The Lonely Planet Guide to My Depression


Shamelessly derived from The Lonely Planet Guide to My Apartment and, you know, any number of Lonely Planet guides. 

Introduction

Permanent January.  A gray blanket fort. Fog. 19th century Russian literature. If these things have limited appeal for you, you are not alone. In spite of the dull edges, lack of color, and very little else to recommend it as a destination, nearly 16 million Americans make an annual journey to the land of depression, some taking up residence for months, even years at a time. The country is as multi-faceted as it is dully tedious, offering everything from a week or two of feeling glum, a season of light deprived blues, or a complete metaphorical drowning in a black lake of murky water that is just above body temperature making it hard to realize that your lungs are slowly filling with despair.

It’s popular wisdom that the best travel changes you and a journey to this territory is guaranteed to have you feeling like you’re someone else in no time. The worst new you awaits! For long lasting, effective transformation, you can’t beat depression as a destination. This guide will help you know what to expect from your journey.

Disclaimer: For a monochromatic country, depression offers a staggering array of nuance. This guide was accurate as of January, 2018, but please be aware that while things seem to take for-fucking-ever in depression, they also change frequently and without notice. We strongly recommend you do your own research in addition to reading this guide.

Arrival

The route to depression is varied and in fact, most travelers to the country don’t know they’ve arrived until they’re informed by a medical professional or, in some cases, an insightful friend. “You need to see a doctor,” your friend may tell you and upon completing the required entry forms (PHQ-9, learn more here) you will be informed if you’re in-country. You might find you’ve been in country for quite some time already, without being fully aware of your presence therein. Consider the PHQ-9 a sort of “You Are Here” designation, one you will need to fill out nearly every time you encounter an authority figure of any kind. “Yes,” they will say, “I know you filled this out yesterday. Today is a different day.”

The porous nature of the borders is such that one moment, you may be in country, the next, out. This lack of clarity about where you are, exactly, is a defining feature of the landscape. Expect to be continually re-orienting, and you may find yourself crying in the car for no apparent reason as you drive home from a perfectly pleasant and even keeled outing.

Budget

Thanks to the blatant capitalism of health care in the US, much depends on your health insurance. You may or may not have coverage for mental heath services, and even if you do have coverage, your out of pocket expenses can be quite high. Unexpected additional expenses are likely to arise and can include late fees on bills that you have not paid because you forgot, opportunity cost due to missed days at work, shelter pet adoption fees (and corresponding expenses related to having a pet), and an uptick in pizza delivery, even while the pizza goes uneaten because you’re not hungry, I mean, you thought you were, but really, you’re just not, maybe it will be good for breakfast. Those in day jobs with benefits and leave of absence policies may find depression a more affordable — but by no means easier — destination. The self-employed, part time workers, and any number of poorly insured or financially insecure individuals should prepare to have the expense of depression be an additional burden, because everything is already fucked, why not have it cost a lot of money, too?

Food and drink

Bad for you but fun to eat foods dominate the depression dining scene. Ice cream by the pint, Doritos, stress-baked cinnamon rolls, mac and cheese, burgers and fries… The diet of a summer picnic seems to play a prevalent role. The bad news is that the kinds of foods you’d normally enjoy as a treat at that summer picnic end up sucked entirely free of fun as you find yourself staring at the Cheeto dust at the bottom of the bag and wondering if you should eat a salad now to offset your bad choices, god, making a salad is just so exhausting, I barely even remember eating those Cheetos, why is my gut a gaping maw of sadness when it’s full of Cheetos?

Alcoholic drinks are a bad idea in that they tend to have depressive qualities, but maybe a bourbon on the rocks would take the edge off?  Did my doctor say that I could or could not have a glass of wine with my meds, I’m just going to back to bed anyway.  Yes, it’s only one in the afternoon, what’s your point?

Things to do

Relentless introspection is a popular past time in depression. Many locals engage in an activity called rumination, where they worry a problem over and over and over again, preferably one they can not solve, until they’ve occupied so much of their brain with this Rubik’s Cube of concerns that they can not perform the most rudimentary of tasks, not to mention be successful and creative in their daily responsibilities. It’s always a bad time to ruminate, always, so there’s no need to worry about schedules. And anyone can do it, no special skill is needed.

Restless sleeping is an easy way to fill 12-18 hours of your day. It can easily be integrated with pretending to read while being completely unfocused, staring at on-screen entertainment, or listlessly scrolling through social media.

Extreme sports are available to the supremely motivated.  It’s widely recommended that you make the effort to participate in these activities while you’re in country, but be aware, the exertion can seem insurmountable. If you can muster the energy, you can participate in such heart racing activities and walking the dog while still wearing your pajamas, doing a load of laundry and leaving it in the dryer for three days, or for the truly ambitious, taking a shower and going to buy groceries which will go bad in your fridge because who has the energy to cook?

