Depression isn't just being a bit sad. It's feeling nothing.. --- J. K. Rowling
When I was nineteen, my sister and I took swimming lessons at a local middle school. If she sees this, she'll remember this story.
The instructor was an athletic coach for that school. Young. Good looking. Well-built. Particularly sexy in his swim trunks. You know the kind, you remember him from high school. The gorgeous hunky coach/teacher who all the gals swooned over. I think his name was Fred.
Fred, on our second day of lessons, decided it was time to leave our float boards behind and try out the waters unaided.
With my fear of water, I knew I hadn't gotten to a comfortable level in my swimming. This pumped up the panic in me.
My turn came.
"Jump in!" Fred commanded.
"I don't think I can do this." Me, cowering, about to piss my pretty little swimsuit.
"Jump in!" Fred's third and final command.
Oh, hell, Fred must know better, I figured.
The moment my feet paddled against nothing but water, with nothing but water and more water under me---miles and miles of water it seemed to a aqua phobic like me---I panicked even more.
And when I began to sink, head under water, nothing below, nothing above, I'd never felt such terror in all my life.
The worst part? In those fear-filled moments when I could manage to get at somewhat above the surface, I saw good ol' Fred. Laughing.
Who will ever know what Fred thought was so funny. My guess? With his virile movie-star looks, he might have been used to gals feigning distress to get him to dive in and help them. Or maybe I just really looked hilarious.
But my sister, on the sidelines, had had enough of Fred's sink-or-swim tactic.
She shouted to him, "You get your goddamn ass in there and you get her out!"
So Fred finally plunged in. Unfortunately for him, my panic was at such levels that---when he placed his hands at my waist to push me up above the surface---I was frenziedly clawing at his head, pushing him down. Fred nearly expired in his rescue attempt.
I did not have to swim the rest of the day.
This week, the vision of that frightful moment has come back to me. Strong. Because this week, I've sort of paralleled that experience with something I've wrestled with recently---depression.
I've spoke of depression before. But, when I mentioned on my Facebook wall about being in depression, I was surprised---and saddened---to see how many others suffer this condition as well.
Why did the Fred experience remind me of this dark world my mind has been---this depression?
Because the feeling of floundering, of being in over my head in an Olympic sized swimming pool of life is like that ill-fated swimming lesson.
In this big, huge nothingness where there's no bottom to touch your toes to, no shore to reach out to, it's a traumatic experience. There are people---like Fred---on the sidelines, seeing you are sinking. And, kind of like the handsome instructor, they can't fully grasp your panic because they know how to swim.
You wonder---sometimes you know---the bystanders, our friends, sigh, There she goes again. But, like with my sister's intervention at the pool, the blessing sometimes comes in the form of a friend who sees you are sinking. And they reach out. They might not be able to save you, to make it all go away, but they offer a hand to pull you up above the surface.
The saddest, most frustrating part is that others often feel your weird panicky behavior is nothing but self-importance, you're a big ol' prima donna. When, really, you are in a mode of high voltage fear, irrationality and frustration. And you're clinging to them, you're trying to make life rafts out of them. And, who wants to be a perpetual life raft to a panicking swimmer? So you lose those friends.
Want to know the funny part? Since that awful day, I've learned to swim. Or I guess you can call it that. I can swim confidently in a pool if I can see the concrete sides within comfortable distance. Something to reach for, a safe touch point, as the pool is just too big for a chicken like me to swim without a proverbial net. If I know my head can still be above water if I sink. Which means I can pretty much swim in the shallow end of the pool.
Life has those kinds of touch points as well. Those sidelines and concrete botoms that---when we see them in sight---we feel we can do this swimming thing. And these little markers are nothing more---in daily life---than just those familiar things that have incorporated themselves into our routines. A friendly face in a store, a neighbor we say hello to every day, the mail man, anything or anybody.
I even felt the added sadness to my depression when a neighbor in my apartments moved out last week. Not that I knew him well, but I had become accustomed to seeing him, chatting, seeing his cat in the window everyday when I came home from work.
One of my silly, daily markers. Gone. One of those little sidelines, those touch points in the big pool that made every day seem safer, more friendly.
Sure, maybe it sounds silly. But depression isn't silly, it's not a mood. It's not a tantrum. It's not being sad about a thing, about anything. Like the quote says, it's the feeling of absolutely nothing. How much easier it might be to cope with depression if one could point a finger to the reason and just deal with it. But depression is a void, a big hole of nothing with no rhyme or reason. No warning that it's coming. It is just there like a black fog and you're enveloped before you can resist.
Depression is not the glamorous fretting in the movies.
There's no Greta Garbo to play your part in depression. No "I want to be left alone" chic-ness. Nope.
A fellow author wondered, on her blog, if social forums played a part in depression. My thought was a big, resounding yes. Although Facebook denies it, there is actually a legitimate term, Facebook Depression.
Looking deep into myself, I think I agree with this. Instead of being a friendly, safe touch point in the pool of daily life, I wonder if it's not more of a sinkhole that swallows those---like me, who might not be emotionally strong enough to deal---into a constant whirlpool of competition. Insecurity because you're in the waters with much bigger talent than yourself. Frustration because, as it's a free-speech community, so much antagonism flows from the walls of the forum. Bad-mouthing, constant innuendos about other people who for---silly folk like me---keep one in constant fear that it's us they're talking about.
Coming and going of friends on forums---loss of those comfortable touchstones---happen. To them, you were just fish in the sea. To you, they were safe markers, faces you saw every day. You shouldn't have, but you did depend on them.
While I can't do anything about losing these touch points in my life---life is change, after all---I can at least try to look deeper into myself to understand why I so desperately need this sideline markers to feel confident in navigating the social ocean. In navigating life. Period.
I feel like I'm rambling here. But that's how my mind feels. Floundering, kicking, dog-paddling like mad, to stay above water. To make sense of this dark place, to get to the surface. And that frenzy to get there is a rambling, wild and scary feeling.
I'm grateful to those life rafts, those friends, who've let me panic but stood by the sidelines just in case. Oh, hell. Sure, I'm even grateful to ol' Fred.