Putting it in Words
I have chronic depression. Every time an episode goes away I think “Ha, that’s the last of it. No more depression for me.” And commit wholeheartedly to my joyous existence. I don’t so much as pay my depression a passing thought. It is a dusty box full of cassette tapes in my dad’s attic. It is no longer relevant. Until, of course, it inevitably comes back.
The first month or so of my college debut I was very depressed. Actually I had a nasty cocktail of depression and anxiety that came with the usual symptoms: insomnia, inexplicable bouts of crying, a generally shitty inability to remember things and/or express myself, and the familiar haze of hopelessness, PLUS some brand new ones: fear of eating in public, nausea and difficulty consuming solid foods, and the irrational belief that I was going to be this way forever. I wasn’t. Today (the day I write this) was actually a pretty hella day. I got bubble tea. And I wrote a lot.
One of the worst things about my depression in particular is that it sucks the creative energy out of me. Usually when I feel sad I write (or when I feel angry or happy or nostalgic or loved). Writing makes me who I am. Writing is one of my food groups. It’s my favorite brand of toothpaste. It is my childhood. It is really cold water fountain water. When I am depressed I can’t write. It feels like my brain, my identity, is turning on me.
I can think. In fact I describe my depression to myself when I’m depressed. I just can’t transition my thoughts to paper. In a “hit me with a bus” kind of irony, I can describe my depression perfectly when I’m depressed. Once I feel well enough to put the words to paper they are gone.
And yet I persist because I think if you give something words you can take away some of its power. You rip off its mask and expose it for what it truly is. You dissect it like a fetal pig in freshman honors biology. A couple summers back I went to Japan with my aunt and my cousin. They are from London so I met them there. It was my first flight alone. It was my first vacation with them and first trip to a country where I did not speak the language. I wish I had enjoyed that trip. Japan is a beautiful country. I saw so many beautiful things. I took lots of pictures in the hope that sometime I would look back on them and enjoy it; like if I could prove to myself that the experiences I had were cool and interesting even if they never felt that way.
I had my first panic attack on a bullet train. My mind and body were going ridiculously fast at the same time. I remember sitting in my seat, feeling like I was physically unable to speak, heart pounding like a toddler was jumping on the pedal of a kick drum, recalling an article I read about how you were supposed to do the opposite of what your brain was telling you to do. I didn’t know if this was a legit thing but my brain was vehemently insisting that I make myself as small as humanly possible. Therefore, I reasoned, I should spread out. I stretched my legs, opened up my chest, and sat up straight. It felt like I was standing at the top of a very tall tower with a glass floor. I inched my feet forward like I might fall through the floor and into the center of the earth at any second. I’m making it sound dramatic but it kind of was at the time. It makes me think of some action movie where the protagonist is chasing the villain through the cars of a bullet train (let’s be real, is there a more dramatic setting for a chase?) and the hero has this giant machete thing that sparkles every time they try to slice the villain. Except the villain has thought altering magic and teleportation powers so they’re flitting from seat to seat and car to car and the hero keeps slicing up ugly, patterned seat cushions in growing frustration. My panic has thought altering magic. My depression teleports me into an alternate reality where nothing is good and my gas tank is perpetually stuck on empty.
Sometimes songs or photos or offhand remarks bring me back to a place where I wasn’t myself. I’m still trying to explain. I’m still trying to know depressed me the way I know not depressed me. She is a stranger sometimes. She doesn’t feel real. I erase her or laugh at her or hug her to my chest when the world feels right again. She knows things I don’t. She knows what it’s like to chase and swing and miss. She knows what it’s like to be robbed of the things that make her feel safe. She, like so many people, deserves understanding.