The page sits blank in front of me. Writing this article has been on my to-do list for over a month, and each day I look at it, wishing I could cross it off, but unable to bring my fingers to move across the keyboard.
The irony is not lost on me; I’m tasked with writing an article about depression, and yet, my depression is making it so I cannot write.
This is not a new struggle for me. There have been so many times that depression stopped me from completing tasks, meeting deadlines, or accomplishing things I wanted to. At those times, I feel as if I’m literally unable to do the things that on a “normal” day would be easy.
I’ve experienced symptoms of depression since I was an early teen. I just didn’t know what to call it at that point, and I assumed how I felt was how most people felt. I assumed it was just hormones and teen angst. Then in my 20s, I assumed how I felt was due to being in an abusive relationship.
But in my early 30s, when all seemed to be going okay in my world and I could think of no external reason for my feelings, I realized maybe something wasn’t right. At that point, I was finally, officially diagnosed.
For those who haven’t been personally touched by depression, it can be really difficult to understand. Even I, who lived with it for years, misunderstood what it meant for quite some time.
I knew people who were depressed stayed in bed a lot, and sometimes had a hard time doing things, but beyond that I didn’t realize the many ways my symptoms manifested and impacted my life.
Recently, I emailed my mom about the depressive period I was in. She wrote back, saying she didn’t quite understand depression, but knew it was more than just sadness.
Brian, a professional stagehand from Portland, Oregon who was diagnosed with depression years ago, puts it this way: “It’s not just sadness. It’s not really sadness at all… The future feels foreclosed, done, no longer possible. Doing anything for oneself is a hurdle, a large and seemingly insurmountable hurdle.”
Don, a therapist and father of three who has been living with depression for a good portion of his life, agrees. “I can’t stress enough that depression is different than sadness,” he says, “You can’t just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s chronic. It’s exhausting.”
“As silly as it may sound, one of my signs is almond butter. If I find it to be too overwhelming to stir my almond butter to integrate the oils, I know I’m headed into a period of depression.”
These feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion can take over a person, making even the simplest of tasks seem incredibly difficult or even impossible. And while depression manifests differently for everyone, it always impacts multiple parts of a person’s life in ways that can be incapacitating.
Over the years, as I’ve become more observant of my symptoms in an attempt to manage them, I’ve discovered some “tells” that show me I’m heading into a depressive episode.
As silly as it may sound, one of my signs is almond butter. If I find it to be too overwhelming to stir my almond butter to integrate the oils, I know I’m headed into a period of depression.
If my book sits unopened on my bedside table, or my art supplies sit untouched, those are signs I need to pay attention to my mental health. When I begin rescheduling appointments or canceling plans with friends, I know it is getting bad.
I’m not alone in these little (but impactful) ways that depression manifests in my life. Rae, a marketing consultant who has lived with depression since her early teens, describes the many ways depression shows up for her.
“I get into modes where even the simplest thing to cook or reheat is too much effort. I might just eat some peanut butter out of the jar instead.”
“I get into modes where even the simplest thing to cook or reheat is too much effort. I might just eat some peanut butter out of the jar instead. I fail to take my vitamins [because] sometimes it just feels like too much effort to open the bottle and then swallow the pills.”
“One time my sink got mold in it. My depressed solution was to just throw all the dishes away. I just couldn’t do them.”
Katie, a writer and IT worker, notices herself missing a day or 2 of scooping the cat boxes or her dogs seeking her out to play. She feels disorganized and sometimes will “let bills go until close enough to the due date that I have to scramble to get them paid on time.”
Izzy, a disabled dancer and singer, says his depression often keeps him from being able to clean. “One time my sink got mold in it. My depressed solution was to just throw all the dishes away. I just couldn’t do them. So I threw them away and then felt like a failure.”
Someone who hasn’t had experience may see these things and think that we are just lazy. But just like depression isn’t simply being sad, it also isn’t being lazy. “I wish people knew this wasn’t just lack of motivation,” Izzy says. “I want them to know that from the first waking to the time I sleep there is a monster on my shoulder dragging me down.”
That monster, which Katie describes as a “coat with lead lining” and Rae as “a whole body thing… that just sticks a tap in us and drains out all the energy,” can take over a person’s entire life.
For me, I lose time, days and weeks and even months sometimes passing without me feeling like I’ve done anything. I’ll spend hours staring into nothingness, or fixated on a single thought looping in my head, just wishing I could escape it.
Different people have different ways of coping with depressive symptoms. Izzy, Katie, and Rae all turn to their animals as a source of comfort. Others, like myself and Brian, try to force ourselves to get out of the house. Some people use medication — others, like Don, use tools such as Peer Support. A lot of us use a combination of things.
It is easy for me to get down on myself as I stare at a blank screen unable to write, or as I stand in the kitchen and eat my rice cake plain because it is too overwhelming to mix my almond butter. But knowing that there are others out there struggling with similar things makes each moment living with depression a little easier.
As Rae says, “We don’t like living like this… be patient with us. We’re doing the best we’re capable of in that given moment.”
So as I sit down to write this article, this article I almost couldn’t write, that I almost didn’t write, I try to listen to Rae’s words and be patient with myself, too.
I’ll write this article, one word at a time.
If you, too, are living with depression, remember this: You’re doing the best you’re capable of in this moment.
Let’s get through this day one moment at a time.
Angie Ebba is a queer disabled artist who teaches writing workshops and performs nationwide. Angie believes in the power of art, writing, and performance to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, build community, and make change. You can find Angie on her website, her blog, or Facebook.