Have you ever pushed on a revolving door and met strong resistance? The really hard ones that require to you to continue to exert pressure to keep it moving?
Having chronic depression is a lot like pushing that revolving door. People with chronic depression aren’t just “sad”. They’re not “having a bad day”, and they won’t “get over it” in a few hours, or even a few days. Quite possibly, they may never find the right balance of medications or therapy that relieves their depression. They’ll continue to suffer, every hour of every day of every month of every year with this THING dragging them down.
Chronic depression is a medical condition that requires treatment. Not everyone who has chronic depression understands that they have a medical condition. They assume they’re lazy, that there’s something wrong with them, that it’s just the way they feel. Having the constant nagging of well-intentioned family and friends doesn’t help. “It’s all in your head.” “Just get up and do something.” “I can’t believe you’re in bed at noon.” “Why are you so lazy?” “Why can’t you just…[blah blah blah]?”
Because people with chronic depression CAN’T “just”. Because they may not be aware of their condition. They’ve been trained and taught that they’re lazy and have something wrong with them. They can’t help it. No, really, they CAN’T. If they could, do you think they would choose to feel the way they do? Would you choose to miss movie dates with friends, concerts, going out to eat, even a trip to the mall? Would you choose to lie in bed and wallow in misery, instead of enjoying a beautiful spring or fall day? Would you choose to sit at home rather than play with your nieces and nephews? No one chooses. It’s all they know and they may not know any better. They may not know they have a problem, that it might be treatable, and their life doesn’t have to be like that.
I assume everyone’s chronic depression affects them differently. I’ve had success over the past six years battling back the worst of my depression, but that daily, hourly drag hasn’t gone away. I suspect that’s why I was diagnosed as “chronic” – it doesn’t go away. It’s like that niggling pain in your side, or that slight ache you have when you walk. It’s a ten pound weight that you push against every second of every minute of every day just to function. Getting up in the morning? Push against the ten pound weight to get up. Continue to push it as you get ready for work, as you get in your car, as you sit at your desk, as you eat lunch, even as you enjoy your day. The weight may lessen, and it can definitely increase, but it’s ALWAYS THERE.
Can you comprehend how hard it is to constantly push against a weight of any strength? Never ceasing, rarely letting up and occasionally becoming so heavy that you think you’ll be crushed? It’s exhausting. It’s debilitating. It drains your self-esteem. Despite knowing it’s a medical condition, you still feel lazy. You feel like you’ve let everyone around you down. You’re always late and you can’t be depended on, because you never know when a semi-good day will take a turn for the worse. You have no “great” days. You have “degrees of good” days, and sometimes that’s all you can hope for. You’re not praying for a great day, you’re praying to be able to get through a “decent” day.
Reminding the chronic depressive of their problem won’t help in the slightest bit. It could very well make a “decent” day turn into a “go back to bed because I’m worthless” day. Streams of criticism because you don’t understand the condition do absolutely nothing to help the afflicted, but only serve to worsen their condition. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to hurry up because they’re slowing you down, would you? So why would you harp and nag at a chronically depressed person that they’re always late? They’re well aware of their problems, and lateness is a very typical effect of their condition, and they can’t help it. No, they can’t “just” get up earlier because it took a huge effort pushing against that weight “just” to get out of bed in the first place. No, they can’t “just go to bed earlier” because getting enough sleep isn’t the reason they’re late. I’ve slept for nearly full days at a time and it hasn’t lessened my depression one iota. They can’t just leave earlier to arrive somewhere on time, because of that same weight they push against every second of every minute. Doing what others consider normal – getting up, going to work, shopping, even eating – means that the push against that weight needs to be more than the drag of that weight. Wouldn’t you tire of constantly pushing against a weight and feel it’s easier to give up? Those are the “stay in bed” days for me. The effort to keep pushing isn’t strong enough to overcome the drag of the weight.
Treatment for chronic depression is a trial-and-error science. There is no gene to seek out, or scan or bloodwork that can pinpoint the exact medication and dose that will magically make them better. Your doctor gives you medications to try, you stay on them a few months to see if your symptoms improve, and if they don’t, start over with another medication. I’ve been on nine different medications and only one had any real affect on me, but it didn’t address the core problem. Therapy has helped some, but not with the core problem.
I’m still living with my core problem – that revolving door I must ceaselessly push to keep functioning like the rest of society. It’s exhausting. More often than not, I lose the battle with the door. I keep on trying, though, because at some point, I will hit that magic combination of medications that make that push easier. Every day that goes by without improvement, though, discourages me further into depression. Some days, I’m pushing that door up a 45 degree incline. If I let the chronic depression win, then I’ll spend the rest of my life huddled on the couch or in bed and miss out on life. I don’t want that, so I’ll keep trying. Even if I slip down that incline and have to start again.