Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Moment I Knew I Was Depressed

I have stopped describing what depression feels like to the person with no experience of this “black dog,” as Winston Churchill called it, or even an occasional bout of melancholy, because my inability to express the physical and mental deterioration, the frustration at trying to articulate my madness, tends to make my black dog growl and attack strangers. I agree with the ever-wise William Styron who wrote in his classic, Darkness Visible:


Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self — to the mediating intellect — as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode.

The closest description Styron finds is that of drowning or suffocation.

Many people feel a gradual slide into this state. Breathing becomes a task to check off the “to do” list along with laundry and the dishes; an insecurity settles in, making simple responsibilities like watching your son play lacrosse alongside a field of fellow moms feel as though you are attempting to sit down with the popular group at lunch in a high school cafeteria divided by distinct social castes; and suddenly you hate yourself more than the cruel cousin you haven’t talked to in 20 years. According to depression checklists, if you feel like this for a month and a half, it’s time to call your physician.


So… That means I should have called my primary care doc like every day of the first two decades of my life. As long as I can remember, I’ve been fighting the thoughts in my head. It’s like the World Cup in there, where Team Negative Intrusive Terrorists have a 10-point lead over Team Positive Perspectives. I have always — or at least from my earliest memory — been sweating 24/7 inside my noggin, asking God to give me a water break with orange slices. Could you imagine my med chart if I had called every time I became uninterested in my hobbies or had difficulty making decisions? I’d be blacklisted from every medical institution. Kind of like I am now with health insurance companies.

There was never a moment when I said to myself, “Self, it’s been two months since you haven’t been your cheery self, and if the Zoloft ad on TV is any indication of what depression feels like, you are certainly a sad egg who can’t — or doesn’t want to — catch that damn butterfly.” However, there WAS a moment when I realized that my modus operandi wasn’t exactly typical, and that life wasn’t meant to feel like a hike up Mt. Everest. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact afternoon that happened.


I was a freshman at Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., and was working with a college therapist, not because I was depressed (of course!), but because I was having trouble staying sober at a time when every other college kid I knew — especially the ones across the street at Notre Dame — were experimenting with their newfound freedom. (Thankfully, I got to do that in high school.)

I detested the D word because it brought back memories of my aunt, my godmother, who killed herself when I was a sophomore in high school. I associated all language of depression and mental illness with her and was adamant that none of my current troubles had anything to do with the reason she breathed in too much carbon monoxide in my grandmother’s garage.


But I was also sick of struggling.

And my therapist knew this.

During one session she was firmer than usual.

“Coping your way through life is not a way to live,” she said. “If you just admit to being depressed, or having some mood disorder, then I can help get you the treatment you need, and your life can be better.”

Her first sentence — i.e., Coping your way through life is not a way to live — was my epiphany moment. I had incorrectly assumed that coping is what everyone did. No one actually wants to be alive, I had always believed (and still do when I get depressed). They just pretend they like they are having a good time on this excruciating planet because no one likes to hang out with a downer. “La la la la la … Sing a happy song …” We are all joyful Smurfs.


Like most statements of truth, this one took a few years to sink in. I resisted meds. I opposed labels. I avoided anything that might cause someone to suspect that I was born with a brain, involving some creative wiring. But it was my beginning. The moment I cried “uncle.” And even though I’m still no singing Smurf, and cope through life more hours than I want to, I have kept the piece from that afternoon that makes the strain more bearable: hope.

  • I. Holger

    Therese, I just stumbled upon your site and wish I had known about it years ago. Thank you so much for noting your decades long battle, something many do not want to admit due to a sense of failure. Your comment about frustration at trying to express the many ways your life has been affected hit home. Looking forward to reading more.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Catie

    Thank you…so glad I’m not the only one! “I had incorrectly assumed that coping is what everyone did. No one actually wants to be alive, I had always believed (and still do when I get depressed).”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Heidi

    Therese- if not coping- what is it you do now? For me -whatever I do-it always seems to be some way of coping.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment me…

    here I am again dear therese…everything you say seems to be what I would say if I could write as well as you. when does the ‘coping our way through life’ stop and the ‘living’ begin?
    with an e-hug,

  • Kelly Menzies

    Maybe if we didnt resist our feelings and were able to express them more openly then things wouldnt get so bad. People resist so much until they are at crisis point and then there only seems like one option available. Kelly x

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jean

    Every day for me is pretty much, just coping. Constantly feeling stuck in a dead end town, too old to get hired for a job, stuck looking after an older relative with dementia. Unable to leave the house on many days, even though I have long dreamed of traveling the world.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Charlotte Orth

    I can surely relate to not being able to describe my depression to others who have not been there but I have even noticed that my experience of depression is different in tone than others who have been or are depressed. I would lamely describe it as a black block in my head that hurts and is so scary and panicky even while I go about my daily tasks. I am not there now but it is a slippery slope.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dkg

    nothin’ to say, but Amen!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marge

    Double “Amen”!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mikey

    This is so right on, Therese, and hopeful. Many thanks from all of us who follow your posts.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Margaret

    This is EXELLENT – especially the Coping part.

