Have you ever felt miserable for so long that you forgot what normal ever felt like?
This is me, the past several months.
Although, right now I’m pretty sure I’m closer to happy than I’ve been in at least that long. It’s hard to know for sure, since I don’t recall how I’m supposed to feel anymore. Just that I don’t want to feel like I recently did at the depth of my most debilitating depression ever.
In truth, my depression felt like less like feeling miserable and more like an inability to feel anything. It was if I was sucked into a bottomless pit of apathy where any activity besides napping on my couch took ridiculous ambition.
I likely wouldn’t have moved at all if not for Chester.
Although seemingly content to spoon with me for hours, my dog thankfully knew when the unconditional love I needed most from him was the tough kind.
Chester had to go out whether I wanted to or not. So he woke me several times a day from my stupor with urgent yelps, leaping back and forth between my stomach and the coffee table in a frenetic tail-chasing dance to telegraph it was time for me to get up off my own behind.
But venturing into the light of day did little to distract me from my inner dark thoughts.
As I watched Chester marking trees, I pictured each walk we went on as marking the passage of time.
Each walk, each day, blurred into the next. Before I knew it, another week, another month zoomed by. All I accomplished was picking up after Chester morning, noon, and night.
Depression’s voice grew louder: Why bother going on — sleepwalking not just around the block with Chester, but through life?
I knew this wasn’t rational.
But depression deludes us into seeing the world not as it truly is, but as we falsely perceive it to be. In a depression, it may feel like we’re experiencing reality, when really we’re experiencing our thoughts about it.
Depression is a byproduct of repression. We feel depressed because we’ve repressed other feelings, or desires to take actions.
This is how depression tests not just our emotions, but our faith — in ourselves, our abilities, our worthiness, and our senses of purpose and belonging.
After all, it’s easy to see our lives playing out perfectly on our clearest days. But when our vision is less than lucid, it helps to hear that still, small voice whispering in our ear that everything is alright all the time, even when our depression tempts us to believe otherwise.
Getting out of depression is not simply a matter of willing ourselves to feel better.
It means worrying less about keeping a lid on our negative thoughts and paying closer attention to the always-present potential for transformation through sharing love and joy — with ourselves and everyone — willfully, consistently.
It’s often said that what separates a professional from a hobbyist is the professional does what’s needed — no matter her feelings. She overcomes her overwhelm by rolling up her sleeves and ticking off each item on her to-do list, slowly and methodically.
Conquering depression takes similar initiative, or what psychologists call behavioral activation.
Our depression symptoms worsen when we avoid even simple tasks. But each time we choose to do something we previously enjoyed in our normal pre-depression lives, our days are filled sooner than later with more meaning than moping.
If you are experiencing depression, ask yourself what it is you are repressing? What small steps can you take of something you typically enjoy that you haven’t done in a while that can make you feel better?
Asking myself these questions and following through with small actions has helped me turn the corner. You could say besides picking up Chester’s mess, I’ve begun to pick up my own figurative mental waste.
Breaking free of depression’s grip for good will require a deeper dive into my psyche. It’s unlikely once I do so, I’ll feel perpetually sunny.
But I do hope to learn how to weather any future personal storms knowing all is well no matter my feelings.