In my experience, severe depression creates a kind of tunnel vision whereby the non-essential tasks of life get shuffled to the edges and only the act of surviving can be focused on. It’s not that you don’t know what’s on the edges, you just don’t have the energy to expand your field of view and look directly at them. I’m in an increasingly healthy place right now, and I’m taking stock of the state of my life with depression. I always knew that I was “falling behind” in my self-imposed timeline. In fact, I’m acutely aware of how much time has passed without me accomplishing the milestones and achievements someone my age is expected to be doing. My life looks very little like what I hoped it would by this point, a fact that is heavy with self-judgment and regret.
I still struggle to believe that depression happened to me. That it wasn’t poor planning, laziness, or a lack of ambition that kept me from moving forward, but an illness. I think that there are two helpful ways of looking at this. In one, the state of my life is a result of severe depression, a disorder that has kept me from functioning at the level I used to. This view helps stop me from blaming myself for every perceived inadequacy and from expecting too much from myself too soon; I do, after all, still have a serious mental illness that requires daily management.
On the other hand, I try to consider the state of my life to be in spite of severe depression. I didn’t do nothing while horribly depressed, I fought for my life. I studied and graduated, I worked part-time, and I adopted a dog. I went to therapy and tried medications and pushed myself to do things when I just wanted to sleep. Most importantly, my life – even as a life with depression – has continued. The things that I consider important for young adults to do or have mean nothing if there is no life to be led.
If you’re struggling right now, give yourself some credit for the courage and persistence it takes for you to show up for yourself every day. There is no timeline.