This Is What It Feels Like to “Come Out” of a Depressive Episode and Finally Feel Joy Again

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

“The moon,” my daughter yelled. “Look Mommy, the moon.”

The sky was a faint shade of blue; in fact, since the sun was still rising it was barely colored at all. Instead, brightness swallowed everything. But I followed her gaze — I let my eyes travel the length of her outstretched arms and to the tip of her fingers — and looked up. There, just beneath the power lines but above my neighbor’s rooftop, was the the small circular satellite. (Yes, the moon is considered a satellite — a natural satellite.)

“Aw, you’re right baby! That is the moon.”

My daughter screeched with glee and laughed with delight. She watched the moon as it moved across the sky with our every step, and with every turn. She asked me where it was when it sank behind buildings. When it couldn’t be seen through the trees. And she would clap when it returned. When we could again see the moon. And while we walk to school every day — remarking on things like the weather, the flowers, or the color of cars — there is something different about this day. Because this day was the first time in a long time when I could feel her joy. This day was the first time in a long time I was able to smile, and I was able to laugh. This day was the first time in a long time I saw the moon: I really, really saw the moon.

You see, shortly after Christmas I fell into the grips of another depressive episode. I was sleeping less and crying more. I was eating less and yelling more. And I was losing motivation. I was losing my drive to write and work. I was losing my desire to be with my family. To do anything. But having a long history with depression — a long, long history — I knew what was happening. I knew these thoughts and feelings were my disease, and so I went back into therapy in January. By March, I was back on medication. But it took time for things to get better. It took awhile for the meds to kick in. For feeling to return. For hope and color and joy to return. Because depression makes you feel hopeless. It makes you feel worthless, and you become trapped.

Trapped by the darkness.

Trapped by the loneliness.

And trapped by the emptiness.

In fact, when you are in the grips of a depressive episode, it feels never-ending. You feel as though you are in a free-fall, or tethered to the ocean’s floor. You fight for each and every breath. You struggle to break free, and you desperately try to keep your head above the waves, but no matter what you do there is a weight holding you down. There is a weight and a tether that will not let you go. So you kick and flail. You scream and you suck back salty water, but no one can hear you, and your disease won’t let you drown.

Eventually, you stop fighting. You let the waves consume you. You the waves swallow you, and you give in — hoping you can hold on. All you can do is hold on, and eventually that rope — that damn rope — will loosen its grip. Eventually the sea will settle. And eventually you will break free. Even if it is only for a week or a month: your depression will lift and you will break free. But it isn’t easy, and you never know when it will happen. And days with depression feel like an eternity. Months with depression feel like death.

The lows make the highs so much sweeter. Because I am able to appreciate the little things, like the balmy feeling of sun on my skin or the coolness of an ice cream cone or frosty summer brew.
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Because the truth is, that’s what life with depression is really like. It is a series of highs and lows, of good days and bad ones. And while my lows have been very low — i.e. I have lost weeks of my life sulking in the sadness, floundering in the darkness, and have even been suicidal — the lows make the highs so much better. The lows make the highs so much sweeter. Because I am able to appreciate the little things, like the balmy feeling of sun on my skin or the coolness of an ice cream cone or frosty summer brew. I am able to appreciate my daughter’s quips and laughs and off-beat sense of humor. (She laughs at farts and sings songs about her nipples.) And I am able to appreciate family dance parties and snuggly Sunday mornings.

I am able to appreciate things like the moon.

It has been nearly a month since I came out of my last “episode,” and I still stare at the moon every morning — at least when I am up early enough — or on my way home every night. Because I want to appreciate the little things when I can. I want to appreciate the little things when I am fully present, and because the moon has become something of a symbol for me: a symbol of life. A symbol of hope, and a reminder that even in the darkness there is a light to guide me. Beneath the moonbeams everything will be OK. And while I might feel lost and desperate and hopeless, that soft glow in a cloudless sky can guide me.

No matter how long the “journey,” I can always follow it home.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Mental Health America (MHA) is hoping to redefine the face of mental illness by asking people to speak up about how it really feels to live with diseases like depression, anxiety, OCD, PPD, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder (as well as many others). You can join the conversation by tagging your social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike.

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