I’m borrowing the title of this post from my friend Marcella who is writing a memoir about her life with her father who was born a man and transitioned into being a woman. Her memoir in progress is called What it Feels Like and you can join her conversation on Facebook here.)
Years ago, I made an appointment with a weight-loss doctor in Century City. Over the course of three or four years my body had grown disproportionate and my weight gain had spiraled out of control. I examined my lifestyle, my eating habits and could assess that most of my weight gain occurred from two medications I took at two different periods of time.
No one cares why you gain weight, though. To society, you are fat. To my own self, I was fat and my weight kept rising. It was a scary confirmation that my depression was out of control, a fact that I knew all too well. My ability to eat, though, meant that I was alive. I wasn’t suicidal and I didn’t kill myself. I often felt I should be dead. The pain was unbearable.
The weight loss doctor greeted me in his office and we had an instant connection, something deeper than I’d ever had with any other doctor. We spent over an hour talking about writing, religion and politics. We barely discussed my weight during the first visit. Then he remembered the meaning of my visit and we got back to business. I started developing feelings for my doctor, but I was sure he didn’t reciprocate them. Certainly not. I was his fat patient. He was helping me lose weight. It reminded me of a quote a girl I knew kept on her refrigerator, “Hot guys don’t like fat girls.” This self-hatred deterred her from eating and it helped me keep my feelings in check.
Throughout the next few months, I visited him and called him as often as was prescribed. We became very close, partly because I can be a very vulnerable person emotionally and partly because he was so compassionate. His first set of blood tests brought back something he noted. My thyroid hormones were not regulating normally causing me to have a condition called hypothyroidism. But he needed to know more about my symptoms. He asked me a series of questions: Did I suffer from constipation, hair loss, brittle nails, dry skin? My answers were yes. Sleeping problems? Yes. Depression? Yes. Fatigue? Yes. On what levels were all of these? About a ten each, I answered. I suffered from horrible fatigue and could never get out of bed. I’d had this as long as I could remember. Weight gain was also a condition of hypothyroidism. Depression could be caused by hypothyroidism and could also cause weight gain.
My doctor knew I suffered from depression. I was in college at the time and I may have started crying at some points during our talks as was my typical m.o. It wasn’t how I tried to score dates. In those days it was a result of having a conversation with someone who cared. At all.
We’d discussed the history my family had with depression and suicide. Just about everyone in my mother’s family had been depressed and one had a successful venture with suicide. I had reason to be worried about myself.
He diagnosed me with anxiety, which surprised me. I’d always concluded that depression was the cause of all my problems but he’d handed me another issue–something that complicated my feelings about my experience with religion even more. Religion, more accurately fundamentalism and seven years in a coercive group, caused me to develop anxiety.
I knew I suffered high-levels of anxiety but I’d never thought much about it. I stressed often and greatly. I often felt unloved, like I was detestable to people. I still feel this way.
In part, religious guilt took that adolescent, anxious feeling I’d learned to deal with and complicated it. If I were a “sinner” then of course I could never be good enough for a god that wanted retribution on sinners. It made sense to me that I wasn’t good enough for god because I never felt good enough for those around me.
I’ve learned to cope with depression and anxiety. Not perfectly, but I’m too hard on myself or so my mom says.
My mother and I have conversations several times weekly. She assures me I’m normal and strong and in a way it’s like she’s telling herself this. At eighteen, she attempted suicide. When she calls me and tells me she’s concerned about me, I know there’s more than just motherly concern. She can feel the change in me. The dive into darkness. The feelings of being overwhelmed with loneliness.
The past two weeks been dark and lonely. Regardless of who surrounds me, how busy I am, or how active I am, I feel it. I feel the plunge and I can’t escape.
Depression, some people argue, is something you CAN prevent. You can control your feelings and make your way out of it. It’s a choice and you’re lazy or weak if you can’t fix yourself.
To me, depression is something I don’t understand and something I can’t often can’t tell I’m suffering from when it attacks. Thoughts of driving my car into another car seem normal. Desiring physical pain to match my emotional pain feels healthy. Pushing away loving, caring people is normal. It’s what I do because I depend on some people so much that I’m often hurt when they don’t notice I’m down or when they don’t know how to fix me.
Years ago my friend Jordan was frustrated with me. I often cried on the phone with him. I was deeply depressed some days and I was hoping he could save me from myself.
It was my pre-Effexor (an anxiety medicine that also serves as an anti-depressant) days. He knew my pain all too well; his mother suffered from the same thing. He was busy saving his mom from herself and didn’t have time to save me.
“Lisa, you need to get help for this. No one, not even your mom, is going to be able to force you to live or try to get better.”
I didn’t think I needed medication at the time and Jordan was trying to convince me otherwise.
I followed his advice and I accepted the medication from my weight loss doctor. I decided to try to get help for myself so my dark days would seem a little brighter.
For years it helped, nearly flawlessly. Until about a month ago, I often thought, “This is what it feels like to be NORMAL.”
About a month ago, I took birth control pills and the suicidal thoughts started again. It’s normal for some patients to feel this way, the package said. So I stopped the pills.
My emotions regulated. I was almost normal again.
A week ago, I got in the first big fight with my boyfriend. We argued about something I felt justified in feeling. Everyone said so. He was less than compassionate. We made up. We fought again. I pushed him away and put my foot down. After pushing him away, I loved him more than ever. Our argument finally reached a breaking point, we both compromised. Everything was fine, or would’ve been.
And then yesterday I felt it again. The feeling of possibly nothing at all to be upset about but I was distraught, anxious, nervous. He didn’t love me, I was sure of it. He hadn’t texted me all day, or returned my texts. He had plans after work related to another job he has and I was let down. He was rejecting me, I was sure of it. He was leaving me like they all do.
For two hours I lay in bed crying. I wanted to do things that might get him to respond, to show emotion, to care. The normal things came to mind, all including death. For hours I contemplated what to do and thought pills would be most effective. What kind, though? How many? Couldn’t I just check myself in somewhere? Do I call my mom? No, it’s almost midnight. I have a work deadline tomorrow. I can’t breakdown.
And then he called me. He wasn’t aware of my meltdown because he’d been working all day, as usual. And as usual, he can’t answer his phone at work because he’s teaching people. Nothing was wrong. He didn’t hate me. In fact, he was joking with me and sharing stories of his day with me, as he usually did.
It helped tremendously. I knew and know that he loves me, possibly more than any man ever has.
Even in relationships, my loneliness has always existed. Regardless of how much someone shows me they love me, I don’t always believe it. I don’t feel worthy or good enough. I feel unlovable.
This is what it feels like to be depressed.