“When the flood water comes it ain’t gonna be clear, it’s gonna look like mud.” — The Front Bottoms, Twin Size Mattress
I don’t know how it is for others. With me, it comes and goes, but when it comes, it does look like mud.
Actually, it looks more like quicksand. Or rather a liquid trapdoor. It’s insidious and greedy, with a Super Glue grip.
It loves me in all the wrong ways.
And the thing is, when Depression hits, I know what to do—call someone. Get out of the chair. Move. Turn on the lights. (For God’s sake, turn on the lights.)
Yet I don’t do any of those things. Instead I hunker. I sink into the darkness. I get smaller and smaller. I let the quicksand have its way.
One of my best friends calls it Being on the floor—the feeling that she’s duct-taped to the carpet and can’t get up, even if she wanted to, which she doesn’t.
I think I’ve been Depressed (I’m intentionally capitalizing the word depression here) most of my life, but up until the last ten years, I was so busy and distracted that, for the most part, I was able to push it aside.
When I was in fourth grade, a bully at school used to taunt me. Being gangly, shy and basically friend-less, I was easy prey. One day, this bully grabbed me by the wrist and spun me around and around in the middle of the school hallway. Then he let go. Then I flew. Then my head slammed into the concrete wall. Then I passed out.
A short time later, I stumbled to the school nurse and later walked home, leaving hours before school officially let out.
At home, on the front lawn, I threw up whiskbrooms of yellow vomit and foul air. My head hurt so bad, I tried pulling out my hair.
After that, I got migraines pretty regularly. Nothing, or anything, could set them off. Usually they showed up the day after something stressful.
Occasionally I’d get headaches as well, but the two—migraines and headaches—are not the same. At best, they’re second cousins. A migraine has very distinct symptoms and telltale signs—hand numbness, nausea, pinprick spots bursting over your eyes, then a drill bit boring through the skull.
Similarly, I’ve been sad plenty of times, but I’ve also had bouts of Depression and these two—sadness and Depression—are also second cousins, loosely related, but quite distinct from one another.
(Obviously I’m not a doctor or an expert in these matters, so please understand that I’m merely speaking for myself here.)
When I’ve talked about my Depression with others, they usually reply, “Yeah, I get Depressed, too.”
While I appreciate the attempt at commiseration, I’m pretty sure what they’re describing is sadness, perhaps even extreme sadness, which is horrible enough. But Depression is despondency to the tenth power. It riddles a person with a convincing sense of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. It makes you want to burrow inside a hole, stay there, and pray no one ever finds you. Sometimes, in severe situations, it tells you that you would be better off dead, that everyone you know would be better off, if only you were dead.
People who suffer from Depression have different triggers. Those who recognize these triggers are somewhat fortunate because they can try to pro-actively thwart them with pre-planning, or else they might be able to put safeguards in place, should they happen to end up On the floor.
Anthony Bourdain, who was always open about his battle with Depression, talked about once being in an airport waiting for his plane when he ate a hamburger from one of the stands there. He said it was such a terrible tasting hamburger that he fell into a state of complete Depression and couldn’t speak for two days. A hamburger did that to him.
Triggers for me are loneliness and being alone. (Those two things can be very different from one another. For instance, you can be in a crowded room with happy people you’ve known all your life and still feel lonely.)
In my case, the tricky thing is I’m doing what I love—I’m a writer. I write full-time, every day. What a lucky shit I am, right? Yep. But that also means I’m alone a large chunk of every day. So, I have to watch out. I have to get up, move, talk to someone, even if it means—God forbid—actually having to speak to someone on the phone. Otherwise, the alternative is none too pleasant.
I haven’t suffered from Depression for quite some time.
So why write about it now? I guess what I’m hoping to do is share a piece of me. It’s a troublesome slice, nothing I’m proud of, yet it’s nothing I’m ashamed of either. I guess I don’t want anyone else to think they’re too broken or too strange or too whatever because they have Depression or issues with (fill in the blank).
Being human means being imperfect. I know we’re supposed to be flawless—have perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect kids, perfect marriages, perfect everything. But I don’t have perfect anything, and I don’t think most people do either.
One of my best friends, Meg Tuite, once said, “Everyone is mentally ill, or else they’re lying.” She may or may not be right.
I guess the point is, everyone is complex. Sometimes what’s below the surface needs to be revealed so that it doesn’t seem so scary to the person revealing it or the person learning about it. Maybe instead of being alarmed, your friend or family member might say, I have that too. Or maybe they’ll say, What’s the big deal? Or, Want to talk about it?
I’ve never been able to figure out what’s so horrible about being vulnerable, letting people see all sides of us. Perhaps, in some little way, it’ll help. Maybe it’ll make somebody else feel less, less alone. Maybe it’ll make them feel loved and accepted instead.
The first time I told one of my best friends about my Depression, he seemed caught off guard. Not freaked out surprised, or disappointed surprised, just a little startled. Like, What, you Depressed? Then he got genuinely curious and wanted to know what it was like—to have Depression. We were having lunch at the time, and I mumbled a poor reply that was hardly an adequate answer. So, when I got home that night, wanting to do a better job of articulating the feeling, I did what I always do when I try to make sense of things—I wrote.
The Doctrine of Inability
Overhead the hem
of a cloud
uncouth and persistent
like a black lung
or barren eye socket.
If I breathe hard enough
does that mean
that the bees will stop dying?
At moments like these
I’m supposed to
turn on the lights.
But man, these leg irons
are on so tight
I’m seeing split screens.
I’m both here and there
two sides of the same frail ghost.
The air has never
tasted more fraudulent
Sound of a tree split
of ripping flesh
a child’s frantic scream
crazy mad music
setting this ceiling on fire.
I don’t know what
planet to confiscate.
Everything’s so sticky.
Even the lake looks
anorexic and sickly green
like someone’s faded
sundress torn at the neck.
The little man playing
violin on the edge of
my tongue performs an encore
while my lawn chair teeth
do their best not to collapse under
the weight of nothing.
The lyrics are a mush
of mashed potatoes
and remorseful gravy.
What I hear is–
Where is blue
and where is __________,
and what then,