I have struggled with depression since I was 14. I was finally correctly diagnosed at age 31 with a bipolar 2 affective disorder. I am currently disabled because of my mood-swings. I am on medication, but that eases the symptoms; it doesn’t remove them.
It took me over a decade after I was diagnosed with bipolar to truly accept that I have a chronic mental illness, which is just as real and valid as a physical illness.
When I get depressed, it often comes as a surprise; there are often no external triggers that I can see. When there are triggers, I often feel as if my reaction is exaggerated.
It is always at it’s worst during the first half of the day. The only reason why I get up at all when the depression is at it’s worst, is to make sure my cat has food, water and a clean litterbox. Sometimes I manage to get up in the evening, and that just makes it worse, that I can’t manage to get up in the morning, and go to work like a normal person.
Every day I failed at getting up and going to work, and sleeping most of the day, I would beat myself up for failing. Everyone else manages to get up and go to work, so why can’t I?
And this is the insidious part of depression: I felt like I was a failure, that I was really just too lazy to get up in the morning, that I was terribly selfish to stay at home in bed when I was needed at work.
When I managed to go to work, I had problems concentrating and remembering things, and it made me feel really stupid. Another thing to add to my list of flaws. I didn’t know until a few years ago, that depression actually messes with your ability to store long term memories.
I didn’t feel that I had a real, valid illness, since it was all just “in my head”. I felt that it was personality flaws. I was filled with self-loathing. I felt that I was lazy, selfish, and stupid. I also felt that I was unlovable, that I was a worthless piece of shit. This made me more depressed, and it was a downward spiral of negative emotions.
Another problem I had, was that each time I exited a period with depression, the memories of the time I had been depressed were blurred. I felt that I had exaggerated things, that I had used depression as an excuse to not work. Another “confirmation” that I was a lazy piece of shit.
In 2005 I finally found a therapist I felt I could really work with. He helped me to understand that a mental illness is just as real and valid as a physical one.
When I was depressed, I would ask him: “am I really ill, or am I just lazy?”, and he would tell me: “you are not being lazy, you really are ill.”
I would go through a list of symptoms, and say to myself: “I really am depressed.” Symptoms include: feeling helplessness, hopelessness, and despair, loss of energy, loss of the ability to feel joy and pleasure in anything, sleep changes, appetite changes, self-loathing, concentration and memory problems, etc.
A year and a half ago, I discovered the concepts of self-compassion and self-kindness. That gave me a lot to think about. I found several good articles on these subjects at Greater Good.
I realised that I was really hard on myself both when I were depressed, and after I had been through a depression.
Going in therapy and reading about these subjects helped me learn to accept that I actually have a chronic mental illness, and that it’s really an illness and not personality flaws.
Practising self-compassion and self-kindness has helped me heal a lot from the pain of being depressed, from the pain of being unable to work, and from the pain of my major breakdown. I’m still a work in progress, but during the last year my mind has become much more calm, free of negative, racing thoughts. I feel rather content, now, and it has been a very a long time since I felt that.