a gray numbness

I’ve been living under gray skies, though I cannot remember for how long. Weeks? Months? Longer? My sense of time is distorted as days and weeks bleed together, a bland landscape laid out before me. My life lacks rhythm and every day feels the same. My alarm is set for 4:45, but I am often awake long before that. I lay in the dark, wondering if sleep will find me again, but knowing that it probably won’t. I spend time at my desk reading, journaling, and sometimes praying–if I can find the words. I shower only because I must. I still go to work every day and I am still good at my job. It’s been about four years since I missed work, but then it was because of unrelenting anxiety. I come home, praying that we do not have anything scheduled because I have to psych myself up even for those things I “enjoy.” I would rather watch re-runs of Derry Girls.

I have had a number of acquaintances reach out lately, wanting to connect. Although I am grateful for them, I am often exhausted by the thought. Responding, even by text, takes considerable effort and I put it off as long as I can, but I am too much of a people pleaser to ignore messages indefinitely. I have a small group of friends with whom I intentionally spend time and who have been good for my soul; any more feels overwhelming.

I am rarely sad. People who have never lived through a depressive episode often assume that depression is a really deep sadness; however, although sadness may be a cardinal feature of depression, it is not a required symptom. For many people like me, anhedonia–a loss of the ability to enjoy what was previously enjoyed–is the principal symptom. Although I still enjoy certain things, my general emotional tone is bland. I have often said that one of the first cues for my depression is a loss of interest in reading.

Depression can also include a variety of other symptoms–guilt, shame, worthlessness, self-criticism, concentration difficulties, thoughts of self-harm, changes in sleep (mine is decreased) and appetite (mine is increased), and a loss of sex drive, to name a few. You see, depression is not a unidimensional construct. Although there are commonalities, how I experience depression differs from how my friends experience it.

I am in the process of switching medications. Last week, Heather asked me, “Do you think it’s time to adjust your meds?” Unhesitatingly, I said, “Yes.” My sertraline isn’t cutting it anymore. I have also been re-listening to the audiobook, An Undivided Life, by Parker Palmer for the umpteenth time. Palmer is one of my favorite authors and his ability to talk about depression from the inside is a welcome friend. On Sunday, after my friends Mike and Josh provided space to talk about my depression, I sent them a quote from Palmer who said “There is no fix here; there is maintaining presence and bearing witness.” My small group of friends hold this space for me.

Most of us don’t know how to deal with depressed people. Their misery makes us uncomfortable, so we are quick to offer suggestions. “Have you tried_______?” Many words have filled in this blank: exercise, prayer, meditation, going to church, going outside, drinking enough water, reading the Bible, eating better, sleeping more, sleeping less. Undoubtedly, these are good things to do, but too often, because suffering makes us uncomfortable, we bypass another’s pain to offer helpful solutions. (It has often been said that Job’s friends did their best work in the first week when they simply sat with Job rather than trying to find solutions). In fact, this tendency is so common in certain religious circles that there is a term for it–spiritual bypassing.

Why did I write this? Because for me, writing is one of the most therapeutic things I can do. To share my experience and have another say “me too” has been helpful to me. As a neuropsychologist, I know that I am not alone in my experience, but sometimes, I also need to bring my own darkness into the light.

5 thoughts on “a gray numbness

  1. Me too! Depression is not a “one size fits all” type of thing. For me it’s constant tiredness, feeling disconnected from people, a hollowness that follows me even on a seemingly “good” day. Yes, I’m on meds. I do meditate sometimes, but most often than not I’m struggling to find energy to get out of bed. But we’ve made it so far… Here’s to making it through more days.


  2. Me too.

    The thing I’ve learned to hate most about depression is constantly feeling gaslighted by my own brain. I relate to many of the things you’ve listed in here, and yet depending on the day I think or feel different things about them and I don’t know which to believe, if any.

    “I come home, praying that we do not have anything scheduled because I have to psych myself up even for those things I ‘enjoy'” is something I especially relate to, and if I reflect on why I feel that way I could simultaneously feel:
    – justified because I’m too tired
    – selfish because I know my wife probably DOES want to do something
    – anxious about how much my wife will resent me if i never want to do anything
    – embarassed because if I took better care of myself physically I WOULDN’T be as tired
    – disloyal and ungrateful for not being more interested in being with people
    – frustrated by how lonely I am despite not being interested in being with people
    – childish and foolish because I should be able to just get it together and do whatever the thing is
    – shameful if I imagine having to explain to someone why I didn’t want to do a given activity and not having a “real” reason, especially when there are people with way worse problems in the world
    – angry because I haven’t been able to fix all these things about myself
    – resentful toward people who can just get up and do stuff like it’s not a big deal.

    And then I’ll just ping-pong the rest of the night between one part of me telling myself that it’s ok to take care of myself and know my limits, and another part telling myself that I’m just rationalizing how lazy and useless I am.

    THEN people who want to help me, like my wife or my therapist, will tell me that I can’t trust the way I think because I’m stuck in negative patterns that I learned from a bad church or from my parents or just from habit. And I might want to believe them, but what they say is counter to my internal logic so it feels foolish to believe them even if I know my internal logic isn’t reliable. And then I get anxious because I worry about how frustrated they are with me still spinning in the same circles I have been for months or years, and I wonder how long they’ll put up with it before they move on because I’m too much of a burden. And when they say that’s not true I still secretly think that they’re just saying it because they feel like they have to, but that THEY secretly are tired of me. They also tell me it’s not reasonable to expect the worst outcome from every situation, but the disappointment of a broken hope is so much more crushing than the confirmation of a pessimistic expectation, so thinking more positively just doesn’t feel worth it.

    All of this can go on in my head in the space of a minute over something as small as my wife asking if I want to play a board game, something we usually love doing together. But apparently depression likes to steal those things and try to strangle you with them.

    Liked by 1 person

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