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My brain has this quirk. I’m not sure if other depressed people have it; if you do, I’d be interested to hear about it. When I’m in a depressive episode, I literally can’t comprehend what it feels like to be not-depressed, or what the world looks like through my not-depressed eyes. The pessimism is almost completely convincing: my existential despair, and my obsession with mortality and death, not only seem flawlessly logical, but feel like I’ve always felt that way and always will.
And when I’m not-depressed, and haven’t been depressed in a while, the same is true. Depression just seems bizarre. When I recently pulled out of my long, hard depressive episode, I told my therapist that I “finally feel like myself,” and the previous three and a half years looked like a grim blur. Looking at my depressed self through my non-depressed eyes — and at my non-depressed self through my depressed eyes — can feel like switching back and forth between alternate realities, alternate versions of myself on different time tracks or in different universes. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one: there’s a non-trivial sense of distorted reality and fragmented identity.
So since I’m doing better, and I’ve been doing better for a while and expect to continue, I’m writing a letter to myself, something for me to read the next time I get seriously depressed. I may not believe my friends, my therapist, Ingrid — but I might be more inclined to believe myself.
Note to readers: I really am just talking to myself here. I realize that the first-person/second-person construction might feel like I’m talking to you and lecturing you: I promise that I’m not. My present self is talking to my future self. If you have depression, take what you need from this, and leave the rest. If you don’t have depression and have depressed friends or family members, DO NOT talk with them like this unless they’ve specifically asked you to. It’s really damaging to give unsolicited medical advice to people with mental illness: it can interfere with people’s relationships with their health care providers, and it can come across as hectoring, patronizing, unsympathetic, and judgmental.
Dear Depressed Greta,
Hi. Non-depressed Greta here, writing from the alternate reality. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time right now. There are some things I think you’ll want to hear, but you may have a hard time believing them if anyone else says them to you. So I’m writing this to you in Summer 2016, shortly after your three-and-a-half-year episode of depression had finally wound down (and right when you’re pulling out of your brief relapse). If you don’t believe anyone else, maybe you’ll believe me. Continue reading “Letter to My Depressed Self From My Non-Depressed Self”