The Crushing Weight of Despair

Apologies for the clichéd title, but it’s an apt metaphor. Despair, sadness, depression … all of them are associated with a sense of feeling weighted down, and (for me, at least) it ties to a genuinely physical sense of being unable to move, of having some great pressure pushing in on your chest, your stomach – your entire body.

Sometimes it’s all I can do to stop myself from going mad with frustration and guilt. The uncontainable dread that threatens to break out of me feels tangible, somehow real, like a simmering pressure cooker about to explode. I feel simultaneously threatened and threatening, a danger to myself and everyone around me. I don’t want anyone around when I finally blow – including myself.

And until that happens, I feel out of control, disconnected from thought and mind, literally trying to just make it to the next landmark of the day with no thought of what comes after – because if I try to contemplate the future, I’ll go insane. Just yesterday, driving home, I found myself wondering how I was even going to make it the next 20 minutes until I got there. Twenty minutes … an interminable moment with no escape, with no resolution, because of course I had to get there, but couldn’t bear the thought of spending another moment in coherent consciousness.

Later, I tried to help prepare dinner, and found myself pacing manically around the kitchen, forgetting with each step why I started moving in the first place. A mistake in chopping broccoli reduced me to a series of insensate babbles, unable to cope with the gravity of the problem: no separation between what did and didn’t matter.

When I get like this, I become incapable of reasonable thought. All things require monumental effort, and bringing a forkful of food to my mouth is as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. I don’t wish for death necessarily, but I do long for oblivion, for unconsciousness, for the long, hazy and nonsensical dreamscape of sleep. When I finally drift off, I can’t tell the difference between dream and reality – even after I wake up.

This is a cycle I find myself in repeatedly, and I’m utterly unable to break out of it. The biggest difficulty is when I begin to drown in this black pit of misery, the dampening effect it has on the people around me only serves to drive me deeper. I see others’ behaviors as toxic and demeaning, but I know that no matter how poorly I think others treat me, my treatment of them is a thousand-fold worse. As much as I try to convince myself that there is a way out, the guilt brings me full circle and I see myself as a hurtful, toxic monster who deserves nothing but misery in turn.

Beyond this, though, the physicality of this depression is what makes it so difficult to do anything about. When I’m huddled on the kitchen floor, unable to move or speak, or cooped up in bed in the warm dark, I feel such a sense of sinking pressure that I’m crushed into the ground, buried like a coffin, as immovable as a corpse.

It’s impossible to describe what this feels like to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the dread weight of depression; impossible to explain why it feels as debilitating as a punch to the gut, or as mind-bending as a bad acid trip. This makes it all the more difficult to try and garner sympathy and empathy for such a state of mind, because to the outsider, the behavior looks like self-indulgent laziness. The ridiculousness of the babble, the ‘choice’ to stay in bed all day, the excuses to not work or cook or interact socially … I can understand why it seems like I’m just finding any old reason to avoid any kind of effort. And the effort to change is just as impossible to overcome, so it seems like I don’t even want to break free.

In truth, when I’m drawn into the clutches of despair, sometimes I don’t want to break free – the mere thought of trying to change is in itself overwhelming and impossible to contemplate. All of which goes to say that it’s a monumental task to explain depression, and even more monumental to do anything about it.

Eventually, I know I’ll rise out of the cycle naturally, but with the shorter days and colder skies, the gloom of coming winter seems inevitable, endless, and unsurmountable. It’s something I will always have with me, and something no one else will ever understand – until they’ve been down that dark road themselves, and felt the crushing weight of despair.

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