Depressive or “only dissatisfied?

Living with depression "I have often thought of lying down and not getting up again."

I have never thought of killing myself. I just thought very often about lying down and not getting up again. Every few months, for a week or two. As soon as everyone was out of the house, I went back to bed. In short, I thought. To draw strength. For that insurmountable, unconquerable, heavy, gray day. And for all the other days after that. And as soon as I was lying on the bed again, all strength left me and I stayed lying there.

5 measures against loneliness: A lonely teddy by the sea

But is it true, all the strength left me? A little bit I had. Strong enough to hide in bed. Strength enough to feel bad about not working, not cleaning up, not getting anything done, not functioning. I have enough energy to roll out of bed and clean up just before the kids get home from school or my wife gets home from work. "What did you do today?" "Oh, it’s been slow." As I said, my life was never in danger. This life just hasn’t been a very good one.

The mild to moderate depression – lack of sleep and stress

I don’t know if I have chosen a profession and a life in which I can and could hide especially well with my depressive phases. I worked only a few years as an employee. One reason I went into business for myself was because of my depressive episodes. When you have to go to the office depressed because you have the pretense of not letting anyone down, your day becomes hell. Just to lie there: What seemed like defeat to me later when I could do it, was a wonderful utopia to me as an employee. Not to get up. As a self-employed person you can. For a day or two. If you are willing to work through the next weekend or the next night.

Which is not good if you want to keep the next depressive phase at bay: mild to moderate depression loves lack of sleep and stress. There, I said it: mild to moderate depression. The wording comes from my family doctor. Depression has a lot to do with guilt: for not managing to be happy, for making life difficult for those you love, for being unreliable and weak. For me additionally: because sometimes I wished I just had a real depression, that is: a severe one. Because then everything would have been so clear. My mother sometimes stayed in bed for days without a word when we were children. There was no more pretending, no more pulling yourself together, no more you-shouldn’t-see-me-that-way. The option was not open to her, she did not have to choose. Sometimes, in a perverse self-punishment fantasy, I’ve longed for that clarity: to be so depressed that it’s utterly impossible to expend the inhuman strength to get through the day after all.

What I had and have, was never so clear. My second therapist, after our first long conversation, said something like: "I think you suffer from a periodic, long-lasting depressive mood. We call it dysthymia." He paused, and his next sentence fell into my strange relief and shock at having received a diagnosis. "But", He went on, "Of course, it could also be that it’s just life." There are depressives who become "high-functioning" called. Because they can just about cover up their depression, and because the high energy expenditure that this costs them also leads to the fact that they are considered hard-working and successful. I think I was one of them. And that thought that it could be "just life" I’m sure that’s part of it.

My grandfather from Ostholstein used to say, seemingly jokingly, but in truth with deep feeling: "Life is one of the hardest things in the world." And that goes for all people. So why should I have the right to claim that it was especially difficult for me, more difficult than for most other people?? Just because I "can’t get it up" every now and then, as we mid-depressives call it?

Stress, excessive demands and fear of failure

It took me, I would say, over 25, almost 30 years to get better. Why did it take me so long to find something that helps me?? Why did I think for so long I didn’t need it, or maybe I didn’t deserve it? I had my first really distressing depressive episodes in my early twenties. By upsetting I mean: phases that shook up days and weeks and me and my self-image. Sadness and futility in everything, the inability to put on pants, answer the phone, hold a pencil. Every morning on the way from the subway to the university I came across a sign "Psychological Counseling" over.

I don’t blame the woman there. Maybe when I turned off one morning and went to her office, she was having a bad day herself, or maybe I just couldn’t explain how I was really feeling. Because I never liked myself as a depressive, I always had a great desire to please others. Not to be a burden to anyone. To say what people want to hear. Which is why I didn’t say in the consultation back then, I hate myself and my life, I’m so sad when I see myself, I don’t want to move, I just want to lie and close my eyes, and I wish I could cry, all day long. That sounded too much like a German emo song lyric to me even then. Instead I talked about stress and overwhelm and maybe fear of failure, and I remember the word "dejection", because it sounded like someone or something hit you and you just need to get yourself together for a minute.

A stressful job with a lot of competition

"No wonder, you are at the very beginning of your studies", said the psychologist. "You have to learn to organize yourself first. It’s a difficult transition. Best to find a study group." Like many moderately depressed people I know, unfortunately I hate groups. Maybe in the "study group" I could have met others who felt the same way. That’s the way I’ve always made it up to myself. And I’m susceptible to any reasoning that starts with "No wonder." starts: No wonder I’m miserable.

