It was one thing to get depression out of my life. It was another to get it out of my memory. Doubt about recovery from depression could linger on and keep playing tricks with the past. Vivid memories of old words and actions while depressed continued to torture and twist through me.
They became my personal fiction, screaming at me with the shadow truth I always used to look for – the one that confirmed a damaged man with endless wrongs to his discredit. They crowded me out, often when I was feeling well, as if to say – not so fast. We’ve been keeping your account, and you owe far more than you can ever repay.
There were so many scenes of the past I kept reliving, lingering on the critical moments of disaster. The insidious idea these depressive memories tried to instill was that I would always do my worst just when I thought I was feeling better. And at those times I might even imagine myself to be full of self-awareness, energy and optimism. Then I’d find myself doing or saying something so unexpected, stabbing, hurtful, deceptive, that I began to doubt my own sense of who I was. I couldn’t ever be sure that what I intended to do would get past the perverse second mind of depression. I felt unpredictable.
I began to wonder: What would I do to the next person I spent time with? Would I share an honest moment or simply steal what I wanted, use them and keep myself hidden. It’s hard if you think you’re going to be kind and loving to someone and then wind up cutting into them. How often I wanted to be able to go back and undo some foolish or hurtful thing I’d done or said.
I knew the memories were only partly true, but I’d start to dwell on any poisonous detail I could find. I would long to go back and restore the trust of lost friends, but since I couldn’t change the past, I’d begin to despair over that as well. If I start to get into vicious cycle now, I move instinctively to stop its first downward swing.
The doubt, though, keeps trying to butt in. Is that secret underside of life still in control but less visibly? If I start thinking that way, I wonder if right now I’m really recovered or if in a few years some new knowledge will cause me to look back and say, oh god, I tricked myself again. My feelings can start shifting toward despair about ever separating the reality of who I am from the illusions of depression.
I’ve lived through long fantasies of change in the past, the sort of change you leap into, believing your life will turn around. Of course, it was never long before the truth became clear that nothing was changing. And the temptation was to believe that depression was permanent, that I’d just have to live with it. I’m done now with all those false changes and restarts. Except that the doubt is always trying to come back. It’s one sign of recovery that the doubt has steadily lost its hold.
That’s because there’s such a deep difference between a real recovery and the fragile, cautious sense I used to have about feeling “like myself” again. That temporary lift was always shadowed by an underlying conviction that it couldn’t last. And now the conviction is just the opposite. Recovery – and more than recovery, a kind of waking up about life – is an assumption I don’t even think about very much. A new belief is the dominant undercurrent of everyday life, just as depression used to be – all the time reminding me of its power. And even the doubt those uncertain memories sometimes raise has a strong bar of hope crossed through it.
The doubt now turns even more often in the opposite direction and centers on those depressive memories. They are steadily losing the credibility they once had. True, I can still feel a bit of the anguish I’ve felt before, but just as often I can look back at past problems with detachment. Well, I can say, that happened. It’s done, and I can’t change a thing. I may feel regret but no self-torture, no obsessive reliving of that past. Time to learn from it and move on.
I was once helping a friend and colleague manage a meeting. The first session hadn’t gone well for her, and I offered to take over the next one.
“No,” she said. “I feel like I’ve fallen off a horse, and I have to get on again.” So, she picked up where she’d left off in the next session and turned everything around. I always think back on that – and it’s one memory I never doubt.