I first noticed how depression steals time from me just after college. I was a “boomerang kid,” or a college graduate who moves back in with their parents after graduation. I didn’t get the job I had shaped my entire college experience around, so I was frantically trying to figure out what direction my career and life should go in now that my “master plan” had fallen apart.
I felt so lost, so broken. I never left the house, I rarely got off the couch, I hardly showered or ate or changed out of my pajamas. The days and nights all mashed together in a jumbled, foggy haze. In fact, the only way I noticed time had passed at all was one day, I realized this tree in our front yard had turned from a lush, green to a radiant, brilliant red seemingly overnight. It was fall. Fall… fall?
“Wait, it’s fall?” I asked myself, as I looked out my window at the tree with the fiery leaves. “How is that possible?”
I stood there and desperately tried to remember what I did all summer. I couldn’t remember anything. And to this day, five years later, I couldn’t tell you what I did that summer other than wake up, fumble down the stairs, sit on the couch, open my laptop and mindlessly apply to jobs while watching my brother play video games. Sleep. Repeat. I didn’t go out. I didn’t see, or even speak to, friends. I didn’t live.
Depression had somehow taken an entire season from me. Months of my life—gone.
The severe major depressive disorder I live with functions in cycles. There can be days, months, even years of my life when I feel fine—as though I’ve fully recovered and will never feel the plummeting, wrenching emptiness of depression again. And then… I’ll wake up one morning, and it’s harder to get out of bed. A friend will ask me to do something fun, and my brain suddenly has dozens of reasons why I shouldn’t. Sleep becomes a luxury. Even answering a phone call becomes a challenge.
I’m in a depressive episode right now, actually. I have been since late-2015. So, according to a calendar, I’ve been depressed for about two years. But to me, it feels as though it’s only been a month or two, at most. And that’s because my depression is a time thief.
When I’m depressed, my days and nights feel like eternities, but months and years whip by like flashes. I feel like I’m at a complete stop, while everything and everyone around me is moving at hypersonic speed. Friends I went to high school with are getting married, having children and traveling the world, but I can’t remember how I reached this age. Or got to this city. Or became...this person.
It often feels like huge chunks of my life are missing—as if I had amnesia or was in a coma for years. But it’s just the depression, making me slowly plod along in an exhausted, trance-like state in which time holds no value: I’ll figure that out tomorrow, I’ll call a therapist tomorrow, I’ll hang out with my friends tomorrow, I’ll go to the grocery story tomorrow.
But all those “tomorrows” add up and suddenly, it’s been two years of “tomorrows.” Suddenly, the tree is red.
I don’t know if there’s anything to learn from depression’s time warping. If there is, I certainly haven’t figured it out yet and to be perfectly honest with you, I am furious over the time I’ve lost—the experiences I could have had, the sun I could have soaked up, the friendships I could have made. I missed it. All of it, gone. Sometimes, I worry that my depression is keeping me on the sidelines of my own life, keeping everything gray when I long for technicolor.
Just the other day, I saw a sign for a festival a nearby church is having and I thought, “I’d like to go to that” and I had to laugh at myself, because I saw that exact sign and thought that exact thing last year. I couldn’t bring myself to actually go last year; I think I spent the entire weekend crying. Or was that July Fourth weekend? I can’t be sure.
I am sure, though, that I am determined to make it to that festival this year. Because even though I can’t help the fact that I have depression, I can, through sheer force of will, make things just a little better for myself. And maybe that’s what we can learn from how mercilessly depression rips time away from us: how to truly focus on and value today.
Little by little, bit by bit, those of us who live with depression can stop life from slipping through our fingers. Whether that’s by dragging ourselves to some church festival or hanging out with friends today, not “tomorrow,” we can live a little bit more and a little bit better right here, right now. We can notice the leaves as they turn, rather than wake up to a sea of red.
Christine Allen is communications manager at NAMI.