The Voice

I called in sick to work yesterday, which I hate doing because though calling in sick sometimes turns up the volume on my anxiety, but yesterday the depression was the louder voice in my head and I couldn’t drive to work, couldn’t function in my work as a college instructor, until I had turned that noise down.

Sometimes, my depression sounds a little like my mother.

Or, rather, I should say that sometimes my depression uses what my mother says to tell me terrible things. To be clear, my mother isn’t to blame, but sometimes the way she speaks to me does set off a depressive downward spiral.

I don’t think she knows she does this. It is the sort of thing she’s done all my life. When I was younger, I heard it differently and responded differently. But that was then. That was before. The way it happens is this: when I’m already vulnerable and struggling, her tendency to “mother” me by telling me how she managed to succeed at whatever I’m not doing well sounds too much like the voice of my depression – telling me in detail and at length – all the ways I am failing and sub-par.

You know the voice. Everyone hears it once in a while. Maybe it sounds like a bully you knew in middle school, or a coach with poor people skills, or a teacher who thinks “tough love” is the way to go with the young and the insecure. Maybe that voice is a shitty ex. Maybe that voice is a family member. That voice is harsh, even cruel. If that voice had a face, that face would be sneering at you and making aggressive eye contact as it spoke, possibly even getting into your personal space bubble, while it looms over you (the owner of the face, the voice, is ALWAYS taller, somehow).  The difference, when you have depression, is that the voice NEVER shuts up, and it has a tendency to lie.

The voice becomes a steady stream of abuse, on a loop, and it never entirely disappears. It is this constancy, this tenacity, that really gets me though, especially when The Voice seems to be coming from my mother, or when they seem to be singing a chorus of call-and-response that only I can fully hear.

When a real-life person talks to a depressive like that, it seems like confirmation of all the voice says, and this isn’t news to anyone who has lived with depression for a while, but it is probably news to people who love someone with depression.

I think what really gets me, though, about those times when my mother is just triggering me like a cascade explosion, is the fact that it is all unsolicited commentary and advice. She imagines she’s being helpful, but my depression is telling me that she’s telling me these things because she doesn’t think I’m capable of figuring out any of that stuff on my own, that I’m incompetent, that even she believes I can’t handle it, that she’s lying to me any time she tells me she’s proud of me.

This was the state of things Wednesday evening, and it was nearly a fight when I tried to explain that I wasn’t in a good place for the advice she was offering. And I felt guilty for not being able to think of these things on my own, and for not being better able to cope with both the voice and the unsolicited advice, and then the logical part of my mind telling me that if I didn’t have depression and anxiety, if I weren’t living in this constant fog, I might have thought of some of her ideas on my own and I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in.

Or maybe that last bit is also The Voice. Hard to tell, once things really get rolling.

So. Yesterday was about taking time to rest, to repeat the mantra that kept me from sobbing, the one that helped me take care of myself and eat something: ‘you’re okay; you matter; you’re doing your best; breathe; you’re okay; you’re going to be okay; you have all you need to be okay; you’re going to be okay’ until I believe it, and I hear that chorus more and louder than The Voice.



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