Message from a Cave
I’ve been deeply depressed during the last couple of weeks. I’ve been struggling with the inadequacies and immutability of Social Security, the legalistic loop-hole thinking of County Assistance, and the insensitivity of the local caring medical community. Experts half my age order me to go here and there, and spend money I don’t have. There isn’t a thing I can say about it because I actually need a modicum of their expertise.
That’s a topic for another time, but it’s also fertile ground for bad feelings and self-recrimination. Although the circumstances that brought me to this state of affairs were well outside my control, I find myself thinking, ‘If that hadn’t happened, and if I were smarter, younger, richer, then….’ and none of it is true.
I find myself looking forward to what I call ‘Hiding Days’. I don’t leave my apartment, and no one ever calls or visits me anyway, so I’m hidden. In fact, I’m safe. Not only can they not distress me, I won’t distress them with my dark moods. You may have noticed that when you tell someone your concerns, it isn’t too long before they say, ‘Now you’re depressing me.’
I need to protect people from my darkness, I need to protect people from me. I use humour, because if they’re laughing, they won’t notice I’m hurting (and that’s actually a good thing because then I won’t have to fend off remarks such as ‘we all feel that way sometimes’ and ‘other people have it worse.’) Eventually, though, humour feels like a form of violence. When people laugh, their guard is down and they’re off balance, which is a good time to escape. Eventually, I begin to feel out of control—I’ve left them laughing so long, I can’t stop. (This is not to say I am always amusing, just that I try to be.) Not being able to control myself is frightening, and I worry about what it might lead to.
I realize, as you have already done, this is not healthy thinking. I believe most people do not think this way, whereas I, and people like me, do constantly. That leads to feeling ashamed. I am so different from other people, and they have no difficulty in demonstrating how little they understand me. I become increasingly aware of my vulnerability and the cost of preventing upset. For example, to get people at church to stop mauling me at the Passing of the Peace, I had to expose some of my dark secrets. It was uncomfortable, but couldn’t be avoided. Now they accept me as The Strange One around whom they need to be careful.
This is what it’s like to have Chronic Depression. DC is not a ‘pity party’, it’s a real and serious medical condition. It’s not a choice, and you can’t think your way out of it. It has a lot to do with neurochemistry and imbalances. Medications (if you can afford them) sometimes help, but don’t alter the thinking patterns and vulnerability that are part of depression.
I am writing to you from my cave. Do you understand?
Paul TN Chapman
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