    I have always envied people who woke up with a nice attitude and joyfully went through their day.

    However, we are Survivors, and even if it’s slowly, we get through the day.

    Blessings, M

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mary Anne

    I love you!, your honesty and your ability to express what so many of us can’t. Your writing ability is so awesome! I treasure your friendship and cannot begin to tell you about the perfect timing of todays post! Like u said about the day the rose petals arrived. It’s like u know 😉
    Good news I want to share with u and your readers. I got the results from my Kidney Scan I had done and it was clear. I think it must have been a kidney stone that I passed that had caused the blood in my urine. The re-occuring UTI’s are cleared up and for now I am on the mends. I still have another blood test they want me to do to check for diabetes because my glucose levels were high on the last blood wk. I learned yesterday that my Thyroid is ok, I no longer need to take my Iron, I am not anemic. What I do have is a very low Vitamin D deficiency. I had no idea all the problems that can occur from a lack of Vitamin D. When I researched it symptoms of a deficiency I had ALL of them. Turns out what my therapist said was Borderline personality disorder, my tiredness, fatigue, weight gain everything is because my levels were so dangerously low that my gyn gave me a Rx for 50,000 IU capsules to be taken once a wk! That is a lot of Vitamin D! I am feeling better after just taking my 1st one! I know that Vitamin D helps with bone loss, Osteoporosis….but had NO idea it also was responsible for anxiety, depression, kidney disease, diabetes….
    So, I am taking my Vitamin D going to try to get more natural sunlight which I admit I have not been doing Being sick the last 4 mths with infections I have spent all my time on the couch or bed.
    I still have my Happy Light here on my computer hutch. Your books on the shelf beside me, my prayer candles on my altar….my new journal I bought myself for my bday in April this yr. I am doing all I know to do like you. BREATHE, put one foot in front of the other, take baby steps, keep in contact with friends who understand or will listen, and PRAY.
    Hang in there with me my friend!! {{{{hugs}}}
    Mary Anne

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marcus

    Thank you. This resonated powerfully with me, and your therapist’s words have joined the other scraps of paper on my bulletin board to remind me of what I need to remember…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Excelsior

    Therese: I appreciate your writings. WE have to Live, not Exist in the World. Life is a Series of Moments. Sadly for many, including myself there are bad ones. Churchill, when the War in Britain was going badly; Never Ever Give UP! Keep Moving Along. A Lot of Things happen where We often Blame Ourselves but those Events are out of Our Control. WE have to feel what we can Do which is Right, Just and Good for Ourselves and those We Care About. PAX NOBISCUM

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ammer

    Thank-You!! You said it all. I really needed that right now. It is exactly how I feel!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shannon

    I enjoy reading your blogs. I still have trouble admitting that I can’t control this myself. I stopped taking medication because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. At least that is what I admit to. The truth is I stopped because I don’t want to seem so much more different from everyone else. I have a perfection problem. And even though I know that perfection Is an unreachable myth I still get so down on myself when my lack of perfection shines through. I always feel like I’m not good enough. And I am always wondering if I will ever be happy. That is what I tell my friends ‘I just want to be happy’.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marc

    Great post, Therese. Sometimes people close to me have said, you should have told me you were depressed. While this is implicitly making it my fault they couldn’t help, I understand the frustration. All I can say at those points is that it’s not always clear sometimes until things go very bad and the words to say when one can still talk about it are often hard to find. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rick

    Thank you for this, Therese. … And for your column. Which is making a difference and helping people like me move toward the light.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Diane Leveque

    I have been reading your posts for a couple of years. I have found them all so inspirational. I have suffered with Panic Disorder since the age of 16;I am now 52. I tried so hard for so many years to hide my disorder but have found that admitted it to others and especially myself, has helped me tremendously. What you do is so important and I wanted to thank you for making such a difference in so many people’s lives. You have made a profound impact on mine. Your candor and sense of humor make your post so much more genuine.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Chris K

    I have been battling major depression for a couple of years. I actually believed it was from the death of our son 8 years ago. Then I found my journal from the time I was 11-15. WOW! I was so depressed then. Had no desire to live. I always thought the depression was new. I didn’t have a great teen hood. Now I know that I have always been depression and meds, EMDR, counseling and lots of prayer are the only ways I have made it to my 40’s. So much has changed over the years with medication. So much still needs to change with other’s perspectives and attitudes.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marianna

    Coping is exactly all i do. Existing is what i do. I don’t think i have ever “lived”. But i thought that’s how life is. Life is just a chore. I get no pleasure from it. I’m glad to know i’m not the only one out there who feels like that. Thank you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment America D

    It was a long and winding road I took to bring me to this day, this moment that I found your writing, your life sharing. Thank you. I am a recovering alcoholic, suffer with depression, anxiety, OCD tendencies. Did I read correctly that you are in recovery as well? Thank you for sharing your wisdom and hope so that we may know a better way of life as well.

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