“human standing on brown cliff” by Benjaminrobyn Jespersen on Unsplash

The Memory of Falling

Going through depression is like falling off of a very high cliff, in a very big canyon. You try your best not to fall, maybe you were ambushed or blindsided but nonetheless here you are, falling. You grab at branches and roots and footholds located in the sides of the cliff. Every time you catch yourself you latch on for dear life until your grip loosens, your body grows tired, and you slip — back to the fall. The desperate pauses help kill your momentum but you are still at the mercy of gravity. Eventually, you hit the bottom of the canyon. Sometimes, for some people, the bottom of the canyon is the end. Other times, not.

Other times, for other people, at the bottom of the canyon there is a river. You’re no longer falling and you’re not dead but now you’re drowning and moving further and further away from the place where you first fell. Sometimes the current leads you to a shore. Other times, you have to go through rapids before you can even get your head above water. If you don’t drown and make it safely to shore, you are exhausted and just want to be home around something familiar. You start your journey back to the first cliff where you started because that’s the only place you know to go. That’s where your friends live, that’s where your family lives, that’s where your people are. Sometimes, for some people, this is the end. Most of the time, not.

Most of the time, you now live with the memory of falling. Everyone you know pisses you off because no one wants to talk about the fall or everyone wants to talk about the fall, and you piss them off because all you want to do is talk about the fall or not talk about the fall. Now, you are aware of the cliff at all times. You move to the other side of town to avoid it. There, you become increasingly annoyed by all of your neighbors who don’t seem to understand that on the other side of town there is a giant cliff, off which anyone, at any time, can fall, trip, or be thrown. Sometimes, for some people, this is the end. Others times, not.

Other times, you feel alone and isolated from the minds of those around you, so you leave the only way you know how — DOWN. You think, “Falling alone is better than having to listen to all of those people lie to themselves or live in blissful ignorance”. Why don’t they leave? Why can’t they all move somewhere else — someplace with no cliffs?

So you fall. The fall almost kills you this time. You go through the rapids and the waterfalls and now you’re on the shore. Sometimes, for some people, this is the end. Other times, not. Other times, as soon as you stand up, there’s a bear. The bear starts chasing you and you run as fast as you can. Sometimes, for some people, the bear is the end. Other times, not.

Other times, the chase ends somewhere new. You end up in a new community on top of a different cliff, or a lucky-you ends up in a community where they have no cliffs at all. Life slows down. The relief settles in. Things start to look the way they did before you even knew there was a cliff to fall off. Sometimes things get even better. Lucky-you makes a home in the “someplace with no cliffs”. It’s a place where you feel safe enough to make friends, have a family, and build relationships. Sometimes, for some people, this is the end. Other times, not.

Other times, you start thinking about the cliff again. You start trying to relate to others — the friends and the family who don’t know what its like to live with the memory of falling. Or maybe they do. Maybe some of your neighbors have tried to relate with their own memories of falling to let you know you’re not alone. But they’re stories never seem quite like yours and their cliffs never seem quite as high. Plus, you’re settled and you’re happy. You have friends. The episode with the cliff was a long time ago. Put it behind you. There are plenty of people who have fallen off cliffs and climbed back up to become basketball stars or CEOs or best selling authors. You can do it, too! But their lives seem different than yours. Those people were younger or smarter or wealthier or they had better families or more resources available to them. You don’t know what else to do. Nothing seems important or attainable and no one understands, so you go back to the place that has the most meaning for you — DOWN.

This time you’re not scared. Falling feels good. Falling feels great. Falling feels like home. Drowning feels good. Drowning feels great. Drowning feels like home. Self-destruction is so fun when you think you’re in control.

You get out of the river, outrun the bear, and make it back home to your first family and your first friends, who by now are too busy falling or haven’t spoken to you since the first time you fell. You want to help the ones that are falling and you want to convince the ones who don’t understand but nothing feels fun or real unless you’re falling or drowning or running away.

You start falling multiple times a day. If you’re not falling, you’re thinking about falling. The fact that the fall hasn’t killed you yet is thrilling. Every day you find a different more exciting way to fall. Sometimes, for some people, their whole lives become falling and that is the end. Other times, not. Other times, you build your life to support the need to fall. You eat, you sleep, you work, you fall. Other people’s memories of falling start making sense to you. They’re not exactly like your memories of falling but you recognize the experience. The people who like the fall become your people.

But then, one day, it happens. You feel uneasy because you’ve sacrificed a lot to fall. You’ve lost a lot of friends or time or gained a lot of scar tissue. It always felt worth it because falling was where life felt most real. You no longer live with the memory of falling, because you are falling all the time. Sometimes, for some people, this is the end. Other times, not.

Everyone starts and stops at different points in this journey. It’s never a choice to make the first fall. Life pushes you off first, and it may take several lifetimes to feel like you’re in control. But eventually, you stop falling and start jumping. Jumping is just like falling but with better outcomes. After the first fall, they look and feel almost the same. I’ll let you know when I know the difference.