- Mar 22, 2018
What it's like to live with depression
"At night, depression comes at me with full force. Everything hits me all at once, and I feel helpless. I succumb to it, letting it take over me and consume me; There is no fight left in me at this point."
Photograph by: Joshua Earle
I want to tell you a story: a true story of what it’s like living with depression. A day in the life of a person who is struggling with mental illness. I want to tell you my story.
My day usually starts with the ringing of my alarm, followed by me turning it off and rolling over. For just a minute, everything is calm. For a minute I feel happy and healthy. For that one minute, I feel normal. Then it all hits: the emotions, the thoughts, the anguish, it all comes back from the night before; reminding me I’m still in the same place I was yesterday, last week, last year. I proceed to give myself a pep talk, to garner enough strength to leave my bed, my comfort place. Without this pep talk, I would never get out of bed, I would stay all day, under the covers with my emotions raging inside me. Or the numbness slowly consuming me. It takes all my strength to stand up.
I proceed to get ready for my day, going through the motions, trying to convince myself that today is going to be a good day. Even though I know every day is the same as the last, I still speak it into existence, hoping that God will listen to me this time. On my way to class, with earphones shoved deep in my ears, I watch people as they smile, laugh, and walk with a spring in their step. I watch them and I resent them. I hate them for being happy while I’m not. I go through the motions of class, after class, not really listening, not really caring. This is usually when the feelings of hopelessness and despair kick in. Wondering if this is really all there is to life. Going to school to get a job, getting a job to survive, surviving just to die. I try to push the feelings aside, but the more I try, the stronger they get. What’s the point of all of this?
Around lunchtime, I either overeat or don’t eat anything at all. I know this is affecting my weight, it fluctuates more now and I always feel ill. Constant headaches, side pains, what doesn’t hurt? I can’t find the will to care about it though, it is what it is. I get back to my room, undress and crawl back into bed. I sleep most of the afternoon away, or sometimes just lying there trying not drown in my misery; trying not to let the feeling of worthlessness consume me. I struggle to find something to hold on to, something happy, a memory, a picture, a future event, anything to keep me going, I mindlessly scroll through social media, and occasionally, I fall on a funny meme that makes me smile. My afternoons are made up of me trying to distract myself, to forget. I sleep to escape. It’s not a healthy coping mechanism, I know that, but it’s the only one that currently works.
At dinner time, I go by myself to avoid conversation. I really hate small talk and I’m unable to be vulnerable enough to have deep talks, so I avoid people and talking in general. I overeat by myself watching an episode of Greys Anatomy on the Netflix app on my phone. I take a shower, it’s my other place of solace because I can cry and I won’t be able to tell whether it’s my tears or the water cascading over my face. This is when I usually brace myself for the evening. I practice my fake smiles and my jokes to throw people off. I find motivation to do my homework and to keep my grades up. I don’t really care about them but it’s the only way to stop my parents from asking questions. As long as my grades are good, everything else is good. My grades have become my worth. I sit with my friends who are not really my friends because they don’t know what’s going on with me. Part of it is my fault, I can’t open up and talk about it, depression tells me not to. That nobody cares. I don’t want to see their pity, I don’t want to be vulnerable. It’s also partly their fault. They don’t ask, they don’t listen, and I resent them for that. I joke and laugh with them, go to our extra-curricular activities. We do our assignments, talk about our day and I give them the answer I’ve been giving for years. “It was same as every other day.” Then the crippling feeling of loneliness creeps in and drains whatever energy I had left.
At night, depression comes at me with full force. Everything hits me all at once, and I feel helpless. I succumb to it, letting it consume me. There is no incentive to fight left in me at this point. I put on a sad movie so that I can cry in a controlled manner. So that I can have a socially acceptable explanation for my roommate as to why I’m crying—if she walks in. The rest of the night is me tossing and turning because of insomnia and that leaves plenty of time for my old friend depression to do its job and it does so well. I talk to God, I call out to him, I cry out. I tell him that I’m afraid of dying, but I’m even more afraid of living a lifetime with this much hurt. I beg him to stop the pain, and I’m met with the same response every night; silence. I eventually fall asleep from the exhaustion and as I fall asleep I’m grateful for that one minute that I will have in the morning, when everything is perfect.
The next morning, I wake up and do it all over again. The morning after that, the next week, the next month, the next year. It has been four years of re-living the same day over and over again. Depression is a chemical disorder in the brain, it’s an inhibitor that stops all the “happy” hormones, and leaves you struggling with every negative emotion. Or sometimes just numbness. I always look forward to those days when I feel more numb than sad because at least I can’t feel anything and I can function and not neglect my daily responsibilities. I go to counseling, take my medication, and although that sometime helps, sometimes it doesn’t. I have also reached out to people in my life, my best friends, and my brother, because nobody can get through it alone. It took me years to be able to put what I was feeling into words and more years to be able to talk about it with anybody. Depression is like a correctional officer, the walls of my cell, and the bars that keep me in. I am chained to my emotions, stuck in a cycle of pain, clothed in hopelessness and despair, and crippled by loneliness. I’m not really living, only existing.
I really wish I could tell my parents but that’s one of the things they wouldn’t understand. To them, Mental illness is a white people disease that can simply be prayed away. I grew up in a well-off family and had everything I wanted or needed so what do I have to be depressed about? I don’t blame them though, that’s how they were raised. I’ve been struggling with depression since I was in high school. Constantly fighting to just make it through the day. It’s exhausting but I do it. I have no choice but to do it. Because if I were to give up, I would have to face God and explain why I’m throwing away the gift of life that he gave me. If I were to give up, it would mean leaving my siblings in the cold world by themselves and my parents with no explanation. It would mean leaving my friends feeling like they failed to be there for me. And most importantly it would mean that I gave up on myself. I can’t have that on my conscious.
So I fight, I fight like hell to make it through each day. I wear a fake smile, repeat my rehearsed laugh, work on healing myself, and I cry myself to sleep almost every night. Depression has turned me into a liar, a master of pretense. It has turned me into a bitter resentful person, it has sometimes even turned me against myself. It has also turned me into a warrior and I guess if I can make it through this, I can handle just about anything. I haven’t given up on finding real joy. I’m in pursuit of happiness and I know that one day, I will smile and it will be genuine.
A depressed individual
This is my struggle with depression. It is important to note that not every person struggling with mental illness experiences it the same way, it’s different for everyone. I decided to share my story because even if it helps one person, then I’m happy with that. I specifically want to tell my fellow Africans struggling with this that even though most of us grew up in an environment where mental illness was not talked about at all, this will eventually change. When it feels like you’re alone, understand that you’re really not. Tell somebody, let them help keep stay accountable. Don’t do this by yourself. It is when we’re isolated that depressive thoughts attack us. Please do not isolate yourself. It took me years to tell anybody what I was going through, and I still don’t tell anybody which is why I’m writing under a pseudonym. But no matter how much I isolate myself, willingly or unwillingly, I know that I have four constant people in my life that check up on me every day and drag me out of my isolation. If you don’t struggle with this, be a safe space for someone. Don’t be comfortable with the smiles and laughs that people give you, look further than that. Check in on the people that you love, let them know that you are there for them, and give them the space to talk. Mental Illness doesn’t discriminate.
I hope this helps someone.