Grief Journal: Depression’s Magnifying Glass

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There’s a saying that “depression lies.”

In my experience, that’s not the case. Depression is sneakier than that. It doesn’t lie; it’s just selectively truthful. It puts a magnifying glass on the hard or ugly things, while making the good things blurry and indistinct. The tough part of depression is shifting that magnifying glass on to what really matters, or what the real challenge is. Here are four of the biggest lies depression is whispering into my ear these days.

“Your work is garbage.”

When you’re depressed, it can be very difficult to produce quality work. Personally, I find my brain is slow and sluggish. I don’t retain information like I used to. My creativity is zapped. I can’t cope with stressful deadlines, and it’s hard to hear constructive criticism. 

The reality is, my work isn’t up to my usual incredibly high standards. It’s been mostly good enough (although honestly, the last few weeks it hasn’t). I just don’t care about my work in the same way. I’ve struggled for years to work to live, not live to work. Losing Charlie has made that even more crystal clear. I regret every single concert and bedtime story I missed because of work. My job demands a lot, and I’m not sure I can continue to deliver it. 

The magnifying glass needs to be less on me, and more on what is being demanded of me and if I should/want to deliver—60 hour work weeks are neither desirable not sustainable for anyone, and definitely not when you can barely get out of bed most days.

“You’re a terrible friend/colleague/spouse/mother.”

When you lose a child like we lost Charlie, it’s nearly impossible not to blame yourself or to feel as if you failed. I hear everyone who has told me I didn’t. I intellectually agree with my therapist, who tells me grief is a useless emotion. That’s how I’ve lived my life—regret is only helpful if you use that to fuel change so you don’t repeat the behavior. 

But I know my depression has made me less of a person. I’m letting down colleagues, causing them more work. I’m not as available for my friends. I drop the ball on stuff for the kids, and can’t fully participate in their activities. I’m not as present or loving a spouse as I want to be. Depression has dug an unimaginably deep trench between me and other people, one I’m finding myself less able to leap over. This failure causes shame and guilt and fear, which weigh me down even more. 

“Your family would be better off without you.”

By some measures, this is objectively true. But of course, it depends on how you define “better off.” I know the pain of losing someone you love and would never, ever inflict that on my family, especially not my children. So the challenge becomes how can I be more present? Because right now, I’m so far underwater that I’m not really able to be there for the ones I love. I’m here, but absent in very important ways. 

“You could do it if you really wanted to.”

For someone who has always lived a rational, goal-drive life—as my therapist has put it, I live in my head, not my heart—one of the worst lies depression tells me is that my inability to function is a personal failing, in my control. That I can’t work or function because I’m lazy and incompetent, not because my brain chemicals are completely out of whack right now. I compare myself to those less fortunate, who are living through war or personal violence, and wonder why I can’t be resilient. Why my stupid brain and body just won’t do what I tell them to. This has never happened to me before, where I couldn’t make myself get through by sheer force of will. I don’t really know what to do.

This blog post is a good example. I write these posts as part of my therapeutic process. It helps me to process my feelings if I write them down. I also feel as if I don’t have to burden any one unnecessarily; they can read if they want to. And if reading about my experience helps anyone else who is grieving, then I’m glad. 

Normally, I write posts as a stream of conscious, in one burst. I don’t really edit or revise (as I’m sure the occasional grammatical error attests to). But this one I had to keep coming back to, haltingly putting the words down almost one by one. My brain is just…broken right now. About that, depression isn’t lying. 

And I don’t know what to do.

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