A couple of days ago, someone I don’t know well asked me what it’s like living with Major Depressive Disorder. I could tell they were hesitant to ask, but I was so very grateful. Mental illness should not be a taboo topic. We/I need to talk openly. This individual was curious, and had never dealt with anything beyond the occasional situational depressive mood. Much like I don’t know what it’s like to live with Type 1 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease. Often the difference between those disease and depression is that they are not stigmatized or shamed. I am and from now on, out of the mental illness closet and will talk openly, honestly, and with a little humor to anyone who wants to listen. Hopefully I can help break down some of that wall of stigma, and the shame that keeps people hidden within their own minds.
Back to the question: what does it feel like on a daily basis living with MDD?
I took some time to think about how to respond. I hit my pause button (read about THAT in a prior post!). Typically I might say, eh, I have good and not so good days. Or, the pat, “I’m Fine” (belonged to a CODA group many years ago – we defined FINE as Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional, and would call each other out if we said we were fine.) But I could tell, this individual was not asking out of obligation, or in passing, they really wanted to know, so I felt that deserved the best answer I could give.
My brain thinks in analogies. Anyone who has heard me speak knows this. I think when we can demystify something by associating it with something that is known, it’s easier to understand.
This person has school aged children. And who among you that have, or had kids in the house ever made jello. Yep, ALL of us, so that is what came into my mind.
So I launch into my analogy. Have you ever made jello? Of course, they respond. When you first add the boiling water and stir the powder it is very fluid, liquidy (made up Laura word, if you continue to read my blog, you will find I have a whole dictionary of my own), you pour it into individual containers easily, and can pretty much see through it, but it is a little hazy, or distorted (depending on the flavor). That is a good day to me. Things are fluid, but still a little hazy around the edges. Not anything that anyone else would notice, but it is always in my peripheral.
The kids are anxious to eat the jello and continuously keep checking, right? Mine always did. Is it ready yet? They take the container out, shake it a little, yep it is starting to firm up, and you can’t see through it as well as you could in the beginning. Mom yells, close the door or it will never harden. You could tip the container and pour it in your mouth still at this point, wouldn’t need a fork or spoon, but you could definitely tell it’s starting to jell. This is where I live much of the time. Things are a little foggy, but doable. A little harder to stand up straight, and walking takes a bit of effort (like you might imagine walking through jello could be), but if I tip the container, I can still get what I want without getting a spoon. However I know, much like our kids who are watching the jello, what’s coming. If I leave it alone, it will fully harden, I won’t be able to see through it, and I will need a utensil to eat it. That is exactly what a full blown MDD episode feels like to me. Like I am encased in jello. Did you ever make your kids jello and put toy soldiers, or dinosaurs (brand new and well washed, of course) in the jello for them to find as they ate (or am I the only weirdo who did that?). I am that toy soldier (or dinosaur) stuck in the jello that has harden all around them. It feels very heavy all around me. It is hard to stand up straight, see straight, walk straight. Everything is distorted, and out of reach. Close your eyes and picture what that could feel like. You are in a large container of jello that has hardened. It’s not too bad, it’s tasty, and smells good, but you can’t find a way to get out. Staying here wouldn’t be so bad. It’s cushy, bouncy even, but I can hear and almost see everyone moving around on the outside. Part of me is curious about what’s going on outside of my container of jello, but it is so hard to dig through the jello to get out. It is much easier to just sit down, right here where I’m at. Sometimes people come by and try to eat some of the jello, but they don’t see me down here at the bottom, so they get their fill, and leave. I’m still here, but I’m stuck, and I can’t find a way out.
THIS is what MDD feels like to me. Jello! Various degrees of jello as it sets. I am so grateful this friend asked me, and I was in a place to take the time to sit with that question, and filter through what it feels like to me. I love to visualize, and have used visualization much of my life. From my very early years of abuse, right through my cancer fight, I have used visualization to get me through. Did you know that chemotherapy resembles the old pac man game (for me)? But that is for another entry.
Think I will keep using the jello analogy, and when someone asks how I am, I will respond, still liquid 🙂
Can you see me in there? I can somewhat hear you, and see shadows, but I can’t get to you. Please be patient, I will find my way out, in the meanwhile, stay a bit and eat some jello. It will help me see the path out.