Much like the classic question of whether the chicken or the egg came first, it is equally as hard to determine whether depression or loneliness comes first.
Does depression come first, causing a person to isolate, contributing to their own increased loneliness?
Or was the loneliness there first, causing worsening depression because you feel alone, like you have nobody there who cares, nobody who understands?
Often the two go hand in hand, causing a vicious cycle that spirals down, magnifying the impact of both.
In the beginning of the downward spiral, you don’t want to bother or inconvenience anyone with your problems. The depression is there, but it feels like more of a trivial nuisance in your life than a bonafide issue. You minimize your struggles because you don’t want to appear weak or helpless. Your depression fools you into believing that you’re doing others a favor by not bothering them, that they have other, more important things to worry about than you. You feel like you should be able to handle everything on your own so you begin to pull away, to isolate, and to justify those actions because you don’t want to trouble anyone else.
You feel disconnected and lonely, like you’re completely on your own.
And, over time, your depression continues to worsen, unchecked.
You close doors, put up walls and stop communicating. It is not long until you’ve distanced yourself for so long that you feel you’re no longer entitled to reach out to those you have pushed away. You feel guilty for being a bad friend. You rationalize that it has been so long since you’ve spoken to everyone that to contact them now, just because you’re struggling more, would be wrong. Even the thought of reaching out to anyone else feels awkward. You feel like you’re being unreasonably needy for even wanting or wishing someone was there.
By this point, the depression has bled into every aspect of your life. Everything feels utterly hopeless. You feel completely lost, isolated and alone, like no one else could possibly understand. Your depression convinces you of the fact that you are inherently broken in some strange and unique way that nobody else could ever understand. You are struggling to function, struggling to even pull yourself out of bed.
You have not only pushed away everyone who was close to you, but you have also started to avoid everyone and everything else, as well. You have stopped doing many of the things that once brought you joy because you feel you don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t want anyone else to see the mess you’ve become. You shut yourself off from the world, telling yourself the world is a better place without you in it, mucking it up.
And you have nobody to turn to, no one to talk with, nobody to lean on or confide in.
You’re completely alone.
The farther into the depths you spiral, the worse the loneliness and the worse the depression. It isn’t a cycle that just loops endlessly in circles. Instead it is a downward spiral that feeds off each other, making each worse in turn, dragging you further and further into the darkness.
Ironically, at the bottom of the spiral, you feel betrayed and abandoned. Despite the fact that you intentionally isolated yourself and pushed everyone else away, your depression lies to you, telling you that if others truly cared, they would have seen all the signs, that they would have been there all along. Your depression deceives you into believing that they would have fought harder to be there, refused to be pushed away. It convinces you that nobody truly cares, that you are completely alone now and could not turn to anyone else even if you wanted to do so. Your depression projects onto them the ability to read minds and to see everything you have hidden from them all along. In the depth of depression, the irrational seems completely rational.
I have been there myself more than once.
Every time my depression begins to worsen again and spiral downward, I find myself isolating more and more.
I pull away because I don’t want to bother anyone else with my issues. I always feel like a massive burden to everyone in my life. My family and friends have seen me struggling for years. I figure they must be tired of it all, exhausted from it by now. I tell myself they don’t deserve to be plagued by my problems any more than they already have been. I tell myself I am sparing them from my drama, saving them from any more heartbreak from seeing my continued struggling.
I feel like a horrible friend, a horrible person for even wanting to have them there during my bad times. I feel like they deserve better than me.
I tell myself that I am doing them a kindness by keeping them away.
I desperately yearn for someone to talk to, someone to lean on, to have someone who truly understands.
Yet I feel completely alone…
…Because I have chosen to make myself alone.
It isn’t that I’m alone. I have an amazing fiance who loves me to death and is both caring and compassionate about my mental illness. I have wonderful children that have grown into incredible adults who want to be there for me. I have a loyal and understanding circle of friends that have stood by me over the years. I have a supportive team of doctors and other professionals whose primary goal is to help me.
That is the reality. I am not alone.
However, the reality is also that I have depression, a mental illness that often convinces me both that I am alone and that I am a nuisance to everyone else in my life.
I don’t want to be alone.
But I don’t want to trouble any of them with my struggles or be a burden, either.
It is a catch-22, spurred on by the lies that my depression tells me.
It takes a continuous, conscious effort to remind myself that I am not a burden to any of them, that they love me, care about me and truly want to be there for me and help me. I have to remind myself regularly that I am not alone and that others do truly care. Again and again, I find myself itching to pull away, wanting to distance myself and my problems from everyone else. It is a constant struggle not to isolate myself for the perceived benefit of others.
I have to remind myself, as well, that I don’t have to carry everything on my shoulders alone. Often, I have to push myself to reopen those doors, tear down those walls and let others back in. It is admittedly very hard a lot of the time to lean on others, to bother them with my problems, to even ask for help when I need it. Instinctively, I always feel like everyone else has enough on their own plates without adding my mess to the mix. I always feel guilty for needing other people. Whenever I start feeling that way, I have to remind myself that others are there because they want to be.
Deep down, I know I am not a burden.
I know I am not troubling or bothering anyone with my problems nor am I forcing anyone to be there against their will.
I know I don’t have to face my illness alone.
I know all these negative feelings are lies, though they feel completely legitimate and real to me at the time.
We feel completely and utterly alone because our depression lies to us, convincing us that loneliness is a reality when you have a mental illness. We don’t have to be alone, though. Don’t let your depression deceive you. There are others that care, others that want to be there.
There are people you have pushed away who are yearning to be back in your life, people who truly care about you and your well-being.
There are also others out there who you may not even have met yet who would be willing to be there, who understand what you are going through and don’t want you to have to struggle alone.
There are doctors and therapists, as well, and support groups out there who are willing to help.
I honestly cannot tell you whether the spiral starts with depression or with loneliness, though the two often go hand in hand. Together they form a symbiotic relationship that feasts on your mental health, starving you of your happiness and well-being.
I do know one thing, though.
You don’t have to be alone…
…So please don’t choose to be.