The battle is ongoing. Every minute of wakefulness is spent fighting this disease, and still I worry that I should be fighting harder. I tell myself that I should be walking every day. Exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication in some studies, but how do I get myself out the door? I have to fight my brain to stand up and walk from one room to another. My body is filled with sand. My limbs are so heavy. Movement is painful.
I spend most of my day in seated or fetal position. If I manage to get myself into the shower, I sit in the tub the entire time. Standing to brush my teeth takes an eternity. Getting dressed is a formidable project. I put everything I have into taking care of the pets. Sometimes it takes me hours of lying in bed before I can find the energy to feed them in the mornings. They have become so patient that it makes me cry. I tell myself that at least I can almost always give them the love and attention they need. I sit while I do so.
I do try to push through the exhaustion. I tell myself over and over that I can do it. I tell myself how important it is to push through the pain, and still I am an immovable object. Stuck.
The thoughts in my head are constantly critical, always pushing me to do more. Be better. But as hard as I am on myself, I’m actually a lot nicer than I used to be. Ironically, I started to be kinder to myself when I was granted disability benefits. I thought that if the government recognized how disabled I was, then it must be real. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying hard enough; I was physically unable to function. I came to have more compassion for myself. Still, the depression creates negative, self-critical thoughts, and society encourages them.
Depression is still seen by many, if not most, as a weakness. We are taught that we should be able to control our minds with…our minds. Please explain this to me. I realize that the healthy brain has a positive voice with which to combat the negative thoughts that pass through. There is no such voice in the depressed brain. There are only these unruly thoughts flitting about, and there is no central authority governing them.
Depression is a disease. As such, criticism is counterproductive. It raises cortisol levels and feeds into the illness both chemically and cognitively. Compassion is the path to mental health. The depressed need encouragement to be kind to themselves. When we learn to care for ourselves, we will do what we can to get well.
I am still struggling to care for myself. I am certainly not kind. I push myself to my limits every day. I want so desperately to get better. I do not want this life. Nobody does. We all desperately want to be healthy. I want to feel pleasure when I see my loved ones. I want to find joy in the small things, as I did when the depression was less severe. I loved to sing in the rain when I was a kid. A beautiful song would give me chills. The sun made me feel warm to my core. I felt a physical thrill when I climbed a mountain and was able to see the miles stretch out all around me. Memory of the difficult climb behind me faded with every breath. The world was filled with such wonders, and its cruelties seemed proportionate to its joys.
I want that life again, but I need to remember that will not get there by impersonating a drill sergeant. I don’t need to push myself to the limits. I don’t need to fight all the time. I need to be kind to myself. I will do what I can, when I can. We all do.