In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, specifically in the third book, Mockingjay, Peeta’s grasp on reality is so tenuous that he has to ask “Real, or not real?” in order to discern truth from lies. In much the same way, when I am in a depressive episode, it is incredibly important to be able to tell the difference between what is no-kidding real and what depression wants me to believe.
For example, we often talk about how depression is isolating. I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to get out of the house, and I certainly don’t want to socialize. Part of that is the energy drain; another part is the thought pattern created by depression. I don’t really want to be around people; depression wants me to believe that people don’t want to be around me, that I am a burden, and that others merely tolerate me anyway.
Real, or not real?
When I’m not depressed, the question seems laughable and the things that depression would like me to believe seem ridiculous. But when I’m deep in that darkness, they seem legitimate – overwhelmingly so. So I ask myself the question, “Real, or not real?” and I think about what I know to be true. I think about what I’ve experienced. I think about my friends and family, and I know that depression is a big fat liar.
So depression moves on with its insidious, accusatory game.
“You’re a whole bucket of crazy. Do you think anyone could ever love you like this? No one will ever be willing to deal with a person like you in their life.”
Real, or not real?
My depression is not my defining feature. Granted, it likes to take center stage when it can, but it doesn’t get to very often. Are there guys who will run screaming for the hills the second that my crazy shows a bit? Yes, and I don’t want them anyway. I know that I’m actually a pretty great person, and if depression is stopping someone from dealing with me, they can keep right on walking.
So depression tries again.
“You do realize that no one else actually feels this way, right? You’re literally the only one who has ever dealt with this. You’re broken, you’re alone, no one understands, and no one wants to be bothered by you trying to explain it.”
Real, or not real?
It seems silly to even type depression’s argument, but the heavy weight of it when I’m struggling cannot be overstated. In this moment, I think about the number of organizations that exist to help people with depression and mental illness. I think about the 22 veterans who take their lives on a daily basis. I think about the number of celebrities who didn’t get help and the handful who did. I am not alone.
I have close friends whom I let know when a depressive episode has kicked off. One of them knows that I drink a particular type of tea when I’m feeling down; I’ll ask her over for some tea. Whether it’s a real invitation or not, she knows that I’m riding the struggle bus and need some support. Another friend is familiar with my “fight’s on” mantra, and I simply let him know that it’s one of those fighting days. There are others whom I simply tell outright. The conversation is no longer awkward; I’ve built trust with them and they with me. They make it completely, utterly, wonderfully impossible to believe the lies that I am alone and that no one understands, because they walk with me in the darkness.
Depression is real. The fight is real. The head games are real. The thoughts are not. But when someone is in a depressive episode, it all feels very, very real. So let me tell you this:
If you are so deep in the tunnel that you can no longer see the beginning or the end, and it is pitch black and all you seem to have are the thoughts screaming at you and reminding you of how desperately alone you are, I will stand with you. I will stand with you and walk with you in that darkness until we find the light. You are not alone. I am not alone. One step at a time, we’ll get through that tunnel together. You’re worth it, and so am I.