This #WorldHealthDay, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability globally. My closest friends, doting and attentive boyfriend, college professors, and a handful of beautiful strangers in DC club bathrooms know that I’ve spent the majority of my life battling dysthymia, a chronic, low-level form of depression.
If I had to characterize it in a way that one might be able to grasp, it’s your annoying coworker Charles who doesn’t wear nearly enough deodorant, skims everyone’s lunches for the good bits, and craps on every little piece of good news that comes through the office.
Yeah. Fuck Charles.
Before we start, though, let’s clear up some persistent BS. If depression is Charles, then Charles isn’t (just) crying constantly, looking longingly out windows, journaling while listening to Conor Oberst, or wanting to die in a number of, if nothing else, inventive ways. He’s an amorphous sort of blech, fitting whatever container he can sneak his way into and waving squatter rights triumphantly when he’s made a home of your mind (that asshole). He’s a different sort of unpleasant to everyone who has the pleasure of making his acquaintance.
This is how Charles makes his presence known in my life.
Charles is missed showers — a growing pile of clothing on the floor, skipping school, skipping social interactions, skipping life. It’s like there’s this idea that while he and I sideline my life for a second to chat, there’s a nice, elderly shopkeeper on hand with thick, crescent glasses and a feather duster to keep everything neat and orderly. Obviously, that’s never the case.
Then, he transforms. He becomes eating too little, eating too much, waving an old-school calculator while shouting caloric intake and calculating the repercussions behind every good feeling thing. He becomes not calling your parents because they sacrificed too much for you to do so little with your life. Charles is you walking away from office hours with an otherwise understanding professor, a metaphorical menacing glance over your supervisor’s shoulder as you’re chastised, yet again, for not producing expected deliverables.
Paralyzing anxiety can be a perfect doppelganger for laziness and lack of ambition.
He transforms again. He’s that urge to kiss that stranger next to the booming speaker and letting their warmth replace your cold, if only for a moment. Charles is loving someone and wanting to reach out, if only to graze their hand, only to find yourself repeating just reach out and touch just reach out and touch just reach out and touch in your head while you stare blankly at them and they plead with you, imploring you to stop being so cold, so distant.
He transforms a final time and, ah, it’s a sigh of relief because you’ve finally hit the stereotype. Charles, finally, is a crying fit — heaving, shoulder-wracking sobbing. Snot dripping, eyes stinging, the whole shebang. However, what should be cathartic becomes infinitely tedious, because no amount of crying over some abstract sadness really cuts through the fog, as Charles is quick to gleefully remind you.
Then, it ebbs. And it flows, and you go to class, or work, or to a fancy dinner with your boyfriend and order something more than the water (hold the lemon). Charles goes to sleep, and let me tell you, this mofo hibernates for days, months on end. You end up talking to someone, it’s great. Your insurance coverage ends and those conversations stop; it’s not so great. It’s not better, it’s not worse. It just is.
Life continues this lopsided lope down some dusty path, and the thing about getting better is that it’s just getting marginally better at predicting the speed bumps and craters along the way.
To complete this crap metaphor, you and Charles still don’t like each other, and he’s definitely still an A-grade asshole, but you learn to live alongside him.
If you’re thinking to yourself, oh shit I definitely have a Charles in my head only her name is Miranda and she has perfect teeth and the cruelest laugh ever, it’s okay! I mean, that sentiment is a bit BS in and of itself, because you know it’s not okay, but I just mean you’re not crazy. You’re not wrong, you’re not attention-seeking.
You’re hurting, and you deserve help.
Take a look at the resources available through WHO and talk to someone, if you can. This journey doesn’t start getting easier until you take the first step or some namaste crap like that. Trust me on this one. A year ago today, I was pulling my life together from having almost flunked out of my Fall senior semester and today I’m living in the nation’s capital, doing fulfilling work in a relationship with someone who loves me, in his own words, in happiness and sadness.
Take that shower. Message that friend. Finally, and most importantly, repeat after me: