This is the fifth part in a series about PTSD, anxiety, trauma, and depression. This is the part about depression. Obvs. Read this post to catch up.
I didn’t even realize I had depression until I was in the thick of it.
It was my senior year of college. I was going to school full-time, working part-time, and going to therapy once a week where I was in the midst of processing some really traumatic shiz. It was January, and I had started taking an SSRI for the first time in November, to combat my extreme anxiety and PTSD. It did nothing at first. And then — it kicked in. And it felt like my prayers had been answered.
The antidepressants worked. They worked so well. Instead of a constant hypervigilence, I felt normal, calm, that relaxed feeling you get after a hot shower or a deep-tissue massage. After a year of constant anxiety, I practically buzzed with happiness. I felt like I could breathe again. Why didn’t I start these earlier? I asked. I could talk about India without being massively triggered. I could walk to campus, hear car horns honking, and not suffer major panic attacks and have to turn around and hide out in my room. It was like I had a new lease on life.
And then, I think, the antidepressants worked too well.
The paralyzing depression snuck up on me. I noticed that I was taking more naps. I was slowly more sluggish. It was harder to get out of bed in the mornings. But I attributed that to working, school, and “writing my trauma narrative,” as the counselor called it. I was physically and emotionally spent.
Slowly, throughout the month of January and February, I would come home from class and just zonk out for hours. I had a 3 hour writing workshop — my favorite class — and I would come home in the afternoon and sleep well into the evening. My counseling session was every Friday, and I would come home at noon and routinely sleep until four or five in the afternoon. Even if I just felt like I could take a quick cat-nap, I would wake up and five hours would have passed. Even if I didn’t even feel all that tired. It’s like I would just lapse into a small coma every day, and wake up feeling like I could keep sleeping. Maybe if I had known more about depression, I would have suspected it. But to me, depression was just “feeling sad.” It was that little cartoon bubble with a frowny face and a cloud following him around. But I didn’t feel like a sad cartoon bubble. I didn’t feel “hopeless” or “unmotivated.” I didn’t even particularly feel tired. I just kept sleeping. And sleeping. And sleeping.
On the contrary, I felt really good. Kind of sluggish. Kind of groggy. But hell, after the year of heart palpitations, of extreme anxiety, of hypervigilence, feeling “kind of sluggish” and “unusually relaxed” was a welcome reprieve. I’m probably napping so much because of the zoloft, I thought, but hell, between crippling panic attacks and a few naps here and there, I’ll take the naps. And then again, it could have been the hectic work/school/therapy schedule. Who knew? I brushed it off. And kept brushing it off.
For the life of me, I didn’t realize it was depression. Or maybe I just slept a lot, because of the medicine, and that triggered the depression. But either way, I wasn’t sad. I felt amazing, and relaxed, better than I had in the past year. But more and more, I started to love my bed. Not in a I-dont-have-the-will-to-live kind of way; Not even in an I-feel-so-tired way. I just craved being in my bed. I craved it like a big, fluffy, delicious sandwich. It was warm and soft and my pillow was just the right firmness, and I had just purchased an electric blanket that made nap time downright heavenly. So for whatever reason, I just became really attached to nap time. I’d look forward to it all day. I’d wake up in the morning, go to class, and count down the hours until nap time. And then when I’d come home and fall into my bed-haven, thinking, I’ll just nap for twenty minutes, I would open my eyes and four hours would have passed. I hadn’t even been tired!
Soon enough, I started sleeping through class. I would set an alarm and wake up seeing that it had been blaring for hours. That’s weird, I thought, and set the alarm for different frequencies, different volumes. I would sleep through most of them. I started sleeping later and later in the mornings, and taking naps earlier and earlier. And for longer. I missed more and more class. I got farther behind, try to catch up, and get really quickly overwhelmed and want to take a nap. And the more class I missed, the more overwhelmed I got. And the more overwhelmed I got, the more I kept on napping. And the more I napped, the more I felt like I couldn’t leave my bed. I felt stuck there. It was comfortable, and warm, and sleeping felt so good. I felt high off sleep.
