Depression is an isolating illness. It doesn’t involve a crowd.
Withdrawing from others is an indicator of depression. When I’m depressed, I don’t want to be with people, don’t want to do the things I used to enjoy with others. I find it hard to focus, to follow a conversation, or even get a joke. Depression wants me to stay by myself, sitting on my corner of the couch, safe in my cocoon of quiet. It causes me to become self-focused, very inward-gazing. It hinders my social interactions.
I find it hard to go out when I’m depressed, and so I’m intentional about scheduling events in advance that require I venture into public. Perhaps it’s a chiropractor’s appointment. Or Bible Study (which is very hard to attend if my mood is down). I’ve learned to build social activity into my weeks so that I have to be around people, even if it’s just a bunch of strangers in the grocery store.
To attend a planned event with a crowd is more difficult. I am most likely to succeed if I have support, like if my husband goes too. I can’t say “Yes” to attending a wine-tasting party or gala celebration if he’s not there – it’s too hard to put on a smile and make small talk for hours with a bunch of people I don’t know well. It’s hard enough to attend if he’s with me – the power of isolation is very strong and makes me want to say “No” every time we’re invited to any kind of social event. But going without him is more than just not-fun, it’s almost impossible.
I suspect this puts a lot of pressure on him – that I’m dependent on him for my social connections. But his presence gives me courage – I’m more outgoing and smile more easily if I know he’s nearby. The other day, he commented that I’m good with people – I guarantee that I wouldn’t have said hello to that other person, let alone had the encounter at all, if my husband hadn’t been around too.
This isn’t true all the time – only when I’m fighting depression. Usually, I’m right at home in group situations – I can come in and say Hello and introduce myself and smile, all with ease and comfort. I can be interested in the others in the group, draw them out with questions about themselves and engage them for long periods of time. I can lead the discussion or follow the flow of conversation easily, and I enjoy it immensely. When I’m not depressed.
It’s hard to explain this change in me to people who don’t know that I struggle with depression. Or maybe they know – I’ve told them – but they don’t really understand how hard life is when I’m depressed. They might think I’m flaky or just very inconsistent. They might even be offended when I back out of a commitment – this is one reason I don’t say “Yes” in the first place. I don’t always want to explain myself – I often can’t. I don’t want depression to be an excuse, even though it is often the reason.
For those folks who understand depression and my battle with it, I am able to say “No” without much guilt. In fact, I am more likely to attend a group, even in my depressed state, if I know they know I struggle. I can go and be myself and not explain everything. Usually simply saying, “Today is a tough day,” is enough for these friends, and they welcome me to come as I am.