I was ready to have a good summer. Or at least, I was as ready as I ever am to feel anything good which is to say: not very, but still cautiously optimistic.
It had been a rough winter, preceded by a rough fall and a rough summer and, if I’m being completely honest, another rough winter. Most of our 2014 had been eaten up by bedbugs who, it turns out, consume not just blood but also time, energy, money and sanity. As our home life turned into a lumpy stack of pesticide-laced garbage bags containing what now seemed like an utterly foolish amount of possessions, the rest of our lives crumbled too. Work suffered – I missed deadlines and bailed on projects. Relationships became strained; some of them buckled under the pressure and collapsed. Our bank account slowly emptied. We got used to the sweet, burning smell of the poison they blasted through our home on a bi-weekly basis. A faint white residue coated everything.
Then, after ten months of living with them, the bugs were gone. But by that point it was nearly Christmas and we faced the Herculean task of emptying the bags and boxes and putting our apartment back together. I wanted to spin it as a chance for a fresh start; now we could finally paint the living room, pare down our wardrobes, and organize our books! It didn’t feel like a beginning, though – it felt like my life was grinding to a juddering halt. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that I’d lost in the last year.
But spring hopes eternal, or whatever clever spin you want to put on an old saying, and I kept telling myself that if I could just make it through the winter I would be ok. If I could just limp my way to the season’s finish line, I would be able to slow down, breathe deeply and recover. So I held on with a white-knuckled grip and waited. As the days lengthened I started to watch my mood like an amateur meteorologist watches the skies, waiting for the wind to shift. But nothing happened; everything stayed stubbornly the same.
Here we are, then. It’s the middle of the summer and every day I stare into the black hole of my own internal despair. I mean, I still get up and go to work and come home and eat food and laugh at jokes and hug my kid, but none of that makes me feel like the future is any less bleak. All of the things I do feel like nothing, which is somehow worse than if they felt bad. At least bad would be something; at least ‘bad’ is on a spectrum of sensation which might eventually be scaled until I get back to ‘good.’ But nothing is nothing is nothing.
Sometimes I do things. Other times I lie in bed for hours, with all the attendant anxieties of beautiful days spent doing nothing. I listen to the cicadas and watch the sun moving through the slats in the blinds. It’s monotonous. Everything about depression is monotonous – just the same boring sadness stretching out endlessly in every direction.
Sometimes I feel so intensely awful that I don’t know how I’ll make it to even just the next minute without doing something about it. It feels unbearable, but I guess I must be able to bear it because I always make it to the next minute.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and all I can think about is a handful of words someone said, or a gesture, or a look they shot in my direction. My mind imbues these these things with so much meaning that they swell up until they’re huge and menacing. An offhand remark becomes a cutting insult. A casual glance becomes a grimace of disgust. During daylight hours I would be able to think myself out of these holes, but at 4 am feelings become objective realities.
I had to fill out a form the other day, and in one of the fields you were supposed to list any chronic illnesses you might have. I should have listed depression – they even gave depression as one of the examples, so I couldn’t weasel out of it by pretending they didn’t mean mental illnesses. But the thought of some office worker drooping under a sickly fluorescent light in some windowless basement somewhere reading that word and passing judgement on me was too awful, so I left it blank.
The long, hot days of July and August are usually my favourite time of year. These are the dog days of summer, the dies caniculares, when the dog star Sirius begins its conjunction with the sun. I’ve always had a soft spot for Sirius – Orion was the first constellation I learned to recognize, and my birthday is right smack in the middle of Canis Major’s yearly reign.
The Ancient Greeks felt differently, though – they believed Sirius caused plants to wilt, men to weaken and women to become aroused. in the Iliad, Homer calls the star an evil portent, bringing heat / And fevers to suffering humanity. The Romans thought it brought disease and death. In Sanskrit, the star is called Mrgavyadha, which means “deer hunter” and makes me think of the Frida Kahlo’s painting of herself as a deer shot through with arrows. Except that Kahlo had real things to be sad about, whereas I just have a miswired brain.
It turns out that Sirius isn’t even really a star – it’s actually a binary star system made up of a white main-sequence star called Sirius A and a white dwarf companion called Sirius B. Astronomers say that they’re moving closer to our solar system and will increase in brightness over the next 60,000 years, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone will still be here by then to see it. Maybe the cockroaches will feel it reflecting off their burnished carapaces; maybe they’ll signal towards the sky with their antennae. Or maybe nothing will be left to notice.
Everyone is being very kind and patient with me. Friends check in regularly, and make an effort to include me in everything that’s happening. Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do is a phrase that I hear at least once a week, but I can never think of what that anything might be. I feel like I must be boring them, because I’m certainly boring myself. After a while even misery becomes stale. Maybe that’s the worst part.
The only thing you can do is live through it. That thought is both hopeful and awful. All you can do is keep going and, like a hand groping in the darkness, assume that eventually you’ll find the light switch. And once you do, you’ll know that it was always there, and the light will carry you through until you pass through the doorway into the next dark room.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, but right now it’s all I’ve got.