Today I woke up feeling “not good in the head,” as my partner and I say, which is a nice polite way to signal that our depression has reared its beastly face. I had bad dreams (of which I remember little but my partner being uncharacteristically enthusiastic for Subway), a frequent occurrence for me. Unfortunately, bad dreams and depression have an unknown causal relationship for me: I’m never sure which one conjures up the other. Regardless, I awoke despondent and lethargic. I rose to a sitting position and became still, letting the awful feelings wash over me. I have been taking my medication regularly (40 mg of citalopram), without a hitch, so I knew it couldn’t be a missed pill. Unfortunately, it’s one of those days where I feel “not good in the head” and there is no discernible reason for it. My brain chemistry appears to be the prime suspect and there seems no retributive or restorative act of justice that will make me feel better.
I watched a film this morning while my partner puttered around the apartment. My partner and I often have similar patterns in our “not good in the head” days: we lay about the house, doing nothing, dwelling on the negative feelings, napping, crying. To thwart this, we went for brunch, brought our books, and read in peace. Getting out of the house is always a good strategy. Unfortunately, my partner brought up a very sensitive subject for me: my abysmal future in the labour market. I’ve been applying to jobs steadily for almost a year and have had only one interview (I didn’t get the job). I have a Masters degree and I make minimum wage at a bookstore. My partner, thinking about the return to school that they’ll undertake as a teacher, suggested I look into taking something in the fall. The idea of going back to school, again, as if I had to start over from beginning, presses upon me like ten feet of soil. Though my partner had good intentions, knowing I’m not doing what I love, this made me cry in the restaurant. Obviously I do not blame my partner; they are concerned for my mental health and want what’s best for me. Rather, it was the depression that let loose those tears from my eyes. The depression, a black dog that haunts my steps, as some writer dubbed it, churns my emotions, amplifies them, broadcasts them out through my body.
We returned home, my partner needlessly apologizing for the reminder that I have seemingly no future, and we productively discussed some jobs I could do. I felt a bit better. At home, I gathered my things for work and left early for an appointment my partner had made for me at a spa with a sensory deprivation tank. The idea is to float in darkness and silence for 90 minutes with only your thoughts and your breathing to keep you company. I felt optimistic about it: my partner had had a great experience and I love floating. Being tall means no tub can contain my height, but this tank was 8 feet long — long enough for me stretch out. Of the 90 minutes, I only lasted 70: at one point, I woke up in a panic and had to emerge, dazed, into the light. Afterwards, I felt extremely weird; I felt physically relaxed but mentally drained; I didn’t feel up to any interactions with human beings, but alas, I had to present myself at work to help with customers. I know if I had been in a healthier mental state, I would have lasted the full 90 minutes and had no panic. I would have been simply relaxed instead of this oscillation of irritation and sadness.
Not every day is like this. Most days are fine and I’m happy, functioning, and I can tolerate the world. These are the days to celebrate (which I often do, with a cute selfie). It’s worth discussing the good days and revelling in the joy that a day of good mental health can bring. But I find it necessary to talk about the days when my brain chemistry upsets the balance closer to sadness. The days of not good in the head are few but still present. It’s saddening.
Mostly, depression manifests as sadness for me: I just want to cry all the time. I’m a rather talkative person, effusive and animated, but depression renders me more quiet, more contemplative. Depression makes me consider suicide (I have reached ideation more than once). Depression boosts my anxieties — to the point of panic attacks: a racing heartbeat, an increase in sweat, an affinity for fainting, and at their worst, physically crippling, on the floor in foetal position as the sobs constrict my abdominal muscles. I haven’t been to that extreme for a few months — I’m grateful; words can hardly do justice to the paroxysms of psychic pain I experience during those moments.
More innocent and naive people might suggest that depression have given me an inner strength. They might mention that I’ve parleyed my own psychic imbalances into intellectual curiosity: I’ve committed countless hours to the study of emotions, the history of mental illness, the power structures of asylums, mental health infrastructures, the politics of affect. These same well-meaning people might also propose that which does not kill me only makes me stronger. This is not true. None of this is true.
I feel weak. I feel like a tiny spider crushed in the smothering embrace of a tissue, just for having the temerity to exist. I feel — damn it I feel all the time and I would give practically anything to dial down the intensity of those feelings. I am not a strong person. That I’m able to get out of bed on these dark days is not a testament to my inner strength or my force of will. It’s merely muscle memory and I refuse to take patronizing congratulations for doing what countless billions do every day.
Today I considered suicide at least a handful of times. I contemplate suicide every single day, to be honest. I roll the idea around in my mouth, giving it a taste and wondering if it’s for me. I hold the idea in my hand, testing its weight, reviewing its pros and cons. The idea is necessarily heavy, of course. I can hardly lift it, but lift it I do — every single day. Though I regard it often, the idea is an abstract, a metaphor that I can play with. Some argue that suicide is the escape route for the coward; some counter that people who take their lives see it as providing relief and succour to their long suffering loved ones. I’ve written honestly about what has stopped me: art has always been my refuge, my shelter from the internal storm; my few friends and my supportive family have never failed to provide help; my partner is my lifeline — I could never hurt any of them.
It has helped that my mother and my partner share many of the same mental health struggles. My mother has dark days as well and though we rarely talk about them in detail, knowing that we both suffer gives me some perspective. I take solace that somebody at least understands. My partner is unflinchingly honest about their depression and anxiety. There is no stigma against talking about depression in our lives. There is nothing shameful about depression in my family. And frankly there shouldn’t be.
Some might read this personal essay and cringe at the level of intimacy. Others might scoff that my troubles, privileged as they are, amount to little in the grand scheme of things. However, their dismissals of my feelings do not provide me with comfort on days like today when getting out of bed without sobbing is a challenge. Empathy seems in short supply on the Internet. I write this to combat the notion that my depression is meaningless in the face of endless poverty and strife. I write this to combat the notion that my depression is something to hide for fear of embarrassing others. I write this because sometimes writing is the only way for me to survive with all these feelings raging at the loudest volume in my body, rattling my skull, vibrating my eyeballs with their endless demands for my soul. I wrote this for me and if it happens to move somebody, if it happens to make a single person rethink how depression affects others, then I can take solace in that.
I hope tomorrow I wake up feeling better because I feel like sobbing right now and that’s no way to live.