You are not depression

Depression: I am in a black pit. I don’t care about...anything. People ask, "What’s your opinion on this?"  I mumble words, but am really thinking, "I don’t care." They ask, "Isn’t that interesting?" I mumble words but the truth is, no, nothing is interesting.  People ask, "Do you want to go do this thing with us?" I say yes, but dread it--I don’t want to do anything that requires being conscious, anything that requires me to put on my mask and dance at the masquerade the rest of you call real life. My thoughts circle on themselves like a ravenous beast, traversing the same paths over and over, but there is never satiation. I try to distract myself so I don’t have to think about the well-worn paths that have eroded craters into my mind. Basic tasks feel like I am slogging through a muddy swamp...the very thought of living bears down on me like a heavy weight. I am numb. But then the next moment, emotion overwhelms me in waves and courses, drowning any rational thought, drowning me. A pressure vice is squeezing me, constantly squeezing. Such strong despair that I cannot breathe. 

This was written in a moment of darkness, in a bout with depression that was all too real. You see, we understand. We really, really do. We have felt it. We know. And by we, we mean both of us. Two sisters, both genetically predisposed to depression. And though it manifests itself in different ways for both of us, we stand united. We stand united in depression, but more importantly, we stand united in purposeful and joyful living. We want you to know that the two can co-exist.

Depression, as many of you reading this know, is not a word to be tossed around lightly. Whether you are suffering from chronic depression, or you are experiencing depression as the symptom of a trial or circumstances you are facing, you know that it is real. It is debilitating. It can swallow you whole in a torrent of darkness and despair. We do understand this.

But we also understand something else. You are more than this illness. You may be depressed, but you are not depression. Not only are you you, but you are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, friends, angels to others, hands that lift--you are individuals with incredible potential and worth. You are not merely an empty house inhabited by depression. You are living, not only for yourself, but also for those around you. Those around you are worth living for. You are worth living for. It is not time to check out. Yes, depression is real, but it is never an excuse for checking out.

What do we mean by checking out? We are not saying that you can't take things down a notch; when depressed, it is nearly impossible to function at one's usual level. You have to pull back and do what you can; learn to not beat yourself over the head for what you are not able to do. We are not saying that you are a bad person if your struggle is apparent to others and if it does in fact impact your life. We are also not saying that you should pretend you are fine; being open with your depression helps others to be aware, and admitting it to yourself is necessary to be able to cope. We are also not saying that you shouldn't ask for or accept help; none of us were meant to bear life's burdens alone. Allow others to help carry your load. And we are definitely not saying that you have to be perfect. But there is a huge difference between everything we have just described, and just checking out--putting a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your life and giving up all responsibility, letting the depression become an excuse and justification for not living.

We have seen people whose entire life becomes consumed by their depression. They give up. They become the illness. Eventually, their depression is not just an illness, but a beloved friend--one that allows them to, on a subconscious level, have a valid and acceptable excuse to check out. They check out of parenting, of being a spouse, of life. They isolate themselves, perhaps even turn to addictive coping and distraction strategies, they close the door on the world and won't open it up, because opening it up might mean change. Or perhaps even worse, they leave the door of unchecked emotion wide open--allowing free reign to the flood of anger and irritation that often accompanies depression. Mere neglect is left in the dust as they tear down spouses, friends, and even their children in an attempt to make sense of the darkness. Recovery, or maybe better said, facing this thing head on, knowing it may never completely go away, means living life, and it is so much easier to play the victim. After all, they have a real reason. Their illness is not fake; it is in fact a true hardship. 

We too have been tempted by and at times even succumbed to this choice. A pity-party is a really nice thing to have. When depression first started rising like a dark wave in our lives, we were sucked under and didn't know how to pull out. But here's the thing: the more we gave in to the darkness, the darker it became. Depression is a creature that feasts on defeat. Giving depression our full and undivided attention--by cutting everything out of our lives--only grew it. 

This route is the one that we are advocating against. It is one that slowly drains our individuality and potential; it takes the light from our eyes. It is a natural result of making our entire world about ourselves. Fulfillment cannot be felt when we have closed the door to life, to caring for ourselves, and to serving others. Sure, it is the easier choice. Depression is so overwhelming that even thinking about the most basic tasks is enough to drown us; so, it's easy to just surrender to it. But if we choose to give in, over and over, who we are is slowly stripped away and we are left a mere shadow of who we used to be, a shadow that darkens everyone in our lives.

Life is hard for everyone. Every single day there are reasons to just sit down. Whereas we might struggle with depression, someone else might struggle with abuse, or physical illness, or grief, or divorce, or poverty, or joblessness, or rejection, or a broken heart, or discrimination, or loneliness, or any of the other endless struggles we as humans experience. None of us are exempt from suffering. And if each one of us were to use our suffering as an excuse to stop striving, to throw in the towel, to check out of our responsibilities to ourselves and others, where would we all be?

Each trial we are given in life presents us with a crucially important decision: How will we respond? We have two options: we can cave in and let the trial engulf us; or, we can buckle down, fight hard, and do our best to keep going. 

Through the years, we have learned that making the choice to fight, to live, to struggle each day to actually stand up and do--is the only way to truly live. It is only through fighting that we grow stronger. Sometimes the fight alone helps appease the pain; at other times, even though you fight it with everything in your arsenal--medication, therapy, exercise, diet, staying busy, distraction, prayer, and whatever else you can possibly think of--the depression is still there, like a millstone dragging on your soul, and it is just a matter of gritting your teeth and enduring until the load becomes lighter. Either way--fight! The very act of choosing to reach outside of your dark hole begins the process of again finding the light, even if you can't see it yet. And each time we choose to reach outside, to live, to not let the depression dictate our character, we come out a little stronger. Sometimes, fighting might merely be putting ourselves into auto-pilot and robotically going through the motions, but at least we are not letting it keep us down. Now, we all know that fighting is hard. It's the hardest thing we'll do, but as a result, it yields the greatest rewards.

Depression does not have to be a curse. If we make this choice to live, to fight, depression can grow our empathy, strengthen our character, and enlarge our souls. It helps us to be to be a light to others who fight the darkness, and to see deeper than most. Those who have known darkness can more fully appreciate light. To us, the light is so much more beautiful and miraculous; to us, each moment of happiness is a special gift. As we dig in and grow through depression, those roots of strength allow us to blossom outward, flowering into a beauty of complexity and depth that we would not have been able to achieve without it. 

Yes, we stand united to tell you that the light can come not just after the darkness, but that the light can even come because of the darkness. And just as both day and night inhabit the same land, both depression and joy can be yours, if you choose to have it so. You will not always feel happy, but you can still choose to live in joy--joy that comes from ever reaching onward and upward and not accepting defeat. You are not depression. You are you, and you are worth living for.