My struggle with depression feels like a never ending mental tug-of-war. This chart that’s been making the rounds lately sums it up just about perfectly, because depression (or at least, my experience of depression) is a nuanced shifting of feelings that goes between numbness and detachment, to sadness and hopelessness:
I think a common analogy we can relate to depression is the image of drowning: one minute you’re there, kicking your legs and thrashing your arms, head staying above the water, even if just barely. And then suddenly your head goes under and you swallow a bunch of H2O and it feels like you’re never going to come up again. Depression often feels like you’re being swallowed up in deep, dark water that pulls you down, no matter how hard you try to get back up to the surface.
Sadly, some people never make it to the surface again. I feel lucky that I always manage to kick myself back up and out of the water. But, when I get depressed like I am now, life remains a struggle until I’ve reached the shore, so to speak.
When I’m depressed, I often fixate on my alone-ness and currently I’m spending a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve felt alone for as long as I can remember, because emotionally abusive partners don’t make you feel like you have support—they can’t offer you security or consistency—and things like depression get worse in an unhealthy relationship. Or, when you somehow manage to stand up to your abusive partner (which is, of course, the last thing they want you to do), you have to deal with the fall out that comes from sticking up for yourself. The retribution of an incensed emotional abuser is often powerfully devastating.
I have now divorced or broken up with my emotionally abusive partners, but I continue to deal with the consequences of being in those relationships. My tendency in all my relationships is to put an intense amount of effort into supporting the other person. This is a fault of mine that I continue to work very hard at changing, because it’s something that not only made me an easy target for narcissists and abusers; it also made it feel like I was alone in those relationships. When I’m really depressed, I often linger on these feelings of being alone and not having anyone in my life to share the burden of living with (FYI: when you’re depressed, life really does feel like a burden, not a privilege. It’s totally fucked up.).
Maybe I’ve romanticized the hell out of what it would be like to have a partner who isn’t a narcissistic and abusive asshole (maybe a little bit…). But what I see in the friends and family who support me so well is that they all have someone else in their lives who they prioritize more than me. And I can see that these people all have someone in their life who prioritizes them too. I’m not talking about worshiping your spouse or partner; I don’t mean that my friends and family have perfect relationships and get all their needs met all the time. What I’m talking about is how they each have that person, the one who knows the shit that’s going on in their life and who keeps a beat on their comings and goings. The person with whom they have built a secure baseline of love and trust; the person they can count on to be there for them.
Now, some of my friends and family who read this will likely want to say to me: “Of course I’m here for you! I support you in so many ways! You can always call me and I’m always here for you!” Please don’t think that I’m unappreciative of your love and support, or that I don’t see and feel the ways that you help me. I do! I’d be even more of a mess than I currently am without you! But at the end of the day (and I mean figuratively and literally), who are you coming home to? Who do you sit and watch Netflix with before heading to bed? Who do you remind about packing school lunches, or remembering to call your sister for her birthday, or ask “did you pick up your medication on your way home today”? Who do you organize your life around and make plans and set goals for a life together with? Who gets first billing in your life and offers you that same commitment back?
It’s not me.
And I don’t expect it to be, but I long for someone in my life who chooses to make me their priority and who expects and accepts that I do the same for them.
This feeling eats away at me every time I fail in another relationship, or I have another mental health relapse, or even just when I climb into my bed alone every night. It makes me feel like a failure, like I’m unworthy, and, since I’m being honest here, it makes me resent the very loving and supportive people in my life for having what I can’t seem to get.
The best way I can sum up these feelings, is to say that in times like this I can only think about how it all comes down to me.
There is a silver lining, though. It’s a tiny, glimmering ring of silvery dust hanging around what feels at the moment like an hellishly big rain cloud looming over my head. The silver lining is this: it all comes down to me.
You see I’m learning to recognize that in the end, all my failures AND all my successes, all my terrible relationships AND all my amazing ones, all my depression AND all of my happiness…every. fucking. thing. comes. down. to. me. And that includes the bad AND the good.
My depression often steals away my ability to notice the good parts of being independent. It feeds my feelings of loneliness and anger and sadness. It heightens my awareness of the hard parts of being alone. So I’m now trying to curb my thinking towards recognizing that it takes strength and courage to face the world on your own. That people like me, who don’t have a trusted partner in their lives, possess a huge amount of grit and determination for getting through every day solo. I’m telling myself that I am not giving up, even if I’m alone when I settle down on the couch for some Netflix at the end of the day.
I mean, at least I never have to argue about who gets to hold the remote.