I haven’t written about The Tiger in quite a while. I’m sure that it shows up in my writing on occasion, especially in my more passionate posts. I’m not writing it now because I’m depressed, but I have been more anxious than usual lately. When my anxiety increases and doesn’t show signs of abating then I know that the risk of depression is much higher. I feel it creeping up on me, actually, and having been thinking about it a lot so it’s probably touching me more than I think.
Sleeping at the foot of my bed.
Depression and Anxiety Disorders are Federally recognized as disabilities, as they should be. They can be debilitating. I’m one of the lucky ones getting treatment, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have challenging times in spite of the treatment. Talk therapy and medication are both wonderful tools and the tools learned during therapy are helpful too, but they’re not a cure.
Depression and Anxiety Disorders are biologically based so I’ll say it again: there is no cure.
That means that in spite of my best efforts I may be able to keep The Tiger in its cage. Most of the time it’s not in the cage, if I’m honest. The Tiger might hang out around its cage, content to eat the morsels I toss it to keep it at bay. With its hot breath and piercing, uncomfortable stare, making me feel like I’m always trying to catch my breath, I feel like it’s sitting on chest. Sometimes it seems to think it’s a lap cat, and it makes itself comfortable curling up in my lap…. heavy, making itself comfortable and expecting to be petted and given the occasional scratch on the head and under the neck. The anxiety you feel is prickly, catching in my throat, because I know that if I don’t rub and scratch The Tiger quite the right way it can turn on you in an instant with open claws and all teeth.
The Tiger might swipe in warning with claws retracted; I get knocked off my feet with my breath knocked out of my chest.
The Tiger might swipe in annoyance with claws out; I get a nasty gash in my belly from one claw, feeling as if my guts are falling out for all to see, feelings and emotions pouring out in a gooey, oozing mess for all to see. I get a cross cut with the other claw in my vocal chords so that I can’t call for help; I’m left in a wrecked mess trying to recover in the best way I can until I feel capable enough to move on my own and ask for help. The whole time, The Tiger is watching and in its own way is trying to help, but it’s keeping me down. It’s licking my wounds, adding infection while it holds me down with its enormous soft paws.
It’s just a matter of time before I can wriggle enough to get close to the phone or push the The Tiger away to let someone else take its place. Each and every time no matter what happens to ME, The Tiger comes out of it without a scratch. She may have to lick some blood off of her claws and lick her lips, but the scratches and damage are all mine. Occasionally someone else gets pulled in and gets scratched too. I hate it when that happens.
The Tiger sleeps at my feet, purring deeply in its chest, one eye occasionally opening to check and make sure I’m still there.
I’m still there.
I’ve been having ongoing conversations with other people about how individuals who, even if they live with someone that has a Depressive and/or Anxiety Disorder, really can’t come from a point of view of Knowing or having full Understanding.
That doesn’t mean that there can’t be compassion, sympathy, or a level of understanding. It doesn’t mean that we think you just don’t get it and resent us, logically speaking.
Emotionally and illogically perhaps, we fear that you do resent us. We fear that the level of compassion and understanding we need isn’t present. We fear that sympathy will dissipate, especially when what we really need is empathy.
It’s really hard to explain what it feels like and what the experience is like in the midst of a bout with depression. I want you to understand that Depressive Disorders don’t look the way you think they look. There’s a stereotypical portrayal of depression which is inaccurate, and which I think is really a portrayal of The Blues. And is really more (d)epression than (D)epression. The same can be said for (a)nxiety and (A)nxiety. They can be equally difficult, but one can be “shaken off” and dealt with using all of those happy tips and food boosters and sunshine, and the other can’t. The other is a process and has a biological, neurological basis.
We sometimes have triggers for depression and anxiety but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes it’s situational and sometimes it isn’t. I know that’s hard to understand. I know that when someone tells you that they’re feeling depressed, you might not understand “why” because you see them smile, laugh, and you know that they’re happy.
The thing is, they … we… ARE happy. We usually have a good life and we know it. We may have a few problems or a lot; we might have a laid back life and personality or maybe not. There are certainly times I feel more laid back than at others, and I try to appear laid back even when I don’t feel like it. I usually feel like I’m failing at that.
We probably appear to do everything “right” in our lives because so very often we’re perfectionists. After all, many of us who have Anxiety and Depressive Disorders will have additional diagnoses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Agoraphobia. We often appear to have everything; a loving spouse, great children, a great job, great friends, a loving extended family, general good health. We look happy because we ARE happy. Even in the middle of a Depressive episode we can smile and be happy and mean it. We can enjoy ourselves. It’s not quite the same as when we’re not in an episode, but we can feel it. Things might be more hollow, more flat, or they might be more intense and hyper-sensitive.
Depression and Anxiety aren’t about our current state of happiness. We feel everything, more or less intensely. Anger, sadness, happiness, empathy, sympathy, joy, compassion, everything. We can still be affected heavily by Depression and Anxiety even when we appreciate absolutely every single good thing we have in our lives because it’s not about appreciation. It’s disordered thinking that we can’t control or snap out of. Self-esteem, self-worth, self-view are all distorted. We might appear more selfish, but we really are trapped in an inability to recognize the cycle. We don’t see ourselves appropriately emotionally or even physically. We can swing from one extreme emotion to another. We can be full of contradictions. We could be looking right into a mirror and our physical image often matches our current attitude of self-worth and our self-worth is often based in how we perceive, correctly or not, how others perceive us. And we may or may not care what others think of us. We are full of contradictions.
It’s a see-saw from hell.
It’s a vicious cycle, really.
You just can’t choose to shake it off. You can’t just expect someone to get over it. No amount of sunshine, exercise, vitamins, veggies, sleep, forced smiles, forced social interaction, herbs, spices, and wishful thinking can bring someone with a Depressive Disorder out of an episode.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a short episode or a long one. All you can do is let it run its course and let that person know that you’re there without judgment. You can’t shame someone out of an episode… in fact you will probably make it worse. Just like if you try to fat-shame someone, chances are you’re harming that person’s self-image worse than it is and you’re not telling them anything they don’t already know; in fact you’re pushing them away from you and any desire to work toward weight loss goals. Weight issues and Depression and Anxiety are very closely related. Weight issues, whether someone is over-weight or under-weight, are very often tied to Depression and Anxiety but also to physical illnesses you know nothing about… but will still trigger episodes of Depression and Anxiety.
It’s that heavy, breathing animal. That Tiger waiting to sink her teeth into something hot or cold, it doesn’t matter. She’s always there. Breathing hot, moist, predatory breath on the back of your neck. She’s so close you think you can hear her eyes blink and her fur rustling as she adjusts her haunches. We feel like prey. We feel alone. We feel fear. We feel everything intensely and at the same time, we’re trying to ignore it all and push it away.
We’re trying to ignore it, because if we acknowledge the Tiger, she might attack full force instead of simply injuring us. And she doesn’t really need a reason to injure us to begin with. She doesn’t need a reason to attack. She’s a predator and she doesn’t need a reason for anything at all.