Back in the early 90's, though I didn't know it at the time, I was depressed. I knew I was sad, I knew I didn't have a lot of energy, I knew I had trouble sleeping. Back then, there were a lot of things about myself that I couldn't name. Depression was just one of them. But life gave me a picture of what depression looks like and feels like.
I had entered a 5K so-called fun run with a friend. I had not been training, and was chronically tired, but for some reason I thought I should do this race. Not to try to win, but just to participate. The night before, of course I did not sleep well, and so as my friend and I lined up at the start, I had a vague sense of dread as I considered running three miles. But I was way out of touch with my feelings back then, and besides, I would never dream of NOT doing something I had signed up for, even if I had zero interest or motivation. And so the race began.
It did not take long for my friend to out-pace me. She had been training, was in great shape, and actually wanted to be there. I waved her on, panting, and said I'd meet her at the finish line. And then I started walking. Runners, real runners, zoomed past me on both sides, sneakers pounding the pavement and fading into the distance. My walking pace slowed, and then slowed some more until finally I was just shuffling along, looking at the ground, lost in the defeatist self talk going on in my head. Stupid race, who needs this? Why am I here? I hate this.
The crowd of fast runners quickly thinned out. A woman passed me who was pushing a stroller up hill with two toddlers. A man with cerebral palsy passed me, limping and dragging a leg. A three hundred pound woman passed me. I didn't even care. And then I heard the sound of an engine behind me and turned around. It was a police car, the car that brings up the absolute rear of the official race. I was the very last person in the race.
"I'm not in the race any more," I said to the windshield of the police car. "I quit. You can go around me." But the car stayed put. I walked up to the window and leaned over to address the cop. "I'm not in the race. I quit. I'm just trying to get back to the finish line."
"Ma'am, we have to stay behind the last runner. You're still in it," he said, pointing to the racing number pinned to my shirt. I ripped off the bib and wadded it into a ball. "I'm not in the race," I sighed, and turned away. I didn't get back in front of the car or even back on the road. I just cut across a field and headed back in the direction of the festivities at the finish line.
Coming up the back way, I could see my friend waiting for me at the finish line, straining to see where on earth I was. I'm sure she had seen the stroller pusher, the afflicted man, and the morbidly obese woman finish. I'm sure she was worried. I came up behind her, startling her. She could see on my face that I was upset.
"I just wanted to quit and I couldn't get out of the race," I sobbed. We went to get ice cream. I later got a divorce and things got better. The end.
I was reminded of this story today because I'm feeling stuck in my life. It is a good life, I'm not complaining, but I just want to cut across the field to the finish line. I just want to get it over with, let everyone and everything just carry on without me. This time I can name it, and realize that my lifelong struggle with depression is just coming to the surface again. Now I know what to do when that happens, and I've made a doctor's appointment to try to get some medicinal assistance (in addition to exercising and getting ongoing counseling). But in the meantime, I'm feeling like the very last runner who just doesn't want to be here.
This is what depression feels like to me.