I’m going to be a little contrary today. When I see people talking about depression, sometimes I see people say things that, while I’m sure they are true for them, are not at all true for me. They sound to me like things people say to feel better about depression, or make depression less threatening. The two basic categories seem to be people saying depression lets them appreciate their happiness more, and people saying that their depression is just the other side of the highs they get – that their extreme lows just means they also get extreme highs.
Neither of those things are true for me. For one, my lows can be very low indeed. When depression hits it can essentially be my brain trying to kill me, and it can be utterly, entirely awful. The highest of my highs, though, do not even come close to matching the extremes of my lows. Also, the highest of my highs are always fairly brief. My lowest of lows can last for months at a time before I get any relief.
Years ago someone introduced me to the concept of a “time horizon” which has been very useful in dealing with my depression. Basically, one’s time horizon is one’s ability to “see” forward or backward in time. When not depressed, a person’s time horizon is usually fairly long. We can remember into the past and reasonably project the future. It shrinks our perception of the now and makes it easy to see that things change over time. Depression tends to shrink our time horizon. This means that whatever we are feeling right now will seem like it’s what we’ve felt forever, and what we will feel forever. Our perception of the right now becomes huge, and not in a healthy way.
End result? The dark clouds of depression loom over me a disproportionate amount of time, while the times of happiness are disproportionately shrunken. I am *always* aware of depression, but not always aware of happiness. That is just not cool.
In addition, I have recently noticed that I do not think of my various times as “happy” and “depressed.” No, I am either “depressed” or “not depressed.” My lifetime of depression has effectively eaten up my life, so that now I define myself by it even when I’m doing ok. And why not? I can always see those dark clouds, whether they are directly overhead or looming on the horizon. Depression’s impact on me never goes away.
I’ll be honest, it’s hard for me to really enjoy happiness when I am always aware that it will go away and things will get bad again. I don’t feel like I appreciate my happiness more, I just feel like my happiness is lessened (or ‘tainted’ if I’m feeling particularly grumpy about it) due to my recurring depression. I cannot give any kind of feel-good sound bite about how depression has added something good to my life. It’s just been a badness, one that I’d much rather simply get rid of.