I chose a stressful job with a lot of competition. I am new in a strange city. My girlfriend lives on the west coast of the USA, I live in Berlin. I am newly separated after a long long distance relationship. I am new in a strange city. I chose a stressful job. I realized that when I became a father I didn’t want to put up with all this anymore. In fact, this life event, so often mystically exaggerated in men’s stories, did just this one thing for me: wanting to get better. I knew beforehand that I love children and would like to have a family, that I like to be at home and crawl around on the floor, and that I like to cook and do handicrafts. But at the latest when my daughter was born, three years after my son, I realized: You don’t have to live like this. It would be nice for you and others if you were happier.

I think and fear that this is quite typical for mid-depressives: You need a detour, or rather permission, to feel better. As long as I was responsible for myself, I thought: It has to be enough, it will be enough, I can do it. As soon as we became a family, I thought: Maybe I can’t make it work after all. And it would be better for the children and the wife if I let them help me. That it would be better for me, too, I realized only during the second or third conversation with the therapist. That I burst into tears at that moment is, if I’m honest, still embarrassing to me today. I had decided to go to a behavioral therapist. Partly because I thought it would be a quick fix: I change something about my behavior myself, and voila: new, better outcome, or so I imagined. Partly because a therapist of exactly this specialty was quickly available. And partly because I didn’t want to dwell on dealing with my past. Because, as I said: quick result desired, and: As a fairly early child of divorce with a lot of responsibility for a younger sister and two parents preoccupied with themselves, the situation seemed pretty clear to me.

Paying attention to yourself and your own needs

While it was going on, my behavioral therapy was my anchor and relief, and sometimes I laughed on my bike on the way home, because for the first time I felt so light at the thought of the heaviness, because it seemed conquerable and in a way normal: Many people were like me, there was something against it, it would be good. In fact, what I learned in those two years helped me a lot. To put it simply, I learned to take care of myself and my own needs. From seemingly simple things like sleeping more to difficult ones like getting out of personal and professional connections that weren’t doing me any good.

But the strange thing was: in a way, behavioral therapy just gave me a few more tools for my big toolbox, which I used as a high-functioning depressive to get by. In the beginning I thought it would be enough to use my energies more purposefully, to say no, to give myself space, to let go of people and commitments. I’m still grateful I learned that in behavioral therapy. But in a way, those were patches, band-aids, and repair manuals: I needed those, but they didn’t fundamentally change anything. The tiring thing about depression is that it’s still there over and over again, even when it’s gone. What I mean by this: After I patched, paved, and repaired my life with the help of behavioral therapy, that life was really a lot better, and I was a lot happier in that life.

But the depression smiled in the background and said: Fine, now you’re a depressive with a repaired life. But don’t think you’re rid of me. The behavioral therapist said goodbye to me when the therapy was over, "Of course, you can always try medication." I nodded tolerantly. I didn’t judge anyone who needed medication. But they were not for me. Wasn’t swallowing pills a bit like cheating too? Once mild to moderate depression has settled in, it’s hard to get rid of the idea that maybe pulling yourself together will help, and that somehow you can do it best on your own.

Depressed, dejected and lacking energy

It took six or seven years to use up and wear out the patches and patches and corrode the tools. Surely I should have continued to go to behavioral therapy on a regular basis. Certainly a complementary talk therapy would have helped me. I’m sure there are lots of good tips, and I’m sure I’ve done a lot of things wrong and misunderstood. But the tricky thing about mild to moderate depression is that it seems so manageable. And at the same time it paralyzes you. It is not bad enough to go to a therapist check-up every few months or to plunge into a wild new search for a therapist, and at the same time it prevents you from facing such, already logistical challenges in a constructive and consistent way, because you are still depressed, depressive and lacking energy after all. I would say that I got by well for six or seven years.

The life of a depressive is full of such metaphors: making ends meet, muddling through, getting by. But it became more and more tedious. At the end of 2017, I had a breakdown of sorts. I say "sort of", because again, it wasn’t that big of a deal, hospitalized with blue lights or in bed for weeks with greasy hair and no food. But there was one clear day when I was so unhappy and stressed, so lacking in energy and overwhelmed, that I knew: More has to change than before. It was on a day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I was weighed down by the unfinished work of the past year, a family party or two with those mid-level tensions that you have to be in very good shape to get through unscathed.

