Trigger warning: mention of suicide
There’s a funny sort of paradox about depression where it’s probably the mental illness that people who haven’t experienced mental illness find easiest to identify with while simultaneously being a condition that is incredibly difficult to understand if you’ve never lived through it. I mean, I get it. We’ve all been sad, right? Sadness is a universal experience; not one single person on this planet can say they don’t know what sad feels like. The popular understanding of depression is that it’s like sadness on steroids – recognizable but beefier and more aggressive.
Some people have a natural talent for happiness, and find themselves orienting towards it the way flowers turn towards the sun. Some people have the capacity to learn how to be happy in the same way that you might learn any skill. And me? I have a knack for howling panic. I have a brain that when flooded with too much of certain types of sensory input short-cuts directly to this is hopeless and you should kill yourself. I don’t know why I have this brain – someone better versed in psychology or neuroscience might be able to tell you – but after over 30 years with it I can at least recognize some of its behavioural patterns.
Fall is a hard time of year for me. All of the back-to-school jolliness – blank notebooks filled with nothing but promise and potential! backpacks that smell like fresh vinyl! store window displays with books and apples and gorgeously sensible clothing – reminds me that I never finished my degree. The crispness in the air that everyone else waxes poetical about makes my joints ache so badly that sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed. Cozy sweaters and colourful leaves are overrated. The shorter days remind me of the darkness both literal and metaphorical that’s about to hit me like a freight train. Call me a killjoy, but for some reason I can’t see autumn as the season of anything but death and endings and cold, cold, cold.
Everyone feels sad sometimes, but not everyone finds themselves crouched in the shower at 4 am on a Saturday crying the ugliest cry and repeating I am a bad person who deserves bad things like some kind of nightmare motivational mantra while scalding water pours over their body. At least, I don’t think they do. They might do it and not write long-winded self pitying blog posts about it. What the hell do I know? One of my most persistent fears is that I’m not so much depressed as I am weak and whiny. I’m haunted daily by the idea that everyone else feels exactly the same way I do, they just manage it better and don’t complain so much.
Maybe everyone actually does know what depression is like and I’m just the loser writer lady who is endlessly fascinated by her sad self.
Depression feels different to everyone who experiences it. For me, it feels like being unable to imagine my future as anything other than one horribly blank day leading into the next. It feels like this disorienting sense of not being able to tell what is a genuinely upsetting thing and what is a somewhat benign thing to which I am overreacting. It feels like being caught in a storm out at sea and while I rationally know I should batten the hatches and wait it out what I actually feel is that the sun has been obliterated and there is nothing left in the world except rain and wind and the inevitability of drowning.
It feels like the chilling note I recently found on my phone that I apparently wrote a year and a half ago yet have no memory of writing. The note was a plainly-worded reminder to myself that in the event of my suicide I should remember to put a plan in place to make sure that my kid isn’t the one to find my body.
I’ve tried a lot of things to cure or at least manage my depression. I’ve tried SSRIs and SNRIs and low doses of anti-psychotics and St John’s Wort and B12 supplements. I’ve tried drinking. I’ve tried not drinking. I’ve tried pot. I’ve tried various kinds of therapy. I’ve tried going to the hospital. I’ve tried not going to the hospital. I’ve tried telling myself to buck up. I’ve tried letting myself wallow. I’ve tried getting fresh air and eating more vegetables and doing lots of yoga. I’ve tried chain smoking on my fire escape while reading tragic Russian novels. Some of it has worked some of the time. None of it has ever been a permanent fix. (This isn’t, by the way, an invitation for you to opine on what I should do if I really want to get better – whatever you’re going to suggest, I’ve probably given it a shot during my literal decades of trying not to be depressed).
I’m a person who has a kind of genius for humiliating myself. The more depressed I get, the greater the likelihood of me doing something I’ll later regret. My sense of perception becomes warped, and I start to think that all my friends hate me; I get clingy, and then feel disgusted by my clinginess; I say too much and then say even more in the form of elaborate apologies for saying too much. So when I finally crawled out of the shower on Saturday, opened Twitter on my laptop and sent off a series of embarrassingly personal DMs, I knew that I had to shut that shit down before it got out of hand. I mean, more out of hand than being naked in a fetal position on my bed crying so hard that my eyelids were too swollen to open properly for the next two days.
I deactivated Facebook and Twitter, mostly because I was terrified that I would bring my meltdown in all its glory to the masses. I had visions of waking up the next morning to screenshots of my darkest moments echoing out into infinity across various social media platforms. I had paranoid fantasies of social services taking my kid away because I was so obviously and publicly unfit to be a parent. I told myself that if I just took the tool out of my hand that I wouldn’t be able to hurt myself or anyone else with it.
Did you know that it’s actually pretty hard to delete your accounts on social media? Much harder than tweeting I AM A FAILURE WHO HAS NEVER DONE ONE GOOD THING IN LIFE GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD. It took me about fifteen minutes of sleuthing on Twitter to figure out how to deactivate it.
I don’t really have any moments of great realization or neat resolution on which to end this post. I’m back on Facebook and Twitter, but that doesn’t really mean much. I am still scared. I am still sad. I am tired of scrabbling against the brick wall of my depression and feeling like I’m never getting anywhere. I’m tired of being so articulate about what I’m feeling but somehow never able to move beyond the capacity to put my sadness into words.
I’m grateful that I’m still here. I guess that’s something.
I’m grateful that in spite of a brain that tells me that I should do otherwise, I continue to try to survive.