A couple of years ago at a follow-up visit, I told my psychiatrist that the medicine he’d prescribed had really helped with depression. My symptoms were still there, but they were manageable. The pangs of sadness were at the edge of my thoughts instead of the forefront. I figured this was our last visit, case closed.
The doctor smiled and said, “Hopefully, with a higher dose, you’ll have no symptoms.”
I sat there, slack-jawed, blinking.
Depression felt inextricably linked to who I was. If you ripped the depression out of me, would there be anyone left?
I also had notebooks filled with moody poetry and short stories written in my saddest moments. Without depression as fuel, would I still be able to write?
I hesitantly agreed to the higher dose.
It’s been about two years. I’ve used a comparison over and over again in my writing since. Recovering from depression is like recovering from frostbite. As the skin thaws, it hurts, and there’s the instinct to throw the skin back in the cold. There were so many points in the process where I wanted to regress. When I was depressed I knew that I’d lost friends and that I wasn’t being the best version of myself. But I didn’t feel it. And when I started to get better, all the regret for lost time came pouring in.
I’m an empath, so taking in emotional media highly affects my mood. If I put on the right sad song, I can throw myself into a depressive spiral. Sometimes, I did this on purpose. I could feel myself changing and listening to the same music I loved when I was depressed made me feel like my old, familiar, broken self.
I had a pretty rough childhood. I’m not close to my parents, and I dealt with unchecked anorexia and yes, depression too. It felt different back then, though. It was a fervent self-hatred that manifested in pedantic perfectionism. It was religiously-fueled, so when I became a nihilist in college, my depression shifted. I didn’t care as much about being perfect anymore, but life also felt more driftless. What was the point of anything?
For some reason, it stole me of my concentration. I couldn’t keep up with conversations, I lost interest in all hobbies that weren’t staring at screens, and I couldn’t read. As someone who had always wanted to write and work in publishing, this was the worst piece of cognitive dissonance imaginable. I was failing at being myself.
The first few months dating my S.O., we played chess to break the ice. I was awful at it. I just couldn’t make myself care about winning. I didn’t have the brain space to think about next moves and countermoves. I moved based on whims and poorly-thought out tricks. I lost every time.
On a recent trip with my S.O., we played again for the first time in two years. Our flight back home was a redeye, but we hadn’t kept our Airbnb for the day. We had to kill time with luggage in hand. I found a bar with piles of board games. We bought some beers and settled in for a game of chess. For an hour I was enraptured in the game. I didn’t even win. But I was engaged. I cared about winning. I was a worthy adversary.
I almost burst into tears in that board game bar. My brain was working again.
Since mental disorders are really just destructive thought patterns, I don’t think you can ever beat them. When I actively had anorexia, I had a series of go-to thoughts whenever I thought about food or my body. Don’t eat don’t eat don’t eat. You’re fat you’re fat you’re fat. Those pathways became super highways in my brain. They’re deer trails now, but I still have to be wary to never go down those paths again. With time, the depression pathways will fade too.
When I go in for check-ups at the doctor, I get the standard check-in sheet with the list of my medications and allergies. At the top of the sheet, it lists known diseases:
I’ve never been prouder of anything.