The way to the depression outpatient clinic

At the same time, there was the pressure of having to be relaxed, and the suspicion that the stress would really start again in January. When I was on my way to a restaurant with my family, my mother, my sister and my nephew and we could only half agree on which one to go to, I started shouting in the middle of the street in Hamburg-Altona: That I was getting fed up, that I’d had enough, that I couldn’t take it anymore. The family thought I was talking about them and their normal insanity, and maybe I thought so too, but the truth was: it was all about me.

I was finally at the point of needing and wanting to do more than just do behavioral therapy once in ten years. Because I felt like a radical solution, I did the opposite of what I had previously thought was right: I wanted medication, absolutely and as quickly as possible. I made an appointment with the depression outpatient clinic at the university hospital. When my primary care doctor’s office called me back to tell me I could pick up the referral, I was just sitting in the car with a friend and a girlfriend. When I was done talking on the phone, the friend who had been listening in said she thought it was good and she wished me luck. Whether I would want to have something prescribed for me. And how it was with her.

Perceiving sadness and lack of strength like a cold

Maybe the university psychologist was right after all: I could have used a study group all my life. The first step in that direction was reading about a lot of people on Twitter, authors I admire, who mentioned their anti-depressants now and then. The second part was that this friend and colleague told me in the car how it was with her and the medication. "It’s not like it’s going to make everything stop", she said meaningfully. "The dark thoughts and the dark phases are still there. But you’re more likely to see them coming, and you’re more likely to look at them from the outside, and you realize they’re not everything." What should I say. There are side effects. I put on weight. There are effects. For the first time in years I’m happy about things I’ve never been happy about. Praise. Dear. Wool blankets. Yeah, some things get weird: I’m fond of woolen blankets suddenly.

No more fear of failure

My emotions are not cut off, they have rather become clearer. Music and books make me happier than I used to be. What others think of me is more indifferent to me. But at first I thought I couldn’t work anymore. Writing is my profession, and when the anti-depressant began to take effect, I sat in front of the empty Word document for days on end. Wasn’t that exactly what I’d always dreaded? No, I had misunderstood. The reason I suddenly couldn’t write was not because I suddenly had no depths and no darkness left in me. The reason was that I was suddenly no longer terrified of failure and of disappointing others. I realized that this had always been my main motivation in the 25 years of my professional life: sheer, naked fear.

It was an aha moment to realize that I can call people and say: I can’t get this done this week – I can do it next week or the week after? The experience that you are not hated or despised for it, but that life goes on as normal afterwards, was new to me. It was good. I’m sure I’ve been lucky because the medication has kicked in. I don’t freak out anymore, I’m not overwhelmed anymore, I’m much less anxious, and I haven’t lain in bed sad for days since, only for hours at a time. The sadness and the powerlessness are still there, but I can now perceive them like a cold: as something that happens to me and that stops again, not as something that I am and that constitutes me.

Research the causes

For the first time, I’m happy about things I used to wave through. Now when someone praises me for my work, I think, wow, okay, thanks, how great. I used to think: well, this person probably doesn’t know himself that well, well, too bad for him. I’m no longer afraid of traveling, of being away from home or on the phone, of everyday things like taxes and neighbors. I have hardly any nightmares.

But as I said: I was lucky. There’s no guarantee that pills will work on the first, second or third try. There is criticism of the so-called SSRIs, the serotonin reuptake inhibitors, as I also take them, and it may be justified. The important thing for me is: I have not resigned myself to the fact that I am never really well, sometimes very bad and often moderately bad. The tablets also have their own destructive seductive power. If they don’t work, they might tell you that it’s all pointless anyway. If they work, they may tell you that all is well now. I suspect that it is not so. Now, a year after I started, now that I feel stable and well: now I realize that I have to do even more. Talk. But research the causes. Don’t think it will ever stop. I suspect that it is a life task: not to let it get you down, to keep getting back up, and to get by very well instead of more badly than good.

Living with depression:'Ich habe oft daran gedacht, mich hinzulegen und nicht wieder aufzustehen'

Reading Tip: Till Raether has written a book about his depressions:"Am I already depressed, or is this still life??" (Rowohlt, 14 euros).

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