Several months ago I was feeling pretty depressed. I was tired, irritable, unsociable. And I had an experience that I thought kind of encapsulated how I was feeling and could provide some insight into a depressed person’s mind. A couple of months after that experience I started writing a blog post, with a cute framing device, to try to share my epiphany with the five very special people who read my blog. This was the start of my post:
Dear Man in the Elevator,
I know this apology is a few weeks overdue but, unlike the rules for thank you notes that my mother drilled into me, I’m not sure on the proper timeline for an apology blog post. But I’m pretty sure that approximately two months is a little long to go without apologizing. So I guess I’m apologizing for two things: the thing I’m apologizing for and for taking so long to apologize. Oh, and a third: for apologizing in a blog post you’ll never read. Anyway, on to the apology!
But I was depressed so I never finished the blog post, and now I’m not as fond of the cute framing device. So here’s a quick synopsis of my experience with the man in the elevator and an explanation for you non-depressed people:
I was in the elevator in the building I work in, playing a game on my phone (probably 10,000,000, which is a really good game). At some point another person, some guy I didn’t know, got on the elevator as well. Usually I put my phone away when someone else gets on the elevator. I do this in part because I don’t want others to think I’m one of those people who can’t ride in an elevator for five minutes without playing games on her phone, but mostly because it feels kind of rude to stay on my phone when someone else is around, even if I’m not going to interact with the other person in any meaningful way. But that day I was feeling especially tired, irritable, and unsociable, so I didn’t put my phone away. In fact, I didn’t even look up at the other person to give the little half-smile greeting strangers give each other in these situations. I just kept staring at my phone, ignoring the fact that the other person even existed. I just didn’t have the energy to interact with another human being at that moment, even if it was only by giving them a half-smile.
And for some reason, I’m sure completely unrelated to the game I was playing on my phone, an image of myself as a videogame character with a little power bar above me popped into my head. I started that day with a certain amount of life in my little power bar, and bad drivers and work and coworkers and my inner dialogue had slowly drained life out of my power bar. Giving that person in the elevator even a half-smile would’ve taken even more life out of my power bar. And if that half-smile had turned into a discussion on the weather? More life gone. And I just couldn’t risk that life. I still had half a day of work and interpersonal interactions to go, and I needed all the life I could get.
We all walk around with little imaginary power bars above our heads, and our interactions and activities can deplete or add to the life in our bars. When you’re feeling depressed your bar starts with a little less life in it and every interaction and activity takes a bigger chunk of your life than it would when you’re feeling more like yourself. And when you’re feeling depressed, it’s hard to find things to put back some of that life. It’s a tiring, frustrating situation.
And that’s my weak attempt at illustrating for you why depression is so hard.