For us who have struggled with depression, isolation is like a warm, smothering blanket. We are isolated by the feeling of being alone in our sadness and melancholy and apathy. In our vulnerable times we can share that feeling. We can share our experience and our struggle. But at the end of the day we are alone. We fall asleep looking only at the back of our own eyelids.
Even in a group you can feel utterly alone. Adrift. You can be your "normal" self when chatting with friends or telling jokes or complaining about work. But you turn to walk away and the weight crashes in. Suddenly the strength it takes to open the door is baffling and exhausting.
I did that tonight. Shared my thoughts in a small group. Chatted with friends on our way out. Laughed some more with good, close friends in the parking lot. And when their door closed to leave and I turned to my car ... It felt like the weight of the ocean at 100 feet down was pressing down on me. And I felt like a hypocrite.
That I could laugh and share with them. And seem (probably) fairly my normal self. And turn away with this weight on my back. Felt fake. Disingenuous. And I wondered if they noticed.
I used to think, for a very long time, that I hid my depression well. When in fact, I was very much the proverbial ostrich's head in the sand. I didn't hide my depression well. I hid my entire self from the world fairly well. Which in and of itself was a cue to those closest to me that I was in a bad state again.
At the same time, much as I desire to hide myself and not "expose" my friends to my struggle and my melancholy and sadness and down-ness and whatever. It is uplifting and encouraging to be out. Sometimes it's even encouraging to spend time with someone who hasn't struggled with depression. You automatically talk about other things. "Normal" things. Instead of dwelling on the sad. And you get a view of what a "normal" life might be like.
The flip side of that coin is that people who have had no experience with depression often try to give you advice. Some ridiculous. Some stupid. Some ignorant or uninformed. All well-meaning. But since I am incapable of simply "pull(ing myself) out of it" or "cheer(ing) up" or "just do(ing) something, anything" it tends to be more discouraging than encouraging. If I could simply Cheer myself up, don't you think I would?
I had an acquaintance, a work colleague of sorts, who didn't understand my worst times and would say to me "Just do anything! Anything! Don't just dwell on that and stew about it, just do anything." And it took me years, literally, to figure out what struck a minor chord with me about that. First and foremost she will readily admit that she's never had any form of depression, ever. Secondly, she had self-serving, underlying motivations. Thirdly, she couldn't comprehend a situation in which the mere idea of doing anything in and of itself was overwhelming. The idea was overwhelming. Forget the actual follow-through and the doing and the energy and potentially work required for that. She didn't get it. Today I could be okay with that. I am a vastly different person than I was back then.
She is the reason I warn people new to this struggle to be very careful who they listen to and who they go to for advice. Sometimes I tell that story. Sometimes I just explain that the very best of well-meaning advice can come from a place of ignorance and unfamiliarity. I liken it to me giving childbirth advice. I've never even had sex much less given birth! I can share the story of my friend Sarah who used a mantra (of sorts) that her body was designed to give birth without drugs or induction and had a smooth, albeit expectedly difficult, labor. I can share friends who go straight for the drugs and schedule C-sections. But for me to tell you, unequivocally, that no drugs is the way to go or to schedule your C-section as soon as you have a due date, is ridiculous. You would have no problem writing me off. Well, most of us wouldn't.
But, somehow, when it comes to any form of mental illness we think we know the answer. But all the kind advice in the world, no matter how well-meaning it is, makes me feel any less alone when I go to bed at night. No matter how much I have chosen to Cheer Up today. No matter how much I fight to Pull Myself Out of It. No matter how many things I force myself to Just Do. I go to bed alone. I pray to my Savior, alone. He comforts me as best I will allow him, alone. And I will rest and sleep and dream and tomorrow the merry go round will start again.