but my hopeless feelings about life have really gotten out of hand over the past few years, especially since giving birth a year ago to my daughter. It turns out that I have Postpartum Depression! Hooray for me (sarcasm is an important part of my life as a Negative Nelly)!
This isn’t a popular topic to discuss, really, because nobody wants to be the big ole whiner of the group. But I’m afraid in our understanding as a society that whiners are annoying people who are frustrating to be around, we are missing some important opportunities to learn how to understand a group of people who have a legitimate chemical issue that is overwhelmingly difficult to overcome. And some of those people, in their attempt to not be the whiner of the group, suffer totally in silence when they really need help.
Depression and Anxiety are different for every person, so I don’t think that what I’m going to talk about here necessarily applies to every sufferer. I do think that sharing my experiences about what it feels like, what helps and what hurts it, and how I have learned to cope and even overcome it may provide someone a new view into life with depression or possibly provide hope for someone else who is struggling, so I’ve decided to write a 3-part blog mini series about my PPD. Here’s part 1: What It Feels Like.
What It Feels Like
It is difficult to contextualize what depression feels like. I’ve heard lots of people talk about how it’s not just feeling especially sad (like The Office, lol, hope you’ve seen that one, “Dwight, you ignorant slut”) but that it’s more than that. Sure, it feels sad sometimes. Gloomy. In the dumps. But it’s just more involved than that. It feels heavy, like everything normal is just harder to do. Everything feels overwhelming. I’ll look at my dishes in the sink and have a panic attack (anxiety) and feel utterly hopeless (depression) because doing those dishes just feels impossible. I often know that I’m being irrational, and I even think that in the moment (Mel, you’re being irrational, dishes are not that difficult and they only take a few minutes to finish), but I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being overwhelmed. It feels like I’m doing normal things, but I have to do those things while wearing a house on my head. It’s just heavy. This is really the best way I can describe it.
I’m also naturally a pessimist (which is not the same thing as being depressed, by the way), so I will face normal, everyday tasks with a feeling of pointlessness. What’s the point of doing this, it’s just going to result in [insert difficult-to-deal-with thing here]? And there’s a sense of anger involved, like why can’t I just be happy? I wish I was just happier and more laid back and just could deal with things better. Often, when dealing with my depression symptoms, I will still see everything wonderful in my life. I’ll notice my beautiful children and how wonderful they are, how smart, how magical it is that they are learning so much everyday, how silly they are, how joyful they are. And I’ll notice that I have a beautiful home, a great support system, wonderful friends and family, and an amazing God. I’ll see His blessings, and I’ll know it is there. But the stupid thing about depression is that I can see all of those things, but I can’t seem to be glad about them. I know they are good things, but I just don’t have any feelings toward them. There is an emptiness involved. This is a frustrating place to be, because often advice toward people with depression is “just focus on the positive things in your life, and it’ll make you feel better.” Well, that sometimes just doesn’t work. I can see and focus on all the positive things in my life like crazy, but it doesn’t change my resting hopelessness.
Sometimes, I’ll be doing some regular old task, and I’ll think for a fleeting moment about something. Sometimes it is random, and other times it is triggered by something I see (like in my Facebook newsfeed, for example, this seems to happen a lot). For example, I’ll suddenly remember a situation in which I said something or did something stupid or hurtful to someone. This is a normal thing for me, because I am the queen of putting my foot in my mouth on accident and then stressing out about it for weeks later. My heart will start to race. I’ll keep looking through Facebook and I’ll start thinking about something else. 10 minutes will pass, but I’m still feeling very upset and my heart is still racing, and I can’t remember why I’m upset. This is extremely common for me. And a lot of times, I won’t even be able to register what it was that triggered the anxiety, which results in hopeless frustration and the cycle restarts.
The most frustrating thing about anxiety and depression for me is undoubtedly how stupid and irrational it is. I am a very logical person. I believe in truth and reason. They matter to me and guide me. I think God made us with the ability to reason because logic is a helpful tool in difficult situations. So when logic, truth, and reason don’t change how I feel about things, I get kind of mad. I don’t want to feel this way. I’m sick and tired of feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. I’m annoyed at myself that I just can’t seem to beat it. I’m irritated at society which teaches that positive thinking just changes everything. And so I start to get mad. The anger is really the way that my depression starts to show to the rest of the world. I snap at people and get short tempered. I’m angry with myself for my dumb depression. I’m much less forgiving and kind and patient when I let my depression win. Or, what is even more common – I’ll crawl into a deep hole and not let any part of myself show. This was my standard coping mechanism for about 10 years (during which I never realized that I might have had depression). Being so afraid of being rejected for my irrational feelings of depression, and being so afraid of being unworthy of people’s love and attention, I sank back into a shell of myself with no defining features worth anyone’s time. When I look back, it is a miracle that anyone cared for me, and I praise God for those unconditional friends and teachers every day.
So to sum up, depression and anxiety feel heavy. They make regular things feel harder or even impossible. I often can’t remember why I’m feeling anxious, but my body still has symptoms. I get frustrated that my feelings are illogical. I get angry at myself, which displaces into anger at others. I crawl into my personal hole and reduce contact with people whenever possible.
After reading all of this, you are probably thinking “Boy, that’s frustrating” or possibly “Geez, you’re a hopeless whiner.” And that’s what I’m thinking, too! So you are not alone! But I want you to know something important about my depression:
It is not winning.
Hope wins, you guys.
I want you to know my philosophy on life as I finish this post. There is so much hope. I believe in God. I believe He is a powerful God who loves me endlessly, remarkably, sacrificially, amazingly. I believe that I do not deserve this love. Inherently, I am worth crap because I am full of sin. I mess up all the time infinity amounts and to epic proportions, and because of those mess ups, I am not worthy to be in God’s presence. God wants me in His presence anyway. He loves me anyway. And that truth is enough to live off. I have depression and a little bit of anxiety. But I am loved, loved, loved, loved, loved beyond a shadow of a doubt, beyond any understanding that I can have, beyond any reason or logic. I know that this is true, and that truth keeps me going through the day, through the symptoms of depression, through the spells of anxiety, through the feelings of hopelessness. That basic, utter truth is enough for me to find all the hope and peace and joy in the world. But it is a matter of choosing that truth even when it doesn’t change my feelings about things – that’s the battle of my depression.
So now that you have a basic understanding of what my depression and anxiety feel like, be on the lookout for my follow-up post about how I’ve been treating it.
Side Note: I’m not a big medicine taker, so I was very reluctant to start any medication to treat my depression, especially since I was breastfeeding at the time when we realized that I have it. So I sought after natural methods. Natural methods do not work for everyone. Some people really, really need the medicine. I will tell you that a deciding factor for me that I didn’t need medication was that I definitely have clinically diagnosed postpartum depression, but I’ve never once seriously considered ending my life. I feel like my life is pointless a lot of the time, but I know that there are too many people who love me desperately and depend on me daily. My life is too important, even when it feels hopeless. If you have thoughts of suicide, please understand that your life is too important. Don’t give it up. Don’t let depression win. It is stupid and dumb, and you are not. If you need medication, please take it (in the appropriate amounts and at the appropriate times of day). If not, you probably still need treatment. I sought treatment through Christian counseling and a few personal disciplines, and I’m starting to realize that there are connections in my depression to what I eat and do each day (diet and exercise greatly make a difference). I’m realizing that our bodies are more connected to our minds than we realize.