Depression makes me feel a bit like a meat puppet. That’s a graphic description perhaps, but not an inaccurate expression of my current state.
Depression leaves me here but not here; I am a body I haul around and put through the motions, a marionette, a pantomime puppet who is not a real girl. I walk and talk but the disconnect is huge; I feign emotions and connection but it’s an empty act. Depression makes everything unreal, distant.
A friend came over for coffee the other day. We chatted about this and that as I surreptitiously and repeatedly glanced at the clock, waiting for time’s up. When the leave-taking came, I stood at the door and smiled and waved as she walked away. I even tolerated a hug. Anything to speed the exit.
As the door shut behind her, everything dropped like a string had been cut. The body sags, the face falls. My momentary disquiet at the drop is overwhelmed by not caring. I love my friend but it feels distant; it’s knowledge rather than emotion. I’m glad in some distant, memory-based way that she’s my friend and wants to visit but all I feel is gratitude that she’s gone; I’m grateful I don’t have to continue to be “on” when all I want to be is absent. It’s hard work, pretending interest and care when you don’t have it. It takes energy, there are a lot of things involved in pretending to care, pretending to be still be of this life.
I am deep in the the deadness of depression and I vaguely recall that I dislike it here. That “here” for a long time is a bad idea. Being utterly flat and utterly bored and utterly disconnected for longish periods tends to go badly.
Even the dislike of my current state is mild. Everything is mild, muted, or absent. I feel little in the way of emotional connection at all. I am in the world but not currently of the world. I fake it through my relationships and interactions. Smile and nod and work hard on paying attention, work hard on not shutting down and drifting away into the quiet of unconcern.
There are occasional emotional blips. They’re short and disappear quickly, candles sputtering and dying under the weight of the rain.
There’s profound sadness. It pops up at the oddest moments. A bout of almost-weepiness is brought on by The Good Doctor. It’s odd that I can still connect with the completely unreal. Tears well and I can feel the weight of them rising, threatening, and then, nothing. The moment of grief disappears and apathy takes hold once again.
There’s also anger. Little bursts of rage pop out every now and then. My psychiatrist suggests two reasons for the anger: a conflict between the apathy of the depression and the freneticism of my anxiety, and guilt.
Conflict because depression wants to sit in my chair and do nothing but anxiety wants to bounce around the house from room to room and task to task like an inebriated squirrel.
Guilt because I cannot connect with my world. Hence the meat puppet. I walk and I talk. I interact. Grudgingly, but I do it. I would prefer to be left alone to sink into this state, even though part of me remembers that this is not a good choice to make. Isolation and withdrawal are not actions I’d take if depression wasn’t driving the bus.
I fight back. Some. I visit with friends and family even though I don’t want to. I participate, commiserate, and sympathize. I say all the right things and offer up questions and advice. I listen to their sad stories, and their angry stories, and their happy stories and it all means absolutely nothing. There is no emotional connection at all and I hate it. And by “hate” I mean I know I should dislike the now so I label my disquiet that way but it’s not passionate like hate actually would be.
But I can’t connect to others, to their pain or worry or concerns or issues on anything but an intellectual level; it seems so utterly wrong. The distance shames me a bit, but in a distant way although I know it’s beyond my control and that puppet me is still trying to do a good job. And shame is never a good thing.
I am an empathetic person. I am kind. The inability to not feel these things makes me cognitively guilty. It causes distress, sets up an ethical conflict between how I am and how I know I should be. Between what I know and what I (don’t) feel. Apparently, it’s this conflict that keeps lighting the anger candle.
I’m doing the things I’m supposed to do. Some I do better than others hence my plan for some radical discontinuity, but overall, I’m on the positive side of “supposed to”. I follow advice. I feel a little betrayed that I’m back here again, to be honest, even though I utterly believe in the “why not me?” adage. Then again, doing things that mitigate depression is no guarantee that it won’t resurface though I wish that were the case. And, it has. It’s back in force. So, that’s that.
All that’s left is to do is perform and wait. Keep on doing the things you’re supposed to do that seem utterly meaningless and pointless. Interact and connect. Look after the physical body when it seems like a waste of time. Take the meds. Push beyond the irritated ennui. Even though none of it brings me emotional rewards at all.
That’s where the waiting comes in. Surfing the wave. It will pass. Eventually. The depression will ease. Even if it feels like forever in the moment. And, when I swing back into a more neutral headspace, I want to be able to look back and be pleased with the behavioural choices I made. To know that even though I didn’t feel it, I still did the right things.
Current negative self-evaluation as a meat puppet notwithstanding.
Do you struggle with conflicts between what you “know” and what you feel?
Image credit Heinz Aimer.