I am trapped.
In my own head.
Consider, if you will, the concurrent horror and absurdity of this statement. This is what my life under the iron grip of major depressive disorder feels like.
My disease is an invisible cage that restricts, distorts, and controls my perception of reality.
As my broken brain cranks out fake news faster than an aging autocrat sitting on a gold toilet with his smartphone, every thought has the power to become an alternate reality in itself.
For example, when I start thinking depression has made me unemployable because it grounded me for years, I end up believing I’ve become useless.
Somehow, my brain has magnified a core insecurity, turned it into a supposition, conflated it with a loosely related fact, and left me convinced that I’m a waste of space posing as a person.
Here’s how it works: Depression is like a virus in your mental operating system.
When it’s mild, it sometimes screws up your reasoning by corrupting only a small part of it. At that point, you may not even notice its presence and you’re still able to function by automatically bypassing the corrupted thoughts and forging ahead.
When it’s major however — as mine is — it’s a full-fledged virus eating away at data, software, and memory.
Soon, all that you are starts disappearing before your very eyes. Gone is your sense of self, your identity i.e. your data while the skills, experience and knowledge you’ve gathered and installed throughout your life — your software — make away with your memory, that is your ability to build upon whatever came before.
Eventually, depression reconfigures you into someone you can barely recognize.
Were it not for an appearance that has changed little even though any pride in it seems to have vanished, I wouldn’t know the haggard, long-haired creature with searching, sad blue-green eyes and gritted teeth staring at me in the bathroom mirror every morning, toothbrush in hand.
Worse, most days I wonder how the impostor in the mirror dares show her face again.
Although my self-talk is sponsored by depression, it sounds like me and isn’t just a morning occurrence but the soundtrack to my every day.
If you’ve never experienced self-loathing so violent it causes you to question your existence then consider yourself forewarned: this is what depression does.
Depression gnaws away at your self-esteem and puts your thoughts in a choke hold, turning your internal monologue into poisonous propaganda that begets self-destructive feelings of inadequacy.
Bizarrely, I initially experienced this as part of acclimatizing to a new life in a very different country, America. But after several years, I could no longer tell the difference between my thoughts and reality, a predicament compounded by the 2016 presidential election.
Imagine spending all this time believing your life has turned into a complete shit show only to be presented with incontrovertible proof in the form a Cheeto-hued sphincter with teeth moving into the White House? Even though your disease and the asshole are notorious for being professional liars, it suddenly becomes much harder not to co-opt depression’s assessment of your life.
America’s rectum-in-chief and the disease even feel the same. Both sap your energy and wear you down with untruths and tall tales; both undermine any hope for the future by destroying the present; both confuse you with conflicting information until you start to lose track of reality and wonder what’s what.
And everywhere you turn, it looks like a dead end.
Sooner or later, this kind of regurgitated thinking — propaganda on a loop rehashing the same fabrications day in, day out — is bound to crash any operating system, whether your brain’s or your democracy’s.
Once I realized there was no disentangling reality from the persistent illusions of depressive thinking, I started questioning the validity of my perception.
When nothing makes sense anymore, how do you survive without any bearings or framework?
If you’re America, you (still) have a Constitution.
If you’re a human, you have a survival instinct. This means you’re hardwired for life, regardless of how you might feel about it while in the throes of depressive despair.
Although it may sound like an Easter egg, this safeguard mechanism is a feature of our human operating system.
You might think you want to die but that thought is just a trick of the mind.
And yet, yearning for an exit strategy is a sign that, deep down, you recognize the state you’re in as unnatural and are reflexively trying to push back, albeit in a potentially hazardous way.
To complicate matters further, there’s a good chance you’re isolated, too, or you may not have the words to convey your distress or articulate how you’ve arrived at the conclusion that life is no longer worth living.
Suicidal ideation is like a bad marriage: You can’t talk about it when you’re in the middle of it. You just sense something isn’t right somehow. This hunch right here is your survival instinct kicking in, attempting to see you to safety.
Surrender to it because it can save you.
This may sound counterintuitive but the only way to do this is to stop thinking. That toxic talk in your head? Try and mute it for a moment. Sit down; take a deep breath.
Then take another because nothing — no matter what unspeakable mess you might be in — is ever as complicated as depression makes it look. Depression is to the brain what Trumpism is to America, a disease.
You are being blindsided by a disease.
By distorting your thoughts, depression manipulates your feelings and makes catastrophic thinking appear as though it were real.
Unfortunately in 2018 America, it sometimes is.
This makes living with depression all the more difficult. (Right now, I seem to seesaw between paralyzing despondency and incandescent rage at any given time, but then so do many non-depressives.)
So how do you undermine propaganda when your internal beliefs are resistant to evidence? Since depression causes critical thinking to go temporarily awry, it’s important to remember the situation can and will right itself eventually. Stepping away from the depressive feedback loop for a moment will allow some clarity to seep through.
Even if that sounds like a leap of faith, you can and should trust yourself again because here’s one rock-solid fact: You’ve succeeded in keeping yourself alive so far.
And if you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve been winging it, making it up as you go along, often clueless, frequently disoriented, occasionally lost. But, hey, there’s no denying being resourceful has served us well over the years. Look at us, we’re still here! We do have the ability to carry on after all. And along the way, there’s much comfort to be found in what lies beyond our human-sized perception of life.
My two feline companions are masters in the art of mindfulness, their ability to fully inhabit the moment something I’m trying to emulate a little more each day. If you have no pets, just look up. The other night, in the midst of rampant insomnia, I caught a glimpse of the Space Station whooshing past overhead.
During four minutes, I surrendered to awe, like a little kid with her nose pressed against the window. Nothing else mattered but the shiny object above, a man-made wonder powered by our shared innate appetite for discovery. Seeing it brought me peace.
For the first time in many months I experienced being alive as a gift rather than a burden, safe in the knowledge that I belonged to a resourceful species, one capable of understanding it isn’t in charge of everything despite often pretending otherwise.
It was such a relief not to think about myself for a moment…
This has to be what freedom feels like, I thought, and for once the thought wasn’t a harmful one. It soothed me and put my internal depressive monologue on pause, exposing it for what it really is: lies.
No matter how many times a lie is spoken, it can never become truth for it is a construct, a trick, a mirage. Be it mental effluvia excreted by a malevolent brain parasite or verbal effluvia spewing forth from the buccal orifice of a malicious political parasite, it remains effluvia, the by-product of a mind or of a democracy under siege.
So, in true System D spirit, I’ve come up with a very basic trick, ridiculous and effective in equal measure: I nicknamed my depression.
As soon as my disease oozes another self-defeating thought, I deflect it, sometimes aloud: “Oh, do shut up, Donald! You’re full of (sh)it.”
And lo, the offending thought is dispelled and the moment passes.
In the bathroom mirror, the woman who looks like me is smiling again.
National Suicide Prevention Helpline (U.S): 1–800–273–8255
Suicide Prevention Service (Canada): 1–833–456–4566
Suicide Prevention Service (Quebec): 1–866–277–3553
For other countries, check out Befrienders Worldwide.