Social life

Hahahahahahahahahahah. Ha. Whew. I’m done. No, wait. Hahahahahahaha. Ha. Heh. Hoo boy. Just… no.

The trip of a lifetime

Lucky travelers will find they merely transit the landscape, skimming across the surface as though it were an afternoon drive through Liechtenstein, that tiny European nation you can walk across in a day, if you’re ambitious. They will treat it as a little more than a stopover, and indeed, this is a wise choice, as if you have any choice in the matter. The coffee at the end of the B gate in the depression airport isn’t bad if you end up grounded for more than a few hours, and honestly, an airport grilled cheese and a good mope every now and then isn’t going to ruin you. Have a good wallow, you deserve it.

But in moments of clarity, you may realize that you have spent far too long in this place you do not want to be and you do not know the way out. You will require the help of an experienced guide to find your departure gate. The lights on the emergency exits are fitted with bulbs that have been dead for years, the doors themselves may be completely overgrown, and the staggering weight of lethargy meets apathy meets what feels like an epic case of jet lag can leave any traveler feeling like the way out is, oh, I guess I just live in my bed now, that seems fine, right? It’s fine.  I need another nap anyway.

Were we talking about something? I’m sorry, I’m going to go lie down, is it okay if say I’m going to call you later and then forget all about it and cry while watching Parks and Rec instead? Cool.


Shortly after my birthday my doctor diagnosed me with severe recurrent depression. It occurs to me that I’ve been here before, but this time, I can’t get myself out on my own. I am going to be okay, I’m quite sure of it, but right now, it really sucks. I’m grateful to all my friends who have said “Oh, yeah, that. I’ve been there. Let me know if you need anything and I tell you what, it’s no fucking joke.”

Thank you for sharing with me, it means a lot that even though I can’t really see you right now, I know I’m not alone. 

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8 thoughts on “The Lonely Planet Guide to My Depression

  1. Can’t tell you how much this speaks to me. I’ve been in and out of depressions since I was fourteen, and each time is progressively worse. I think this is a very creative, relatable way to talk about it. It makes depression seem very approachable, which it should be, because, like you said, it affects so many of us today. So, it can open up a conversations about it.

  2. The country no one wants to visit, even if you have relatives from there … I myself have spent too much time traveling through the land of Anxiety, sometimes concurrent with visiting Depression. Though I love our beautiful city and chose to live here, this year the long nights and gray sky seem oppressive, and by mid-afternoon I am turning on every light in the house, which doesn’t necessarily help, but it’s all I can think of to do. I wish you safe travels to a land with more enjoyable sights (and cuisine!).

  3. Lordy! This is a familiar landscape! And why several years ago I set up 95% of our bills to be paid automatically.

    I am planning to take you up on promises of donuts and company at a Mariners game sometime this summer. We can spend some time sitting in the sun and talk about these familiar landscapes.

  4. Reading and writing you from LA, while still in bed after being up “trying to read” but mostly eating shit I didn’t need to until 4AM, and ignoring the clothes in both washer and dryer for 3 days, which makes getting dressed even more of a headache and staying horizontal even more logical. Fucking eeeesh Ms. Mandel. I don’t know wether to thank my friend for sharing your article on FB or resolving not to look at anything she posts ever again. There’s a passport nearby, filled with stamps from Depression, Anxiety and Past Due and my computer awits my attention to answer emails and finish articles started and abandoned… the sun is steady and strong… I have access to clean water, friends who care in the right way, at least a couple, and my body works… it’s beautiful out there, and in here. I should be having fun, being productive, living out loud, serving my purpose. I see it but can’t feel it. Not for lack of trying. I don’t have gray days to keep me company in some parallel way, saying it’s ok, it’s normal to be more depressive this time of year. The sun on my face, on a day like this is the universe mocking me. Or is it? I want to believe the universe has my back. In fact I do believe it and yet a series of days like this leave me projecting and remaining, in a place I don’t want the be. Sad, pathetic, unproductive, shameful. And then it gets worse. Ruminating is never a good idea might become a rallying cry, thanks for that one. I see that life is undeniably filled with beautiful moments but I absolutely positively do not see the point in most of it or how to make meaningful my part in it on the daily. What inspires me about what you wrote is simply the fact that you wrote it, got it out of you, coherently. And maybe, just maybe… if you could muster the energy to share honestly and publish an reticle despite being away in Depression yourself, maybe I can too. For what it’s worth I am grateful.

    • Whew, that’s a lot. For what it’s worth, I’m basically an expert at ruminating on a happy day, so being in-country means the volume is way up on that. It’s not so much a rallying cry not to do it as attempting to realize that it’s what’s happening. I *think* the meds are starting to moderate that some, it’s not 24/7 anymore, though it’s still happening.

      And writing about it, well, writing is how I make sense of my world. I’m trying to give the monster a name, you know?

      Thanks for reading, for sharing. See you in the fog.

  5. Just another anonymous follower. I came here because, well, I can’t remember. But I like the way you write, so breathe and then … breathe again.

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