Many aspects of major depression cause heartache for men and women who deal with it, particularly those who have lived with it for an extended period of time.
Virtually all of us with the clinical diagnosis endure the same annoyances, to put it mildly. The ever-present cloud of sadness that brings on long stretches of crying. Not having the interest to do things that used to be enjoyable, no desire to spend time with people – not even good friends or family. No energy to do even the most basic, necessary tasks. Change in appetite – for me, overeating that results in troubling weight gain. Irritability, poor concentration, constant thoughts of being worthless …
I hate all of those. They deepen the sadness into a state of mind that goes far deeper than mere sorrow. Often, the sadness fades into a frightening numbness. But that’s not the worst, at least not in my mind. The worst?
Man, this is embarrassing …
The worst is not being able to get out of bed. Not when the alarm goes off in the morning in order to leave on time for work or to attend Sunday Mass. Not when the alarm goes off again later in the morning, when there still is time to say Morning Prayer and to put in a half-day at work. And, on the most embarrassing of days, not even in the early hours of the afternoon. I’ve had days of getting up in time to have a sandwich for dinner, watch an hour of TV, then go back to bed for the night and hope to get up to the alarm the next morning.
I assume that many people hear about such days and think, “What a lazy bum!” Some people have heard me mention days I couldn’t get up at the alarm clock’s buzz and have told me, “Yeah, there are days I’d really like to stay in bed. It must be nice to be able to do that.”
Friends, it’s not nice or pleasant. I don’t want to stay in bed, not on those days or any days.
I have stopped trying to explain it unless it’s a friend who genuinely cares and wants to understand. “What does that really feel like? I’d like to know,” friends have asked. The best metaphor I have found came from author Andrew Solomon’s 2000 book “The Noonday Demon.” He said it is like you are wearing clothes made of wood, heavy wood, and there simply is no way to summon the strength to stand up.
One friend, after I had quoted that Solomon thought, said she finally understood what it feels like for me. Politely, I thanked her for that sympathy. But she doesn’t really understand. The only way to truly understand it is to have lived it. Even for me, especially for me, words fail.
I have asked some other people who have my shared experience to give it a try. Here are some of their responses:
“I feel like I am slogging through mud and moving in slow motion. Sometimes it takes me about 25 minutes to finally get up after I wake up.”
“For me, having depression … is like being cuffed to bricks in a pool, with my head above the water. I can breathe and think, but my body is weighted down. That’s about all I can do until I convince myself that I have to fight it and get up and take my meds.”
“It’s almost like being paralyzed. It’s like you know you want to move but your brain won’t tell your body or give it the signals it needs to cooperate.”
“When I try to get up, I swing my feet off the bed and there’s only darkness, a void. And that nothingness scares me, so I hide in my bed covered up with blankets, frightened of the emptiness and pain.”
“I have a hard time getting out of bed because life (stinks) for me the instant I realize I’m awake. Some could use the metaphor of a black dog sitting on their stomach/chest trying to force them to stay in bed. Only reason I actually get up is going to the bathroom and because staying in bed will give me a migraine.”
“It’s like if the bed is a magnet that you have to pry yourself from.”
“My body says to get up and do something with myself. My brain says, ‘Nope, stay right here. Nothing will get better. Don’t even try. It’s all a waste of time.’”
“I have no energy or motivation to move. It’s like I’m in concrete and can barely move, and when I do move the motions are so slow, like extra-slow motion.”
I agree with all of those. And I agree with none of those. In the throes of the most frustrating moments in bed – at 8 in the morning, when in great hope I have hit the snooze button six times, or at 10 in the morning or at noon or at 3 in the afternoon – I have tried to explain it to myself. If I could do that, if I could find a way for it to make sense in my own mind, then maybe one other human being in my life could make sense of it as well.
As with getting out of bed on those days, I am a failure at this endeavor as well.
On the worst of those days, I lay in bed, sometimes after falling back to sleep for 20 minutes or so, and attempt to throw back the covers. Unable to do that, I ponder at least rolling over into a different position. That turns out to require more labor than I ever imagined. My body has a heaviness like I’ve never before known. Once if finally move from my left side to my back, or my back to my right side, I am drained of all vitality until a couple hours pass and I dare to try again.
Summoning a bit of spirit, I scream at myself: “Get out of the fricking bed, dammit!” Or I sob violently and plead with myself: “Please, Mike, try harder. Please, do this.” More than anything, I beg God: “Lord, I haven’t got the strength to do this today. I need your strength. I know you can make this happen. I fall on that strength.”
Occasionally, it works. I get to work on time, or I get to work only an hour late. Other times, it works but only after simultaneous frustration and patience, as I get to work only three or four hours late. Still other times, it’s 4 o’clock when God’s strength finally kicks in for me and I’m grateful it happened at all …
But whether it works at 8 in the morning or well into the afternoon, the physical and mental effort leave me exhausted. And worse, I feel like a great failure, that I have let down my wife and family, made life more challenging for my co-workers, and not found the strength in my faith that God offers.
“Welcome this pain,” Roman poet Ovid wrote, “for you will learn from it.”
I have learned enough, thank you very much. I’d like to go back to getting out of bed like the normal people do.