Tag Archives: twenty

My Life As A Tree

14 Jan

Have you ever seen a kudzu vine? They’re all over the south, their bright green leaves waving gently in the hot, humid air. At first you’ll think that they’re kind of pretty, but once you realize that they’re capable of, you’ll never look at them the same way again.

They’re an invasive species, the kudzu vines; native to Japan and China, they were introduced to America to help prevent roadside erosion. They spread quickly – statistics show that they’re taking over the American South East at a rate of 150,000 acres annually. Kudzu will grow nearly anywhere, on anything, and its advance seems impossible to stop.

Once kudzu starts to take over a field or a forest, it slowly but surely replaces all existing vegetation. It starves the trees and undergrowth by cutting them off from sunlight; once the kudzu has done its work, all that remains is a swath of green, leafy vines, still in the shape of the things they have killed.


Sometimes I think that kudzu is the most accurate metaphor for depression that I can come up with. Not just because, at times, it feels like I’m overwhelmed with depression, suffocated and blinded  by it, but also because sometimes I wonder how much of my actual self has been choked off, starved to death. I wonder how much of the me under there is already dead.

Like a tree that’s been covered by kudzu, I don’t look very different from the person I was. I maintain the same shape, the same colour. Outwardly, I’m indistinguishable from someone who isn’t living with depression. And if there are subtle signs that something is wrong – a funny look in my eyes, or a slump to my shoulders – well, those things are easily written off or ignored. With enough effort, I can pass as a person who doesn’t long to spend her days sprawled out on the couch watching re-runs of M*A*S*H, eating chocolate and sobbing.

I am a person who used to be happy. I am a person who used to look forward to things. I am a person who used to laugh, frequently.

It’s not hard to see how much being depressed has altered my life.

What I really wonder, though, is how much of the self I used to be is still intact. When depression first claimed me, I thought that it would be a matter of a few pills and then I would be back to my old self. Now, after years of fighting what Winston Churchill referred to as his “black dog”, years of thinking of it a disease, a medical condition, something that I could recover from, I wonder if it’s possible that the depression is me.

Certainly my life, my choices and my very self have been warped and shaped by depression. At this point, it seems impossible to separate who I really am from all the grinding misery, sadness and negative self-talk that my brain has put me through. When I think about the bad decisions that I’ve made, the not-so-great life choices and the hurtful things that I’ve said, I wonder who or what I’m supposed to blame for them. It seems ridiculous to say that depression didn’t play a part in the fact that I chose to lie in bed, crying and reading trashy novels, instead of doing any homework for basically all of 11th and 12th grade. But it seems just as ridiculous to say that I, myself, the non-depressed, rationally-thinking person who lives somewhere inside of me had absolutely no control over the situation. Surely, at some point, that part must have lacked the will-power or the desire to do what it knew was right.

On especially bad days I begin to believe that I let myself become depressed. I believe that I didn’t fight hard enough or long enough or well enough and, through laziness or lack of discipline, allowed depression to consume me.

Blaming yourself for feeling bad is a slippery slope that never leads anywhere good.

I often think about getting well. Most days it’s the only thing I think about. The truth is, though, that I don’t even know what well is, or what it looks like, let alone how to get there. If I’m being honest with myself, the way that I’m living now feels normal, because it’s the same way that I’ve been living for over half my life. I don’t remember who I was before all this started, and I don’t remember what it was like not to feel like this. I don’t remember what it’s like to get up in the morning and not dread every single thing that has to happen to me before I can finally make it back to bed again.

Someone said to me recently, accusingly, that my problem is that I don’t want to put the necessary work into getting better. The funny thing is, they’re right. I don’t. I’m too tired to do any kind of work. It’s bad enough that I have to get up every day and drag myself through yoga and parenting and writing; I don’t want to have to do any extra work on top of that. Thinking about having to work in order to get well makes me feel exhausted before I’ve even started. Of course I want to get better, but maybe the truth is that I don’t have the energy to do that right now.

It doesn’t help that I don’t really know what people mean by work. Do they mean endless doctor’s appointments? If so, check. Therapy? Check. Medication? Check. Buying self-help books that I’ll never read? Double-check. And, I mean, it’s not like these things are totally useless (except maybe the books), but they’re not really fixing anything, either; mostly they just keep me afloat until the real help arrives. Except that I’m not sure what the real help is, or if it even exists.

The other night, as I was reading through decade-old journal entries, I was struck by how little I’ve changed. I mean, my circumstances have changed, certainly, but the sadness and fear and naked self-loathing I found scrawled on those pages haven’t. Not really. I might be better at hiding those things, better at handling myself in social situations, but truth is that I’m still just as miserable now as I was when I was twenty.

Ten years is a long time to be that miserable.

I also found a quote that I’d copied from Margaret Atwood’s short story, The Sin Eater, which seems just as fitting now as it did then. It’s part of a conversation between the narrator and her therapist, discussing coping skills for her emotional problems:

‘Think of it as a desert island,’ he said. ‘You’re stuck on it, now you have to decide how best to cope.’

‘Until rescued?’ I said.

‘Forget about the rescue,’ he said.

‘I can’t,’ I said.

