What “Depression” Feels Like

I avoid calling the bouts of sadness and anxiety I experience “Depression”. I don’t like to think of myself as “sick” or “victim” to something outside of my control. In the past I’ve been treated like a patient, interviewed, tested, medicated. Numbing or bandaging the feels never worked long-term. Sure, I feel a lot. Life’s ups and downs hit me like the highs and lows of the world’s largest roller coaster, making me excited, anxious, gleeful, nauseated, and terrified from moment to moment. Usually I can breathe through the feels, knowing that this too shall pass. But there are certain days that the lows are just too much.

Every so often – sometimes aggravated by an event, sometimes out of the blue – sadness will arrive like a needy house guest. Life must go on, but with the added responsibility of entertaining this uninvited specter. Sometimes it comes in slowly, sneakily – slithering under the door like methane gas, undetected until it’s too late and I can’t breathe from its toxicity. Or sometimes sadness kicks the door in on my life and ransacks my house. It finds me shivering under my bed, picks me up by my ankles, and tosses me around like a rag doll. It finds the things I love and burns them, calls all the people I care about and tells them my darkest secrets. It gets into my subconscious and weaves nightmarish visions of my greatest fears, causing me to wake up screaming. It buckles me into a lead suit and ties a belt tight around my chest and throat. It turns the faucet behind my eyes on, so that if I so much as blink, the well will overflow.

On the outside I may look normal, perhaps a bit weary. But in reality, I am struggling to stand up straight, to keep my eyes open, to not tear at my skin and try to peel off the heaviness. I would get annoyed when well-meaning friends would say “just change your way of thinking” or, “shake it off” or, “choose not to let it bother you”. I felt that is like asking a person with a broken leg to just “get up! Shake it off, it can’t be that bad.” Sometimes, sadness takes longer to heal. Sometimes, I have to sit with it, wait for it to pass. It is real, tangible, and can be as debilitating as a broken bone.

I have made progress. I used to allow this unwanted house guest to take over my life. Like the stereotypical “emo kid”, I would cancel plans and appointments so I could stay home and sit in a dark room, waiting for the storm to pass. Sometimes, I still do this. But something happened to me recently that made me realize that my life doesn’t have to come to an abrupt halt when sadness hits.

I was in my Yoga Teacher Training, day 2 of 3 long and challenging days. I’d had a panic attack the day before, and was still not fully recovered from the adrenaline dump. I had barely slept. It felt like I was paper thin, transparent. I couldn’t anchor to anything. I hoped that if I didn’t look anyone straight in the eye I could disappear completely. If someone tried to interact with me, I felt like I owed them an apology. “Sorry for the mess. I haven’t cleaned up yet, I have this really rude house guest who just shows up without warning, don’t judge me based on who I am today.” To simply be in public was pressing me up against my edge, grating me, burning me. We got into the first pose and I started balling my eyes out. Heaving sobs ruptured up from the heated nothingness and I saw the drips hit my blue yoga mat and disappear like rain on hot pavement. I wanted to bolt. To hide. To cover my face and my body that now felt huge, like it was taking up the whole room. I was a black hole, sucking the life out of everyone and everything. How dense, how hot, how dark. Oh, to be able to disappear, to cease existing, would be so very delicious.

Breathe. OK. Hands on the mat. Fingernails. Knuckles. There’s my feet. The same toes as yesterday, the same ones attached to the happy person that was there before. She’s still here, somewhere. Listen to the cues. Make them happen in your body. Mechanical at first. Just go through the motions. You have nowhere to go, just be here. Familiar shapes create a crumb trail for me to find my way back into my body. Warrior 1. Warrior 2. Side Angle. Directions to help weave my way through the labyrinth. The breath starts to get bigger. The sadness starts to get smaller. It’s getting brighter inside. Less dense. Leg up, spread your toes. I do. I feel. The house guest sees I’m busy, and with a snarl, takes her dirty boots off my kitchen table and goes, for now.

The black hole supernovas, and I am once again the entire universe.