I don’t remember when the weird crying spells started. I would go to class and just come back home and randomly cry. I wasn’t even crying about anything in particular — nothing that I recognized, anyway. I wasn’t particularly sad, and I didn’t cry because I was triggered by anything specific I would have a good day in class and then just come home and burst into tears and sleep. Well, that’s weird, I would think, but I attributed it to PMS. Or stress. Or maybe it was the zoloft? But between debilitating anxiety and a few crying jags here and there, I’d take the crying jags. I made a mental note to call the doctor — after I took a quick nap.
Crying takes a lot out of you. I’d come home, cry for no reason, get super exhausted from crying, and take another four-hour nap. I spent a few months like that, and suddenly I realized I wasn’t getting out of bed much at all. And showering? That required you to stand. For a long time. Homie don’t play that. I was tired. From crying. Who had the energy to stand? Sure, my hair looked greasy as hell, but who did I have to impress? Who cared? Washing my hair would require lifting my arms, and my arms were tired. I’d take a shower later — right after a quick cat nap.
Slowly, it progressed. More naps, more crying, less socializing, less leaving the apartment. But I wasn’t having anxiety attacks anymore, so it was all good!
Depression is so full of shame. I don’t remember when, or why, but I very slowly became morbidly fascinated with death. It was confusing — I wasn’t suicidal. I didn’t want to die. I loved life. I was happy — aside from the random crying jags. I was excited to get married in a few short months — if I had the energy to make it down the aisle, that is. But for whatever reason, I wanted to know what death felt like. What it would look like. What I would look like, if I died. How would I do it, if I could choose? It wasn’t an obsession at first. Just a casual curiosity. I found myself mulling over it more and more. What would happen to me? I mean, physically? If I hanged myself, how would my face look? Bruised? Bloated? These thoughts disgusted and shamed me — even now, they disgust and shame me. I didn’t (and still don’t) want anyone to think I was weird, that I was deviant. I didn’t want anyone to think I was unhappy or planning to die. I wasn’t. But I just kept thinking about it. What would people think if they knew I was imagining myself hanging in my bathroom? If I told someone, would they have me committed? Would I get put on some list? Would they “flag” my medical file? (Is that a thing?) I didn’t want to find out. I tried to push the thoughts out of my head. It didn’t matter anyway, I told myself. I wasn’t suicidal. I didn’t want to die. I just … wanted to imagine that I was dead.
Soon, it was all I could think about. I would have Googling sessions that lasted for hours, when I was supposed to be writing papers or studying, where I would just google graphic images of plane crashes. I didn’t like these images — I just wanted to see them. It was like a little game — what was the most graphic image I could view, without wanting to shut down my computer? I didn’t get very far, admittedly. I was terrified of gore. But the non-gory stuff I was all over. For hours, I listened to cockpit recordings of planes that had gone down. I wanted to hear the pilot’s last words. I wanted to imagine how it felt. How did it feel to die? How did the pilots feel in those last minutes, knowing that death was inevitable? I had heard, in my own family, of people beckoning toward the sky in their last moments before dying. Had the people on these planes experienced that too? The cockpit recordings disgusted me, calmed me, and thrilled me, all at once.
I googled 9/11 a lot. I listened to 911 dispatches. I was horrified. But I kept seeking it out. I kept imagining myself on those planes. I omitted this when I saw my therapist — I knew it wasn’t really considered a suicidal ideation unless I had a plan to kill myself. And I didn’t. Not exactly. Did I? I mean, I had thought about it a lot. And I had decided that hanging — no, pills — would be the way to go. But I didn’t want to die. Did I? I mean, I didn’t want to die, but I also spent a lot of time thinking about death. And I didn’t feel sad … but I also spent a lot of time crying inconsolably. It was all just very overwhelming. And you know what helped that overwhelming feeling? Naps.
I don’t know if I had a “bottom” — some low point that made me realize I needed to get help. But I remember one day I googled the phrase I can’t stop thinking about suicide and a suicide survival forum popped up. I made a username and posted on it. Please help me, I posted. I’m not suicidal, I don’t think, but I keep thinking about suicide. I can’t stop. I can’t think about anything else. I can’t get out of bed. Does this mean I’m suicidal? I don’t want to die, but I just can’t stop thinking about it. What do I do?
The response was overwhelming: You’re depressed, dummy. Get to the doctor. NOW.
And I did.