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500 Shades of Grey

In talking to a friend of mine who also lives with bipolar about my extreme fatigue and aimlessness, he told me it sounded like depression to him. We discussed it for a bit, the various shades depression takes on from time to time: the listlessness, hopelessness, times when the world just seems to exist in a monochromatic shade of grey.

I realized then, that he was quite right. I’m not “unhappy” necessarily, I’m not sleepy per se, but I feel heavy, weighed down, dragging my body from chair to desk to bed, somehow barely making it through the day and thinking, “ If I could just have a burst of energy, If I could only get motivated, If only I could think more clearly, if only…”

monochromatic photo

But I can’t and I don’t. I’m not in a “hoard your pills just-in-case-kind of mood,” but I neither am I content to work, read, write or various sundry tasks like taking care of the laundry, brushing my teeth, or fixing a meal. How many of us who live with manic depression live in the twilight of the days as they move from right to left like a motion picture on a frame-by-frame sequence?

I want to blame myself for this flat mood because I haven’t been taking my meds regularly; their oversized capsules catching in my throat like a raw oyster. I hate them. I resent them. I need them.

But the mood is not my fault. It’s the illness. This parasite within me takes over if given even the slightest breath of space in my head. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s.   not.   my.   fault. I mean, right? Is there anyone out there who just loves taking his or her meds every day? Honestly? No. We may be grateful for them, but they’re a necessary evil.

So how long will my brain punish me for “forgetting” my Cymbalta? How long must I live in the space between living and dying and forcing myself to put on a smile at work and go through the motions, because really, would any of them seriously understand how much I struggle to appear normal? Normal…is just a setting on the dryer I told another friend recently. She laughed. I pretended to laugh. I will never be normal.

And I will never live in the Technicolor world again, because that, too, is a dangerous place for people like me. According to, the human eye can distinguish more than 500 shades of grey. Scary, isn’t it? This means it could go on for nearly ever. This must also be why, on sunny days, I sit outside and soak up the vitamin D until all I see are phosphenes – the aftereffects of rubbing my closed eyes after looking out over my brightly lit backyard; the entopic phenomenon caused by retinal stimulation.

Depression has many shades and ways to trick us into thinking we are not in a depressive episode after all. Not even I know whether or not I’m experiencing grey sometimes. I only know I’m not happy. Is there even such a thing? I know anxiety, I know grief, I know fear, I know sadness and yes, I even know this thing we call depression. But have I ever truly known happiness? I can’t remember now. I think I have had brief episodes, fleeting episodes of happiness; the day I got married, the birth of my children, the look on my father’s face when I earned my doctorate, all made me “happy” if only in the moment.

So how long will it last this time? Do I go with it and apply gentle care to myself? Or do I paste on a smile and “fake it ‘till I make it” sort of a thing?

What would you do?


Photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

500 Shades of Grey

Lisa Keith, Psy.D.

September 29, 2014 Lisa Keith,Lisa.Keith Psy.D. is a 20-plus year veteran special education teacher who has taught grades K-12 and now teaches graduate students who want to grow up to be special ed. teachers. When she’s not teaching or academically engaged, she is completely engrossed in 49er football or the art of Zentangle. A typical day for Lisa begins at 4 a.m. to check email, Pinterest and journal, followed by a hefty dose of coffee and hours of study. You can learn more about her here:

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APA Reference
, . (2015). 500 Shades of Grey. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2019, from


Last updated: 26 May 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2015
Published on All rights reserved.