How I hold on when I want to punch everyone in the face
I’m standing on a step ladder and it’s five in the morning. I’m not wearing my glasses and the blare from the overhead closet light makes it hard for me to see. Is this my life? There’s a spider overhead. I hate anything that crawls so I go into full combat mode. I swat at it with a Swiffer mop to then realize that the spider is trapped inside my light fixture. I try to unscrew said fixture and nearly tumble into a pile of sweaters. My cat howls his disappointment. Am I in an Albee play? This can’t be my life. I lie on the floor for two hours in the small crawl space between wakefulness and sleep while my cat cries out at his nemesis. The curve of the light fixture makes it impossible for the spider to crawl up and out and the task looks exhausting, Sisyphean, and I wonder how the spider got in there in the first place. I think about its urgent need to get out and I start crying Claire Danes tears. A symphony of sadness. I feel nothing but bone. I see my father — a man I haven’t spoken to in over two years — and his hair is full of cypress. I tried calling him once to broker peace. The number you’ve dialed is no longer in service. Perhaps I’m a weight he no longer wants to bear. The white flag I waved burns under my bed. My mother is ash rising up all around me. You have no origin. I feel my face for lines. It’s 7:30 in the morning and this is my life. The full fucking stretch of it.
My day goes pretty much downhill from there.
Let me tell you something about depression. A pill won’t cure you. Aromatherapy and a gluten-free diet won’t cure you. Crystals hocked by wealthy, paper-thin women and D-list celebrities won’t cure you. There exists no cure, only treatment. So you do the things you need to do to lessen the pain because you want to live, need to live. Often it works, and you start to think that maybe you don’t need the pills, therapy, or yoga mat. But then there are mornings when you’re lying on the floor crying before the day has even begun, and it occurs to you that your illness is your most significant and lasting relationship.
Have you considered being more positive? Thinking happy thoughts? As if this has never occurred to me. As if my illness is simply a matter of discipline. Do you think I enjoy choking on my tears? Do you think that I don’t feel the burden of my sorrow? Some days I wake and feel as if there are hundreds of barnacles cemented to my face. Cutting my eyelids. Binding my mouth shut.
I read somewhere that barnacles create shells for themselves as a means of protection from predators. They secrete calcium plates that form their own private prison. Their greatest fear is drying out.
Depression hovers, threatening to swallow you whole. It swaddles you until you suffocate. It says, I’m still here. I haven’t left you. I’ll never leave you. It tires everyone in a 3,000 mile radius. People want you fixed, boxed up neat and returned to manufacturer settings — is she cured yet? Back to normal? — but how do you explain that this is who you are? That there will be days where getting out of bed is a victory and daylight is an assault. That you were never really normal, you were just good at faking it. And what is normal anyway? What does that even mean?
My day, post-spider, continues and every lit match is a five-alarm fire. Depression cranks the volume up and the seemingly banal and trivial become catastrophic. I can only see the darkness in things, never conceiving of the possibility of light. My mind tells me that I’ll always be this way — talentless, unloved, unworthy, and bound for failure. And down that spiral you go! Why bother writing another book if no one will buy or read it? Why bother submitting to literary magazines when all the smart-set gatekeepers loathe me because I was the girl who could never find my place, my fit? The why bother list is longer than I’d like to admit. I spend most of my waking hours convincing people of my worth. Yes, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and here are five examples of my work product, my 40-slide credentials deck filled with case studies, and 16 C-suite referrals. What? Still not convinced? You want more?
They always want more. The maths are incalculable.
My dark days aren’t frequent, but when they land they’re a bomb devastating everything in its wake. I curl up in a ball, cry, and wait it out because I know it will pass. I stay off social media because no one is interested in my present tense sadness. When I’m tweeting, I’m more acerbic than usual. I bite back.
I have friends who won’t talk about their mental illness online because they don’t want to lose projects or appear “unhinged.” Best to keep it private. Best to keep it offline. Hidden. Sit quietly and smile through your pain. Your pain causes others to feel discomfort; it breeds silence. The peanut-crunching lot mute, unfollow, and unsubscribe — all in preservation of a positive, shiny feed.
Know these are the same people fist-pumping for greater mental health awareness and reduced stigma, and this irony doesn’t escape me. I am a train shuttling through a dark country and they step away from the platform. We’ll take the next train, they say. We want to give her her privacy, they say. We don’t know what to say, they say, conveniently forgetting that there’s a search engine called Google that can help them them with that.
Sure, Jan. Thank you for respecting my privacy by being silent and evasive during this very difficult time. You’re definitely making me feel less alone.
A few years ago, my sadness was a sheet stretched over my sleeping body for months. The pain was my one constant and it was relentless, unforgiving, and cruel. Depression takes it all like some petty thief in the night nicking your joy, confidence, and anything else it can grab. It took me medication, therapy, and self-care to realize these feelings were fleeting and false. But in the thick of my dark days I only seem to remember the impermanence of it. I tell myself that this is temporary. It will pass. It always does. I tell myself that I’ll get to a place where I remember depression’s deciduous nature, how it has a way of stripping you down to the point where you feel worthless, a negative of someone who was once a person. One day I will be able to hold the words fleeting and false in my hands.
Tomorrow is not today and that’s a good thing.
Some people can sweat through their sadness. I tried that but I couldn’t make it past my front door. Some people schedule emergency therapy appointments. I don’t have health insurance and the times when I was flush and could afford the sessions, I would sit there catatonic because I couldn’t find words. I couldn’t form sentences that made sense. All I could do was sob and the only words I could muster were everything hurts.
What gets me through days like this is that small torch in the distance. It’s the hours. It’s the hope that tomorrow would subsume today. That my sadness would be a storm moving out of the horizon.