I can’t forget about the rescue, either.

Because it’s not a nice desert island that I’m stuck on, not one of those tropical ones where you befriend the wild animals and make bras out of coconuts. My desert island is some craggy mass in the North Atlantic, maybe off the coast of Nova Scotia. It’s grey and miserable and wet here, and everything edible tastes like cardboard. It’s always cold, even in the middle of summer. The wild animals are mean, ugly and prone to biting.

The worst part, though, is that the mainland is so close that I can see everyone I used to know going about their daily business. I can even hear them as they talk about all the things that I used to care about. And I’ve tried to get back there. I’ve built boats, dozens of them, to try to cross that narrow strip of water; you can see them there, lined up on the shore of my island, with names like Zoloft and Psychiatry and Therapy painted on their prows.

Nobody ever taught me how to build a boat, though. My crafts are hopeful, but never seaworthy.

Can somebody please send me instructions on how to build a boat?

Dispatches From My 20 Year Old Self

12 Jan

Sometimes when I am too lazy to write a proper entry, I start going through my old diaries and plagiarize myself.

Ever wonder what my world-weary 20 year old self thought about parties, theatre types and love? Well wonder no more! Now you can get the full scoop on what an adorable fledgling misanthrope I was. Oh, and I was pretentious. SO pretentious.

The following was all written during second half of 2002, with the exception of the last entry, which dates from early 2003. I was in my second year at Dalhousie and sharing an apartment with two friends.

On parties, pretentiousness and my dislike of people:

“There seem to be a million people in my apartment. Parties. The last refuge of our socially deprived population [don’t ask me what that means, because I don’t know either – probably I wanted people to have ice cream socials or something instead]. Mixing, flirting, drinking, smoking – a million inane comments, a thousand little gestures to draw attention to the breasts, the crotch.

I enjoy it for a while, the thrill of contact, the first glance of an unknown man. But it doesn’t take me long to become tired of the whole ordeal. I’m holed up in my room now. I think that I could stay right here for a while quite happily. I have my thoughts for company. I don’t need all those pressing bodies, the sweating palms, the desperate faces. Maybe I should be a man.

I told M that I wouldn’t date him. Why? Because I don’t feel that way about him. Because I can’t forget that time last year when he pointed out every ugly aspect of my flawed body. Because I know that I wouldn’t be happy. Not just with him. With anyone. Humanity gets on my nerves.

I can hear everyone outside my door laughing, mingling. They don’t notice my absence, which is just as well. Sometimes invisibility is a gift.”

On my Medieval Philosophy professor:

“Dr. Hankey apparently told Ron that I am ‘very intelligent and sincere’. Meanwhile, I thought that he had a very low opinion of me and possibly did not know my name.”

Randomly, in the middle of a page:

“Idealism is dead”

On being backstage at a one-act play festival:

“God, the entire room is full of bitchy, pretentious theatre types. One girl is holding forth about how she absolutely has to dance to get the ‘demons’ out of herself. Another is talking about a wonderful ‘dark comedy’ that she’s written, and how no one really understands it. A third is talking about African dance, using terms like ‘earthy’ and ‘sensual’. I can’t stand it.

Maybe this is why I can’t be in this profession; the lack of ego. But that isn’t true, I do have an ego. Somehow, underneath it all, I seem to think that I’ve above all of them, above all of this. I hold them all in contempt. Does that actually make me worse than them? It’s like I’m proud for being humble. 

I’m just stupid, that’s what I am.”

On falling in love:

“There we sat in my dimly-lit room, talking by the light of my little pink paper lantern, and I wanted to know everything, everything about him. He told me that he was afraid that he wasn’t even alive anymore because of the way he just ignored stress, it was like he didn’t even feel it. He said that he’d been through so much in the past few years that he barely even registered feeling anything anymore. 

‘What have you been through?’ I wanted to ask. I wanted him to confess it all to me. But it wasn’t right for me to ask. Not yet.

Then we talked about a million other things: post-apocalyptic visions of the world, the Tunguska event, volcanoes, mass extinctions, a room with walls made entirely of drawers, Atlantis, colonizing the moon, the perfect mattress. I can’t recall all of it now. 

What the world will be like when religion completely dies out and man worships himself, if you were a Greek god which one would you be (me=Artemis, him=Apollo), how America can justify bombing everyone, how we’re coming to the end of an era. D was telling me his theory that we’re due for something big soon: the fall of an empire, nuclear winter, a great natural disaster that would put everything into perspective. Because we’ve grown so complacent over the past 50 years that it feels like we’re not even living, like we’re automatons just going through the motions of living, but not really doing it. 

We’d never really talked properly before, and we had so much to say to each other. It was incredible. I finally let him fall asleep around 4:30, even though I could have talked all night. I knew he was tired, though, and had to get up early to drive home. But even though he slept, I still couldn’t seem to fall asleep. I filched the flashlight from the pantry and read Graham Greene under the covers, listening to D breathing softly and shifting in his sleep every once in a while. So here I was, with this boy that I might possibly be falling in love with asleep on my floor, unable to sleep myself but instead listening to him breathe. 

It was a nice night.”