I tend to regard my non-depressed self as the “fun” divorcee parent. She shows up when the weather’s nice to take me to a ballgame and buy me an ice cream cone, mussing my hair and saying, “Cheer up, sport!” Acting like she hasn’t abandoned me for six months. But she’s always gone when the sun’s down, claiming to wish she could stay before sloughing me off on the other parent.
The contrast between my depressed and non-depressed self is the difference between being asleep and awake. But there’s an in-between state where nothing is definitive. There are months of groggy uncertainty where it’s hard to say which end of the spectrum of wakefulness I’m leaning toward, and I could easily drift back to sleep without ever truly jolting awake.
Since the beginning of April I’ve been in limbo, a bizarre place of depression purgatory. I started feeling happy again, if “happy” is the right word. What I’ve been feeling is convinced of the possibility that happy things could actually make me feel happy in the near future. I’ve been feeling like someday soon when people tell me, “Life isn’t so bad! Think of the flowers blooming and the babies laughing!” I might actually think, My God, you’re right! instead of feeling that never-ending nothingness, coupled with the guilt I feel for not being able to enjoy something as universally enjoyable as the laughter of babies. Lately I’ve been feeling (sometimes for whole days at a time) that good things are going to happen to me. I’m not sure what the word for that is. Maybe it’s “hope,” even if it’s fleeting.
I was drowning in midair since late October. So when my non-depressed self comes back into my life as if nothing has happened, it feels disingenuous. She tries to connect with me by asking me playful questions like, “So, how’s the love life?” It’s a universal icebreaker, a way for her to learn something juicy about my life. But the appropriate response doesn’t exist for a person whose romantic undertakings have been abysmal. The dating pool is bleak enough to depress a normal person and dating while depressed is another enterprise altogether.
I want to scream at her, “It would’ve been a lot easier if you’d been here!” I could tell her about that first depression date: that time back in November when I thought maybe what I was feeling was “just a funk,” although I’d known deep down I was sliding back into the void. I could tell her how I knew from the moment I sat down for drinks with him at the bar we wouldn’t be going on a second date. I could tell her how he told me a story about believing he’d been touched by a ghost that I might’ve found funny instead of horrifying if I were in another state of mind. I could even tell her about how I cried on the drive home because he was perfectly nice and I was incapable of connecting with men, or how I knew we’d never speak again (we didn’t).
I could tell my non-depressed self about the months after that first depressed date where I avoided any guy my age because, despite seeing myself as inherently unlikable, I had a deep fear that someone might like me enough to try to get to know me, just to be disappointed by my complete lack of a personality.
And what about when I finally did go on another depressed date at the beginning of March? How do I explain to my non-depressed self that I was blindsided by the guy asking me questions about me? How do I explain that talking about myself over dinner was agony because it meant talking about the person I hated most in the world? Imagine trying to talk about Hitler for an hour and a half. (At least Hitler had interests, though. If he were on my date and got asked about his hobbies outside work he’d smile coyly and say, “Oh, I love genocide—but autocracy is my true passion,” and take a flirtatious sip of his Mai Tai.)
The point is that dating is hard for everyone, but getting to know someone while you’re depressed is especially brutal because it requires you to reflect on yourself. Innocuous questions feel like an interrogation when you’re carrying this heavy guilt for just existing.
An especially thoughtful boy who took me out asked me (after I had inadvertently stonewalled him on every getting-to-know-you question he’d already asked), “What are you excited about?”
The question knocked the wind out of me with its blunt perceptiveness. It surprised me so much that I answered it honestly: “Nothing.”
I was a conversation killer, to say the least. And that brings us to the crux of depressed dating: talking about yourself makes you realize how terribly boring you are, so you stop talking, only to remember that saying nothing is even less interesting than admitting you get enjoyment out of nothing, but by the time you’ve made this realization it’s been too long to respond to his initial question, so you sit there in prolonged silence, simultaneously trying to come up with a better answer to the question and to think of a question to ask him in return. … But I’m just projecting now, because it’s not “you,” it’s me—I’m the only person to blame for my conversational ineptitude.
I’m not myself when I’m depressed. That maybe goes without saying. But I had undiagnosed, untreated depression and generalized anxiety disorder as a child (the diagnoses didn’t come along until my senior year of high school), and if I’m not myself when I’m depressed, then I’ve been “not myself” more often than I’ve actually been myself.
There are certain traits I take for granted about me: I’m shy, I’m a cat person, I’m bad at sports, I’m serious, I’m not a risk-taker, I’m ugly, I have an annoying laugh, and people don’t like me. I’ve built a fundamental understanding of myself on the basis of how I behave when I’m depressed, because all my life I took that for normal.
So when this non-depressed version of me tries to sneak back into my life, I resent her. I despise her—she’s all kinds of wonderful things that I’m not, things that would’ve made life so much easier for me. She seeks out new experiences, she kisses boys in bars, and people laugh at her jokes. She’s spontaneous, she redirects conversations when her talking points aren’t landing, and she bounces back from failure. She even showers regularly!
I make my non-depressed self an “other” because she’s hard to recognize as me. She makes the “me” I’ve been struggling with my whole life look like a disturbing simulacrum, which is terrifying when my depressed self is the only “me” I’ve ever really gotten to know.
I think to move forward, I’ll have to break myself into scraps and sort through the pieces, learning to forgive the parts of me that weren’t there when I needed them and to thank the parts of me that were, even when it felt like they weren’t enough. I’ll have to reconcile two versions of myself that I’ve built in opposition to each other, and then make peace with the version that remains—the person I haven’t met yet.