Have I Developed Antibodies to Depression?

Coronavirus isolation feels relatively easy compared to major depression.

Posted Jul 31, 2020

Whatever is the matter with me? I feel like there must be something wrong, that I’m warped in some fundamental way. We’re going through one of the worst times in our history—more people have died than in the Vietnam War, there are rioters in the streets, the economy has been dealt a staggering blow, and an invisible virus is threatening to steal both my life and my livelihood away.

And I’m not depressed.

I went to Target this morning to try to score some Lysol, and a great many of the shelves were bare, a sight that never fails to unnerve me after a lifetime of being accustomed to American abundance. Westwood, empty of its UCLA students, felt like a ghost town—the majority of the stores closed, some boarded up—and my footsteps echoed eerily on the empty streets.

And I’m not depressed.

I haven’t been clinically depressed throughout this whole pandemic. I’m frustrated, and I’m deeply concerned about our country and the suffering it’s going through on so many levels. I’m scared about how I’m going to manage financially. I miss my friends, I miss the comforting structure of a social life, and more than anything else I miss the reassurance of human touch. My skin is hungry for contact, my soul for interaction. But it’s merely an ache that comes and goes after a little while and yields when I seek out some kind of diversion.

It’s nothing like depression.

There will be an end to COVID-19 disruption eventually, once we discover the right vaccine. Life will start up again, and surprise us with a new normal. That must be the essential difference: the possibility, however remote, that this madness will all be over one day. When I’m depressed, I’m convinced the depression will never end, and nothing anyone tries to tell me makes a whit of difference. I know I’m damned and I know it’s forever, and that’s too much for any heart to bear.

My therapist once told me that human beings can stand anything so long as it’s time-limited. I think the events of 2020 have proven him right, at least where I’m concerned. I’m buoyed by an unfamiliar optimism—I just can’t imagine that a whole world of eager, committed scientists won’t come up with a way out of this. And the leadership I’ve watched emerging in certain corners of the country, especially in California and New York, makes me feel certain that our country will recover from its shock.

Compared to major depression, COVID-19 has been something of a cakewalk for me because I believe it too shall pass—and I can stand it till then, so long as my brain chemistry cooperates. I know I’ve been extremely lucky; I haven’t fallen prey to the virus yet and I don’t know anyone who’s died, so my positive attitude hasn’t really been tested to the max. My heart goes out to those who have, and to the front line and essential workers holding our society together in the face of grave danger. But still, I’m amazed and pleased by how even-keeled I’ve stayed while all around me people are losing their collective balance.

You want me to cocoon indoors and binge-watch Netflix? Done. Order in pizza as a staple? Snap. Live my life like a desert hermit? No problem. It’s so ironic—these are all the sort of things I’d do if I were experiencing an acute depressive episode, only they’d be so infused with shame and guilt I wouldn’t enjoy them at all. After a lifetime of struggling with bipolar disorder, perhaps I’ve developed antibodies to externally-caused depression. For once, I’m delighted to be different from the norm.