the inaccuracy of "feeling"

  Berndnaut Smilde :  Nimbus Sankt Peter  (2014)

Berndnaut Smilde: Nimbus Sankt Peter (2014)

It happened as fast as the sun going behind a cloud.

Sarah Silverman

My depression has been worsening in the last many weeks, and I can see a direct correlation between my increase in stress and my irregular sleep patterns, continuous cold and flu state, overall exhaustion, and general malaise.  People sometimes ask what depression feels like, and if I were to catalog the physical symptoms, one might diagnose me with the flu, or prescribe more sleep and relaxation.  Of course those things help sometimes.  Other times you fall asleep with your head on your desk because the thought of standing up, and the effort it requires, is literally terrifying.

What does depression feel like?  I have written before about the utter lack of feeling it inspires.  Depression is not sadness, nor "feeling depressed."  That seems to me like saying that chronic pain disorders are "feeling achy."  But because of our limited linguistic capabilities, we use the same words to describe the feeling of getting caught in the rain as we use for the absolute certainty that we will not survive beyond the day. 

I became anxious, occasionally terrified, at the prospect of seeing my classmates, as though their seeing me would make me real again, and it would make my ridiculous condition real, and yet I would still hide it. I never felt worthless or undeserving. I simply stopped feeling at all.
— February 2014

Depression is both physical and mental.  Your body is tired.  Your eyelids hurt.  Dull chest pains accompany every breath.  Sunlight feels like an attack on your skin.  Any bothersome recurring discomfort -- idiosyncrasies, like my sore wrists and knees -- feel like they will never subside again.  Forget exertion of any kind; it takes all your courage simply to exist in a neutral vertical state.

Somewhere between the physical and mental, it seems that your mind is playing tricks on you.  You see everything around you, familiar things and places, but none of it makes sense: as if you're looking at reflections or watching video footage.  All your perceptions seem at a distance.  You lose your sense of time. 

You invent thoughts for other people: surely that stranger knows what I'm thinking; surely my friends will never understand me; surely I am the only person who has experienced this.  It seems as though everyone is knowing and judging you, looking in at your isolation. 

Emily Dickinson described it as a "funeral in my brain."  I think it is like that.  You lose the capacity to do so many things.  There is no trying harder, no thinking through -- you are half dead, and if it goes on long enough, you wonder why you don't just finish off the job.  I am grateful that I have never gone that far, though never unaware of my grim statistical risk of doing so. 

And I discovered, as I talked to depressive people, that they have many delusional perceptions. People will say, “No one loves me.” And you say, “I love you, your wife loves you, your mother loves you.” You can answer that one pretty readily, at least for most people. But people who are depressed will also say, “No matter what we do, we’re all just going to die in the end.” Or they’ll say, “There can be no true communion between two human beings. Each of us is trapped in his own body.” To which you have to say, “That’s true, but I think we should focus right now on what to have for breakfast.”
— Andrew Solomon, TED October 2013

Depression tricks you into believing that it's reasonable.  First, in a simple way: this has happened before, so why not now?  Why not go on living like this for the rest of your life?  But also in the way that Andrew Solomon describes.  You believe that your true self has been revealed, that finally you know the reality of your worthlessness, or laziness, or illness.  Well you do know the reality of your illness; it just doesn't seem like an illness.  It masks itself as insight, or identity. 

It is not so easy some days to tie up these missives with an optimistic note.  Sometimes there is none.  Sometimes it is just slogging through and slogging through, and eventually, without reason, it gets better.  Sometimes it doesn't.  But rather than manufacture some feeling which I can't seem to muster at the moment, I'm rereading notes from days when I could:

None of us ever knows what is coming next, but facing that reality while being uncertain of your own mental and emotional faculties is a slightly different challenge. It requires a level of self-awareness that few have the inclination to cultivate. It requires thriving in spite of your own body’s unwillingness to function, even at the most basic level.

But when regularity does arise, it is not like newfound energy or restored good health. It is like returning home: the order and familiarity of our surroundings reminding us who we are — allowing us to sleep again, and to feel our own skin. That relief negates the trouble sometimes, though the balance isn’t always equal.

Stay hearty. We have all strayed from home.