A small translucent spider scurried across my carpet floor as I rummaged through my personal archives this weekend. I rediscovered documents I forgot existed, and in doing so I materialized sentiments that I had only entertained in my head. I unintentionally made concrete for myself what I had formerly categorized as musings, not realities.
I found a copy of my intake survey from the first time I saw a therapist in my early twenties. In the densely-printed information sheets on the drug Fluoxetine I witnessed my introduction to medication and slow increase in dosage from my mid-twenties until now. I found handwritten receipts from my first experiences with community acupuncture.
Rifling through these documents was an unsettling experience that I have yet to shake. To spend hours upon hours in my own head is an involuntary exercise in intellectual abstraction that occurs daily for me. It does not serve me, but it continues. And this weekend took it from a regular mental exercise to a physical one where I saw my paper trail. I could not ignore that my ascent into treatment and maintenance of my health has also been accompanied by a descent in my own conception of self-worth.
In recognizing and naming the phenomenon — depression and anxiety — I constantly have to fight with internalized ableism related to eugenicist and capitalist notions of productivity and worthiness.
Ableism, then, frames my conceptualization of depression as decay in real time. To label depression as decay is inherently tied up with notions of a previous, more “normal” self that does not exist. This idealized self was one I saw as capable in ways — that I am now learning — I no longer see myself. In other words, depression cannot be decay, even if that is how it feels.
If decay is the process of falling apart, withering away, rotting, decomposing, and depression is the mechanism through which this actively occurs in my life, then the story I tell myself is a fallacy rooted in the very ableism I hope to dislodge. Just because I used brute force to get myself through a situation in the past doesn’t mean that was the best bet or the standard to which I should hold myself.
So then I must ask myself: what does it mean to disentangle the notion of decay from depression? And how do I reckon with the notion that at the root of behaviors like my avoidance of people or my refusal to eat is a profound sense of embarrassment at being a “successful” and “functional” human? What do I do when I am gentle with others yet do not extend that same kindness to myself?
Today I woke up to the brilliant sun at around seven in the morning. Recognizing my exhaustion during the previous evening, I had planned to work for four hours before my afternoon class. Instead I scrolled Twitter, refreshed my email without truly engaging it, and texted a friend. After an hour passed I laid in bed, contemplating getting up. I engaged in a silent mental dialogue about whether to start my day, when that process would begin, and how it would look. Then the anxiety crept up, producing irrational and uncomfortable thoughts that physically locked me into place. I eventually succumbed to sleep, woke back up again, then went back to sleep again before getting up to shower, eat, and head to class.
I laid in one spot for four hours, not moving, with my brain cycling through more thoughts than I ever knew I had. While writing about my rough morning in the direct aftermath of this anxiety attack, I realized: I have almost always seen my chronic fight to get up in the morning, eat, and lack of desire to exist as a temporary problem. It is not temporary, though. What shifts is the intensity of the highs and the lows, but nothing completely goes away, I merely get distracted for short periods of time. I often don’t want to start my day, I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to go to class, I don’t want to be around people I know or people I don’t know, and unless I am distracted I usually don’t want to participate in this world.
Although anxiety stealing four hours of my day is nothing new, the naming of it is something that only began in the last few years for me. I’ve been oversleeping, over-performing academically to compensate, and participating in both self-deprecating thoughts and self-sabotaging behaviors for a long time. There is a sort of freedom in finally recognizing the patterns and naming them; a form of familiarity that allows for the prediction of an illness — depression and anxiety — that often feels more powerful than I’d like to admit.
Yet the realization that this struggle is a lifelong…“thing”…that I’m still learning how to handle just makes it worse. There is no “end”. Even as I learn to adapt and live, there is no end. The suspected chemical imbalance, intergenerational state-sanctioned violence, and recovery from emotional trauma that I ignored for so long still persist. There is no panacea, and this truth is something I continue to run from. It means that these patterns of self-destruction can strike at any times and that is truly unsettling. Feeling like you cannot control your own brain is very uncomfortable and disheartening.
What I know is what seems to work for me: check-ins, words of affirmation, acupuncture, medication, sleep, the sun, dancing, writing, venting, therapy, physical affection, short periods of isolation, social media fasts, loving company, and more. But the things and activities I listed are not always available, nor do they always work. There is no real “always” with my health. And sometimes I just do not have the capacity. I know, however, that I have the best results when I honestly and truly recognize the reality and weight of taking my health seriously.
Regardless of how I approach “it”, however, I’m often tired of it. All of it. I want to stop taking meds, stop going to acupuncture, and stop feeling this way. And it just doesn’t work like that. Some days all I want to do is buzz off all my hair, take down all the art from my walls, and sleep for days. Today was one of those days, even though April 5th was not, for whatever reason. But I kept going today, I keep going everyday, and I am proud of myself for that, if nothing else.
And to borrow from The Mighty, “If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741–741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.”