Having depression is not feeling sad all the time.
Yeah, that’s a big part of it, but a part oft forgotten is the exact opposite, a seeming antithesis to the image depression invokes. Not the opposite of feeling sad, but the opposite of feeling. Instead of feeling emotions so deeply etched inside of you, instead of being consumed by a sadness that feels inescapable and swallows you whole, the other side is apathy.
Feeling nothing is painful. It’s not always immediately apparent, but the realization that you are fully capable of expelling any sliver of emotion from yourself is terrifying. As cheesy as it sounds, emotions are part of what make us human, and being unable to feel anything is scary. You are depleted by apathy, drained by a numbness that creeps into your mind and reprograms you into an emotionless robot.
Despite being an alarming side effect, it can sometimes come as a relief on the back end of reeling from the days and weeks and months of feeling worthless and like the world would be better off without you. After spending countless hours suffering through the hijacking of your brain, depression’s relentless torture on your mind, body, and soul, it can feel good to break free from feeling. A double-edged sword indeed; you’re not sad anymore, but you’re also not anything anymore.
To go from having the weight of the world on your shoulders, feeling like everything wrong is your fault, beating yourself up for not being able to handle tiny trivial mishaps or mistakes, feeling like a disappointment to your family and your friends because you wrap yourself up in something as juvenile and avoidable as “just being sad,” being unable to get that job or that promotion or that test grade or that whatever, the crushing inability to feel anything else; going from that to releasing that weight and ascending to a higher plane where nothing matters…it’s relieving.
Everything is muted inside of apathy. Dull, meaningless. Nothing matters. You feel weightless, invisible. There is no more sadness, but there is also no joy. No responsiveness to stimuli of any kind, be it positive or negative. Everything is nothing, including you.
Two weeks ago I fell into an apathetic depressive state. I had 2 psychiatry appointments lined up for that week and cancelled them both. I went to work, where I work primarily with children, and could not muster up my usual high-pitched voice encouraging them to believe in themselves or whatever; I don’t even remember that morning. I left work in the middle of the day and called in sick the next one. I deleted all of my social media accounts. I turned off my phone and shut myself off from everyone.
I wasn’t sad. I felt nothing.
I thought nothing, I did nothing. I laid in bed for hours, which turned to days. Friends texted me asking if I was ok and I didn’t respond. I didn’t care. Sometimes my mom would call me and I heard her voice on the line but the words were nonsense to me; meaningless. I didn’t move for a few days. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep. I laid in bed, prisoner to the ball and chain that was my own mind telling me that nothing mattered. This is what limbo is like, I thought. This is what it’s like to literally hang in the balance, to cease. To be no more.
I think the other apex, the sadder, more tangible side of my depression scares people more. Disengaging is seen as standoffish and rude, it’s not thought of as a symptom of something deeper. When I am feeling sad, it’s easy for my friends to understand, and leap to consoling mode. It’s easier for them to diagnose, and the visceral reaction is to worry I will harm myself. When I am feeling nothing, no one is worried. I am safe, physically, because I don’t care enough to do anything. I come off as more annoying and lazy than anything else, and that surely isn’t a cause for concern.
I don’t remember when I broke out of my apathy’s stranglehold; I usually don’t remember when or what catapults me out of a depressive state. I was able to go back to work, reactivate my social media, engage with my friends, and go back to normal, or as normal as possible. It’s hard to return to feeling after going so long without.
I have to take advantage of these moments of mental clarity; they’re fleeting for me sometimes. I have to remind myself that I am capable of emotion and that apathy is yet another symptom of depression. The pendulum swinging from the extreme ends of depression’s intense sadness to coldness and detachment is difficult to wrestle with. Sure, there’s doctors and therapists and medicine, which help for sure, but the chances of slipping through the cracks are there, and they’re dangerous. Depression is varied, which makes it such a tricky, sly disease. It doesn’t always look the same in everyone, or even the same in the same person. And the first step to fighting it is to recognize that.