Having depression is like being stuck in a maze that has no exit.
You don’t ask to be there, and you don’t necessarily realize that you’re even in it. It’s often a slow-boil scenario where you slowly begin to detect that you’re not where you used to be. You keep turning a corner to get somewhere new, to make sense of things. But there is no point. You never make the correct turn into a field of flowers where unicorns prance around beneath a rainbowed sky. You’re stuck.
Several years ago, I noticed I was in the depression maze and that I’d been wandering around it for an indeterminate amount of time.
When I first became aware that I was in this maze, I kind of looked around and it became apparent that although I’d been meandering left and right for months, I didn’t actually understand what my goal was. Like, aren’t you supposed to enter a maze intentionally, with a purpose? To reach the exit on the other side? Or to reach the middle and win a prize? With blatant disregard for my need for clarity and purpose, the depression maze did not provide me with an answer. I was just kind of there.
The depression maze has zero objective. You don’t even get to meet David Bowie.
Despite this, I decided to look at my circumstances so that I could evaluate and plan a course of action. I noticed a major shift within myself: a few months earlier, I’d written “I just love life!” on my Facebook info page. But depression had crept up behind me very slowly, wrapped its arms around me undetected, and stripped me of all energy and motivation. Over time, things for me had just kind of become devoid of meaning. I no longer had interest in doing things or being around people. I was kind of sad, bored, and uninterested in life. In the months preceding, all I accomplished was watching every episode of Lost on Netflix. Where was that girl I used to be? Well, she was lost in a fucking depression maze.
Naturally, when I first began to realize that I might be depressed, my course of action was to wallow in it like a real sonofabitch. I mean it. I really took advantage of the situation and indulged in every trite ‘depression activity’ that crossed my mind. These activities were easy and required little energy.
I began each day by curling up in a little ball revelling in my stoicism. I moped around and stopped using my smile muscles, and spent more and more time at home alone. I turned down plans that would make me happy, and stopped reading and exercising. I no longer wore makeup or got dressed on weekends, instead staying in bed until noon. Or later. I fantasized about living in a mental institution where there were no stressors, and no expectations. Just PJs, slippers, and prescription drugs.
And I cried. I cried a lot. I cried hysterically, and quietly, and dramatically in the shower. Crying was all I had to hold on to. It was the only way I felt like I was experiencing emotion. Crying = Sad. Right? Sitting in my closet crying really hit the spot. I would consciously think to myself “Look at how sad I am. This is so sad. I am hiding in my closet crying, all by myself, and it is just so sad. I could be in a movie about depression right now.”
But veritably, sadness isn’t really a good representation of what depression feels like. Feeling sad is more of a nice side effect than anything. Because for me, depression was the absence of feeling. I didn’t care about anything, and I didn’t feel compassion for myself or anyone else. I didn’t feel sad; I felt empty. And I wanted to keep it that way.
I recall my sister coming over and writing a very inspiring letter to me about self-love and self-care. But I folded it up and put it away in my nightstand. I didn’t want to experience self-love. I wanted to be left alone, crying and eating my cup-a-noodles in bed without interruption.
That was the most fucked up part of depression. I wanted to feel like this. If something that could potentially bring joy or change came about, I gave it a dirty look and rejected it. I didn’t even doubt the love people in my life had for me, I simply didn’t care about it. Nothing mattered anymore. Even when my cat came running up to greet me with little meows, purrs, and head-bumps, I somewhat resented him for trying to change my mood.
Truthfully, immersing yourself completely in a sea of melancholy is very satisfying – to a point. Everyone basks in that pity party once or twice in their life. But I had taken it to another level. As I became more and more detached, it all began to feel very frightening when I recognized that I didn’t want to live anymore.
To be clear, I did not want to kill myself. I just didn’t want to be alive. I wanted to just sort of disappear, stop being, hit my off button. I was exhausted, and this depression maze had proven to have not only no significance, but no escape. Wanting to be not-alive scared me. Sleep was my only avoidance strategy, and it wasn’t working. There was no end to this existence in sight.
At one point or another, depression, for many of us, morphs into a real problem. It starts out like a limp. You can function like this, limping around for weeks, still able to do all the normal stuff in life: you can still manage to get to work, buy groceries, and, uh, bathe. But eventually it can become a full-blown broken leg. And you can’t carry on like that without some kind of intervention. You need medical care, a cast and crutches, and a way to heal.
One particularly dark day, I had been in bed crying for hours. Nothing had triggered it. I was just laying there detached and pathetic, indiscriminately emptying my tear ducts into my pillow. I hadn’t showered or dressed in several days. I hadn’t been able to drag myself to work that day, and this intensified my feelings. Or not-feelings. I wasn’t sure if this meant I was getting closer to the point of wanting to end my life. Depression had morphed into a tangible problem. It was very disturbing.
This hollow mental existence was now threatening my physical existence. It went beyond an aversion to showering: it was jeopardizing my job and my life. It was one thing to take morbid pleasure in the experience in my pretty apartment, knowing that I did have a life to return to, even if only in theory. It would be another thing entirely to wallow in my parents’ basement, unemployed and futureless. It would be even worse if I became suicidal. I was a tiny step away from hitting rock bottom.
But I noticed a glimmer of hope in that.
Now, I still didn’t want to get better. I was still messed up about that. But I’d arrived at this groundbreaking cognizance that I didn’t want things to get worse. I knew that I wouldn’t take my own life at this moment, but there was no way to magically cease to exist. This was as far as I wanted it to go. I didn’t want to lose everything in life I’d worked for, and I knew that feeding my depression was leading dangerously close to just that. The things people respected me for, and the things I was proud of – they’d be gone, irrevocably. I realized that I’d found a secret trap door in the depression maze.
It was a sobering moment, and without allowing myself to move past this realization and think worse of it, I called my mom.
Removing myself from that deep level of depression didn’t happen overnight. It involved going through that trap door, which was mortifying and daunting, and wandering uphill and down through another maze. It was painful. But pain is good. Pain isn’t nothing. It kept me going.
To an extent, I am still in the maze. But in this other maze, there are doors. There are opportunities. There are people I can talk to, doctors and therapists. There is medication. There are friends and family members who listen and don’t judge.
It’s hard work, and it’s ongoing. I have ups and downs. But I try very hard not to lose sight on that glimmer of hope, even on the days when I feel hopeless and don’t want to feel good.
There is time. There is love. There is healing.
There is another door to walk through.