What Depression Felt Like For Me

"It feels like I'm swimming in an underground cavern." This is what I told my therapist five years ago. She eventually diagnosed me with situational depression and prescribed an anti-depressant. At first though, she wanted to know how I saw my own emotional state.

"The whole cavern is filled with water. It's dark, there's no air, and I feel like I'm drowning. Yet I know there's an escape. The cavern is connected to a larger body of water where I could swim out and surface."

This was the reality of my depression. I knew I didn't have to be there. I knew there was an alternative. I've been happy before and there was always something inside me that realized peace and contentment were possibilities. Yet I continued to exist in turmoil and pervasive overwhelming sadness.

"Why don't you swim out?" She asked.

"That larger body of water is a sewage lagoon. Sure, I could get to the surface, but then I'd be swimming in other people's crap." Although, I didn't say crap.

"I feel as if I have two options," I continued, "I could stay where I am and drown in darkness. Or I could swim to the surface; sure, at least I could breathe but I'd be treading water in fecal matter and human waste, and I wouldn't have the strength to stay there for long."

This was my mode of operation for longer than I'd care to ever experience again. My life was at a crossroads: my marriage was falling apart and my boss at the time was the type of person who should never be placed in a position of authority. When I left home to go to work, I dreaded going back home. And when I left work to go home, I dreaded returning to the office the next day. One place was the dark cavern where I was drowning and the other was the wastewater plant where I could breathe but had to deal with everyone's effluence.

My therapist prescribed medication. She told me, "You're strong enough to make it to the surface, but only enough to tread water. This will give you the strength to swim to shore." Eventually, I overcame my depression. The chemicals helped, but only because I was in therapy. The counselling helped but only because I was medicated. I don't think either option would have benefitted me without the other.

There were other factors that contributed to my recovery. First, my boss was moved into another position and I was given a promotion. Then came divorce, a solution I would never advocate for anyone, yet I recognize it now as the best gift my ex ever gave me. I found myself reporting to a more supportive manager and was no longer in a failing marriage. My circumstances changed. I started volunteering and hiking more often. I re-engaged in hobbies I had previously abandoned in hopes of avoiding conflict. I learned a lot about narcissistic abuse and how heal after enduring it. I discovered how to take better care of my own mental health and took ownership of my mistakes. I forged new friendships and built a support network.

This is what depression was like for me. However, I understand that depression affects everyone a little differently. Our symptoms are as diverse as our personalities and our brains all function with a high degree of variance. For me, depression was temporary and rooted in my circumstances. Some experience it seasonally and others have more long term and chronic struggles. Recovery could be quick, or it could take years. It can be a mood-altering annoyance for some and physically debilitating for others. I have heard some people describe it as a sadness that will not be abated. Some individuals explained they felt an absence of emotions; no joy or sorrow, no sense of anticipation or disappointment, just feeling dead inside.

However wide the spectrum of depression, I learned some universal truths while fighting my battle. If you're there right now, please find these words as encouragement.

Your depression is real, but it isn't honest. The things your emotions (or lack thereof) tell you about yourself is twisted and skewed. Depression is a liar. You need voices that speak louder than the tapes in your head. It doesn't matter if it's a close friend, a trusted family member, a pastor, a support group, or a therapist. You need people who are going to speak truth to you about yourself. You need to hear from them frequently.

Don't be afraid to seek help. Medication isn't for everyone, but it can help. Therapy can be intimidating but I believe everyone could benefit from it occasionally. It's OK if neither are a permanent solution for you, it's a place to start and if you're brave enough to seek help from a licensed professional, then you're strong enough to find help in other (and sometimes unusual) places.

The natural world is a playground for better mental health. Take in some vitamin D. Go for a walk in the woods. Listen to the sound of a waterfall or waves crashing along the beach. Visit a petting zoo or a farm. Talk to animals. Multiple studies have shown outdoor activities and interacting with pets and livestock have unique abilities to lift your spirits and stave the symptoms of depression.

Volunteer your time somewhere. Doing something good for others is a natural anti-depressant. By acting selfless for someone else's benefit, you're also giving yourself a gift. It alleviates feelings of worthlessness and provides a sense of purpose you won't find anywhere else.

Above all, take care of yourself. And if you need to talk to someone, let me know.

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