It’s been a long time since I’ve had a real depression. Two decades, actually. I had forgotten how physical it is. How it pulls your body into the ground, deep into some sort of mud, turns it into a massive thing you’re dragging around. Hollowed out, but somehow so heavy.
It crept up on me, I suppose, the need to sit for ten minutes after showering. I’d sit on my bed, naked, the towel around my head, thinking about getting dressed, knowing it was the next step of my life, wondering how or when it began to feel impossible. I’d wait for the strength.
It never came, but I’d do it anyway. My whole life became a process of waiting for the next task I couldn’t avoid, watching the clock tick by and wishing it wouldn’t.
Somebody had to get my kids from school. Somebody had to shower and get me dressed so when Mac came home I wouldn’t still be sitting there, not dressed. I’d do the dishes to make it look like I had accomplished something. I would send an email or two. Some days I’d send twenty, apologize twenty times, try to set it all up again.
I’d give myself immensely pathetic pep talks, always the same words: “You can do it, Janelle. Come on.” I’d say it out loud. I’d force my body up. I’d yell at myself. COME ON. DO IT.
And I would. But nothing changed. I’d watch hours pass by, days, weeks, and me still sitting there on the goddamn bed—metaphorically, you understand–waiting for some will, believing myself less and less able to do it.
Life was right there. I could see it, but I couldn’t touch it, and it certainly couldn’t touch me.
So instead I stared at it, remembered what it used to offer, scanned every crevice for some indication that I was alive.
It all sounds so dramatic when you talk about it. Self-pitying. Syrup emotion. Even while writing this I want to tell myself to shut the fuck up.
Depression talk is boring, unless you’re in it.
And that’s why I’m writing this. In case you’re in it. I wanted so badly for somebody to see me in that state, in that ground-down, useless place. I found myself looking everywhere for somebody talking about the sitting-on-your-bed-for-ten-minutes thing, staring at a wall as if it could help you, or giving up hope that the wall had anything to offer, growing ever more silent because it’s all so strange.
But I mean that quite literally, the part about looking for something that reminded me that I was alive—as in, something to touch the part of me that felt alive. The part that experiences something. A desire, a spark of interest.
It wasn’t the sadness so much that killed me but the absence of feeling. Like my whole life was rolling out and it was all the same–today, tomorrow, the next day. I’d feel hopelessness, a permeating regret I couldn’t define, and a sadness that felt like meaninglessness. And not a single change on the horizon.
I wrote some notes in my phone once:
It isn’t that I can’t do the things I used to do. It’s that it won’t mean anything to me.
I can write to you on Facebook a funny story. Show you some beautiful architecture. But after I post it I’ll wonder why I do things like that, and I will feel confused. I’ll respond to you. I’ll excuse myself for not responding. I’ll use out-of-date laughing emojis. I’ll meet you for coffee. I’ll teach a writing workshop. I’ll talk to you on the phone. I’ll pick you up from school. I’ll write you an essay. I will definitely make you laugh.
But it won’t mean a single thing.
I wasn’t asking for joy. I was asking for things to mean something again, for it to be a little less hard.
One morning I listened to an interview with a pastor who had been committed to an institution for depression. He said he understands why people commit suicide.
He said it is because they want rest.
My head fell in final recognition. Gratitude.
I wasn’t suicidal. But I would have given anything for some relief from whatever it was inside of me that wouldn’t budge. Just staunchly refused. It looked at me and laughed. “You’ll never beat me,” it said.
And I never did, but I walked through life anyway.
I understand why women “in the old days” used to “take to their beds.” Simply stop.
I’m not moving, they said. It beat me.
They wanted rest.
I could see running out of steam, when an eternal rest is, at least, rest.
It’s obvious now, looking back, that things weren’t right, at all, but I was playing “Is this depression or regular pandemic life?” with the rest of the world. Before that I engaged in endless rounds of “Is this depression or I just moved to a new country?” I was dying for answers.
But everything I’d ever used to figure such things out–my feelings, intellect, will, even, yes, my God—had left me at some point. It was just me, hanging out, reading what other people had to say about it on the internet.
And no matter how many times the world told me this or that, that it’s normal or not normal, seasonal or chronic, depression or regular lockdown life or pandemic burnout—I wanted to find the answers within myself, because that is where I’ve always gone, and that is where I know things, really know things.
To find out if I need help or not, if it will pass or not. How to fix it. How to get through it.
But the singularly consistent feature of this depression was feeling disembodied–fragmented, a head on an alien body.
What I’m saying is I looked inward and found nothing at all.
Past the nothing was an urge to pick up my phone to play a very stupid game. Some history forever replaying. A craving for a cigarette. A recollection of food in the house I could eat.
I’m speaking of this in the past tense, as something having come and gone, and I suppose, in a way, that’s true.
The day came when it didn’t matter anymore if it was circumstantial or clinical. I couldn’t go on like that. I would have returned to drugs and alcohol if I thought it would work for even a moment. My brain started telling me about how we could make this end. I imagined lying down and never getting up again. I felt myself really slipping away.
And it all became extremely simple. I just needed, help.
I’m seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist now, and I went on a medication that gave me back some energy. I get up earlier. I take a shower without much trouble at all. It’s such a difference I had three neighbors say “Oh, you’re up so early!” when they saw me outside before 9am.
I am silly with my kids again. I sit at the table after dinner and talk with the family. Tasks don’t feel so impossible. Sometimes I really feel like doing things. The thoughts don’t replay so fucking endlessly. They are less intrusive, less despairing, less creatively destructive (and yet also somehow unbelievably boring).
But mostly I feel flatlined. It isn’t, shall we say, the life I’d like to be living, the internal self I aim for. It is, however, what it is. You’re welcome for that stunning insight.
I don’t feel “fixed.” I don’t feel “back to myself.” I am made uncomfortable by the idea that a special cocktail of medication will return me to some glorious equilibrium of pre-fucked self.
I consider perhaps that the “self” has altered irrevocably.
I consider the sun coming back. I consider the end of the pandemic. I consider the way my dog would sit by me and stare at me and jump on my bed and put his paw on my chest. I truly do not believe he was away from me for more than ten minutes during any of this. He’s here right now at this very moment.
I consider the way Mac asked me so often if I was okay, and how he looked at me just the same as he looked at me two decades ago. We didn’t know what to do then, either.
I consider how writing left me but here I am, in words.
That’s strange, isn’t it? That here we still are.
There wasn’t a time when I was completely gone. I know that because every time I sat on that bed searching the wall or life or myself for something to hold onto, something to lighten up or enlighten this fucking world, there was a part of me insisting it existed—otherwise, why look? With zero evidence some part of me saw all the way through to a life I couldn’t touch, reached forever for some rest, right here, with you.
I’m not saying I was strong. That I achieved something. What I’m saying is it gives me some hope. What I’m saying is she may become more than a sad pep talk at 1pm. What I’m saying is I wasn’t abandoned. What I’m saying is maybe you aren’t either.
If you know the dark, you know what I mean. I hope I’ve found you there.