It was a small child standing in the corner of my dreams.
It was a scratching on the inside of my skull, a weakness in my bones; it was a dry mouth and drooping eyes.
It was a weight on my chest in the middle of the night.
It was regret and fear and failure.
It was all of these things, and it was none of them. Depression, for the first time, was abstract and incomplete and perfect. It was indescribable. It was harrowing and breathtaking. It was the recognition of my own mortality with each push of blood through my veins. It was the high of feeling alive because I knew my heart was dying.
Depression still is this way. But two and a half years ago, on a two month trip to Barcelona, Spain, it was all very new. It was surprising. It was a life time of accumulated stress, anxiety, and anger, and yet it snuck up on me. When I lay in bed for five hours at a time without sleeping, I was numbly shocked. When I wrote in my journal that I would kill myself, I had to do a double take. Was it my hand that had written those words? I regarded myself as if from a distance, alarmed and interested at the way my mood plummeted throughout the day and how my brain, by night time, would become literally senseless — just a jumble of vague emotions and words. The simplest tasks became pointless and difficult to complete, while dangerous and daunting feats were easy. I could have gone skydiving without fear, but tying my shoelaces, now that was a real challenge.
While in Spain, I not only wrote voraciously in my journal, but I also drew pictures. I am in no way a visual artist, and the pictures came out as crude sketches, looking childlike and nightmarish all at once. After I returned home, I tucked them away. Why would I want to look at such things when I was attending therapy sessions every week and taking medication?
I found the drawings again a couple of months ago. They made me very sad. They reminded me how comfortable I had become with mental illness. How, like an old friend, I would greet my depressive and manic episodes in the morning, and say goodnight to them in the evening. How it wasn’t surprising anymore to see what horrible things my hand had written in my journal. It has been two and a half years, as I said, since I experienced depression for the first time. I had forgotten that I had once lived without it.
I had forgotten that depression has a starting point, and sometimes an ending point. I had forgotten that many people live without depression, that many people have conquered it, and that many people have yet to go through it. I had forgotten that it was something I wasn’t supposed to be used to, and that there had been a time when I wasn’t used to it at all.
There had been a time when I was so confused about why I wanted to end my own life that I drew pictures to try and understand.
I don’t draw pictures anymore. Sometimes I write about it, but not in the way I used to. I have too much of an understanding now. I’ve come to too many conclusions in order to wrap my mind around why I feel the way I feel and think the way I do. I’m not asking as many questions. I’m settling. I think this is dangerous. I think it’s healthy to ask questions, and to struggle. I think it’s good to draw creepy pictures and to write about the things that are most confusing. I think it would be wise of me to recognize that my conclusions are only my conclusions.
A couple of weeks of ago, when I went back to Europe for the first time since Spain, I visited the friend who had lived with me for those two months in Barcelona. I happened to have the drawings with me, and I showed them to her.
“Huh,” she said. “I knew you weren’t doing so well in Spain, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”
I nodded, and put away the drawings.
Nobody had known it was that bad. I hadn’t even known it was that bad, until, of course, it was too late and I wanted to kill myself so badly it had become an obsession. Have you ever played the game ‘How Will I Kill Myself’? It’s great fun when all you want to do is rid yourself of everything you’ve ever loved in order to get some peace and quiet in a brain that won’t shut up and a heart that shrieks at you every time you take a breath.
No, no one knew it was that bad. No one ever does. This is because depression never comes in the way you expect it to. It doesn’t look like greasy hair, baggy sweatpants, and a messy kitchen. It’s not a quiver in the voice or a shift in the eyeballs. It’s on the inside, lurking like poison. There’s no use looking for it in others, because you’ll never find it. All you can do is be kind and willing to listen. All you can do is be patient.
Because we are being very patient. We have tried everything, and we know we don’t have the cure. You can try to talk it out, cry it out, scream it out, vomit it out, cut it out, but nothing works. It’s in your brain, in your heart. It stays with you wherever you go; it lies down with you while you sleep. It taps into your dreams.
I’ve realized, over and over, with horror and shocked fascination, that I cannot escape my own mind.
Depression, for the first time, looks different to everyone who experiences it. To me, it looked a little like this: