Me: im having dinner with karly and we’re just talking about all the times we’ve cried today lmao
Rachel: ha , haha , ha , haaaa
In my past life living with a bunch of girls in a college dorm, every so often someone would drop the knowledge that close friends with uteruses always end up on the same menstrual cycle. Seems like something that would have been said on Sex in the City, maybe? I’ve never really watched Sex in the City. In any case, I was never sure whether it applied to my woman-friends and me, and it’s always felt a little too mystical to be true. But there is one thing my friends and I do seem to share once we get close enough: cycles of utterly annihilating depression.
I call it the Sad Cycle. Today I’m lying in bed with my computer, in my underwear, for the fifth day in a row. I will sit here thinking “every thought I have is unoriginal” until the last possible second I can reasonably get up, put clothes on and go to my night-shift job. Nothing “brought on” this emotional state, except maybe the movie We Need To Talk About Kevin, which I watched about two weeks ago and really should have gotten over by now.
In a few minutes, one of my good friends will Gchat me about being broke. Even though she’s one of the most driven people I’ve ever met, she’ll say she has no purpose, that her work will never pay off, that she’s thinking about giving up on this city. Later tonight, another friend will chat me about the non-boyfriend who has liquidated her insides multiple times now and won’t even respond to her Facebook message. Normally a fiercely independent soul, she’ll tell me she doesn’t know how to keep living without him, that she feels insane. I will wish physical harm on the person who did this to her, and she’ll tell me it’s not his fault.
Another friend calls me and says her grandmother died and the funeral is on her birthday. Another is convinced she’s going to come home from work to find her cat dead. Meanwhile, I’m beating my brain to mush: I’m not smart enough to be starting grad school, I’m not sending enough emails to professors, I’m too shy. I’ve never read Kant. My poetry is too personal, and on top of that, unremarkable. I’m always running late and I probably look like it.
Karly: i don’t want to be at work now
im in that mood
Me: im still depressed
Karly: i decided im not depressed
It seems easy to write off the Sad Cycle as a kind of symbiosis, where when I’m in a bad place it rubs off on my friends, or vice versa. Or maybe when you’re friends with enough depressive types, it just seems as if everyone’s sad when you are. To be honest, I have no evidence to the contrary. But the way I’ve experienced it, depression among friends is like pollination. We don’t know for sure where the sorrow spores come from — maybe from each other, maybe from faraway places, maybe from somewhere within ourselves. Still, it happens to all of us in the same season, and we each find ourselves bearing our own dark fruit.
I don’t want to believe it’s a coincidence, or that we’re dragging each other into the fog. It seems possible to me that the reason we found each other in the first place is that we run on the same heavy rhythms, and we’ve bonded together to help shoulder the weight. Maybe we can sense the understanding in each other. Maybe we’re the medicine we’re seeking. When you wake up feeling like it’s time for bed, it helps to know you’re not the only one.
Even more so, it helps to have someone to laugh at it with. A lot of times it’s clear to us how the darkness we feel can be absurd, but people who aren’t depressed can’t see the humor. Last week, a mid-Sad Cycle friend and I laughed for ten minutes after she blurted out with brutal sincerity, “My idea of ceremony is, like, crying every day.”
When we’re in it together, we hug each other, we send every heart emoji, we sit next to each other in silence. We marathon old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy until we have no thoughts left. We don’t shame each other for staying in bed. We understand that there’s nothing romantic about this feeling, that it’s not art, that it is illness and paralysis and stagnation. We get angry at it together. We blame the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. We give each other space and keep each other company. We ask if we’re okay.
We go to therapy or we don’t; something good happens or it doesn’t. But eventually the Sad Cycle ends. At some point, somehow, we can leave the house again without an all-consuming sense of dread. My one friend might still be broke and the other still heartbroken, but somehow we make it through to the other side, where there’s light and space to breathe. We can go to shows and dance, we can eat food for fun instead of for sustenance. We can have conversations about things beyond what it takes to get through the day. Normal friend stuff.
These high parts of our lives might last for months, so long I sometimes start to wonder how I ever felt so empty. But underneath it all, it’s still part of the cycle. Depression always comes back, nasty and uninvited like a cold sore. Maybe it’s just how we’re made. The fog always rolls back in and we can’t see through it. We can only be grateful that, when it happens, we won’t be feeling our way around alone.
Liz Bowen is a writer, editor and feminist living in New York. Find more of her work at liz-bowen.com.