My relationship with depression is a complicated one. I have, clinically speaking, been grappling with it since I was a teenager; I was diagnosed for the first time at 15, and then again in my early twenties, and then again by my current therapist a little less than a year ago. The question of how long I’ve known I suffered from depression, however, is where things get a little hairy — I thought it was laughable at 15, and considered it a misdiagnosis at 20. It’s only in the last year that I’ve really looked the thing in the face, accepted it as part of my life, and started to consciously do the work involved in keeping it under control.
A few months back, I wrote an article about the 9 things I wish people understood about anxiety. I was comfortable writing that piece, because after a lifetime with generalized anxiety disorder and five years actively wrestling with how best to manage it, I feel like I really understand anxiety: its ins and outs, its ups and downs, the shape and size of the thing. I like to think that some day, I will be able to write that sort of article about depression. I like to think that some day, I will know this piece of myself that well.
Today, however, is not that day. Depression and I are in a much more tenuous place with one another. I am still learning its landscape, and it is still surprising me, tripping me up, and shaking the foundations of things that I once thought I knew. I can’t tell you what I wish people understood about depression because I myself don’t fully understand it yet, and I can’t imagine delineating a list that I myself am still struggling to learn. So, instead, here are nine secrets I’ve uncovered about depression in experiencing it, which no one told me about, and which I never could have anticipated going in. They may not be secrets to everyone, and I hope they don’t stay secrets to anyone for long, because knowing each one of them has helped me through this process.
1) Depression is a liar
If I had the power to put anything on television, it wouldn’t be a channel that showed nothing but Boy Meets World reruns. It wouldn’t be a ticker that ran along the bottom of the screen during sporting events with the text of the Harry Potter novels in it, so that those of us who hate football would have something to do in sports bars. No, it would be a 15-second spot, airing during every single commercial break on every single channel, that said: “If you have depression, it is lying to you.” Because it is. Every moment of every day, in your waking and sleeping hours, depression is telling you lies.
Here is a small sampling of the lies depression has told me over the years: you’re lazy. You’re worthless. You’re never going to amount to anything. If you ever do amount to anything, it will be a complete fluke, and not the result of any work, skill, or talent on your part. Your family hates you. Your friends hate you. Your family and friends don’t hate you, but they would, if they knew what you were really like. You’re rotten. You’re stupid. The very core of who you are is garbage. The people in your life would be better off without you. The world at large would be better off without you. Nothing you do matters. Nothing you say matters. Nothing at all matters, except how terrible you are, which matters more than anything else could ever matter. You suck. You suck. You suck.
Today — to be strictly accurate, at the moment of writing this article — I know that these are lies. I know that they’re lies because I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy learning that they are lies, and that depression is a liar, and that the things your brain spits at you when it’s in a depressive period are lies the vast majority of the time. But when I’m depressed, I really, really believe these things are true. In fact, if during a future depression I were to come back to this article and stare at it, I can promise you I would think, “What was I talking about? Those aren’t lies — in fact, that’s the truth. The idea that those things might not be true — that’s the lie.”