It seems that every stage of depression recovery comes with its own tortuous fear.
I’m depressed, and I’m afraid I’ll feel like this forever.
I’m depressed and can see recovery in the distance, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle it. What if I don’t even know who I am anymore?
I’m less depressed, and I’m afraid that if I give myself a break, everything will fall apart again.
I feel good, but I’m afraid that my depression will come back at any time.
I’m less depressed, and I’m getting out of the house and going for runs and doing yoga and going for hikes and doing the shopping and talking to neighbors and making appointments and I’m terrified. I’m terrified that if I stop even for a second, everything will fall apart. I’ll be right back where I started, in the deep nothingness of depression.
I wish it were easy to maintain balance; add a sprinkle of joy on this side, toss in a handful of rationality over here. But entropy won’t allow it, and neither will the laws of inertia. If an object at rest stays at rest, I must keep moving.
Except- there are outside forces acting on this object. I cannot keep moving indefinitely. Eventually, I must rest. Then, when I’ve replenished my energy, I’ll move again, each time becoming more and more balanced.
I used to look at the time when I heard a train go by at night, the heavy silence of 2 AM broken by the siren call of escape. I used to notice unlocked windows on the fourth floor of West Hall as I went up and down the stairs, each trip to and from class becoming harder. I used to see ways to die everywhere; in the passing bus, in the cold, dark current of the Huron River, in the pastel-blue sewing scissors tucked under my pillow. I used to wonder how long it would take for these morbid opportunities to escape my notice. How long before I can go a full day without putting some new, self-destructive idea on a mental shelf? How long before any phrase including the word “cut” doesn’t make me yearn to be alone so that I can do just that? I used to wonder about these things until I realized,
I was sitting in my therapist’s office yesterday, quiet and subdued, while we discussed the challenge of recovering from repeated episodes of depression. I had explained that sometimes I take solace in the knowledge that the episodes eventually end, but other times, I despair that depression will inevitably return. In trying to ask me where I sat on the continuum that day, my therapist posed an interesting rhetorical question.
How do you measure hope?
Neither of us answered it, but I found myself pondering it as I left. We measure things because it helps us put them into the context of the world around us. But how do you measure a subjective thing like hope? Can you weigh it? Stand it up against your kitchen doorframe and mark its growth as the years go by? Or maybe you measure it by volume- how much space it takes up in your life; in your goals; in your routines. If you could measure hope in decibels, would yours be louder than your doubt?
For now, I choose to measure hope in binary terms. Hope is hope, no matter how small or dim. If your hope is small, feed it with the belief that the better times are worth it.