Me & the big black dog
Alane's response to my last post about Shoot the Damn Dog made me need to write more. Ginger also responded in a very personal manner.
I often forget, until I am actively discussing the matter, just how quietly depression steals our lives away.
I have been depressed for as long as I can remember. A smart kid and an only child, I never really felt comfortable with people my age. I was always self-conscious. Always felt that I was missing some vital ingredient that everyone else had naturally. In addition, one parents suffered from severe depression, the other probably did but refused to seek help.
The worst depression, though, hit during the times when I was unable to work. I would be home all day, every day. I would worry about money. I would be dizzy with fatigue. And I would be terrified that I would never be able to have anything. Who would want someone who couldn't work? Who would build a life with her? Who would see value in me? I certainly couldn't find it.
I've pushed away (or scared away) more friends than I care to count or admit to. I would withhold being dependent for so long, that I would crack and the need would come flooding out on the poor people. The sheer volume of my need terrified me. I think it overwhelmed and bewildered them. I was so desperate to appear strong and not in need of anything or anyone -- because people who need are unlovable; only people who can give support, not take it, are worthy of love -- that they couldn't understand who this person was.
As I watched myself frighten them away, I would wail. I would rock back and forth and repeat that this "wasn't me." Because it didn't feel like me. It felt like an evil twin taking over. I was still in there, somewhere. But I was consumed by this need for something I couldn't explain. I was full of need. It was constant and ugly. It was forceful and humiliating. But if they had asked me what it was I needed from them, I would have had no answer for them. Few of them asked anyway.
The summer before I applied for disability, I became suicidal. It's a misnomer that we want to die. Sally Brampton notes it too. We don't want to die. We just want the pain to be over. We want to stop hurting. And death seems appealing if only for the quiet it offers.
I couldn't breathe through the sadness. I was drowning in it all the time. It was a tide, a current flowing through the apartment. I trudged through, and the tide was almost visible to me. Some days it was knee-high; others, it was up to my waist. Whatever the level, it acted as a real obstacle. I often felt that I was, in fact, walking through water: onerous and slow.
The pain was with me almost constantly. Perhaps that's the worst part of depression. It's with you because it is you. The pain is as physical as it is mental and emotional. It pressed up against my sides and my chest. An unbearable weight would settle on my chest. I would breathe as deeply as I could and still feel that I wasn't sucking in enough air.
When it wasn't pushing up against me, it was tearing out a piece of me. A sharp-yet-dull ache would settle in my midsection, just under my ribcage. I always assumed it was the physical manifestation (or lack thereof, when the pain set in) of my soul. It felt as though a hole had been ripped in it. It would become so bad, I would massage my sternum. It was as close as I could come to touching and soothing the gnawing emptiness. I have yet to figure out how emptiness can simultaneously feel so consuming.
Whatever the form it took -- water, emptiness or pressure -- my sadness was always there. I had a constant, open emotional wound, seething and raw.
I was beholden to it. I was weighed down by it. I was helpless in front of it.
It did slowly recede. But I couldn't tell you when. It was a combination of therapy -- a lot of therapy -- and increasing my antidepressants. And time. And a lot of pain. I will try to write more about it some other day. Or you can feel free to ask me questions, if you like and I will try to explain as best I can. Sometimes these things are so painful as to be word-eluding. There are, it seems, things that current syntax cannot do justice to. Perhaps we will have to become wordsmiths.
I would like to cite a couple things from the aforementioned book, Shoot the Damn Dog. As I read them, I saw myself as easily I saw Ms. Brampton. Some things about depression are completely individual -- drug tolerance, pain amelioration, coping techniques. Others are tritely universal. The terror, isolation and pain should resonate, even with those who are lucky enough to never have experienced the illness.
I am sitting on the floor, in my bedroom, curled up against the cupboards. I have given up ont he bed. I hate the bed and its soft, suffocating embrace. I would like to leave this room, but I can't. I feel safe here. Or, as safe as I feel anywhere, whihc is not very.
How fucking stupid is that? I can't leave my own bedroom. Me, who used to fly across the world and get on a plane without a moment's thought... I am fiercely indepedent. I am fierce. Or so people tell me. Used to tell me. I never used to be so afraid. When I was one of his editors, I used to stand up against Rupert Murdoch, arguing with him. I used to be so brave. I used to be somebody.
I am still somebody.
I am somebody who can't leave her bedroom, somebody who can't walk across a road to buy a newspaper. I start to cry. I hate crying. I hate these tears that come, unbidden, at any time of day...
I never used to cry. I hardley ever shed a tear. I spent a whole life not in tears. And that, according to one therapist, is my problem. Is this all it is then? Is this simply forty ears of collected tears?
Why does nobody understand that these are tears without a beginning or an end? I thought sadness had a beginning and an end. And a middle. A story, if you like. I was wrong.
'How's it going?' she says. She is at work; she is the deputy editor of a magazine. The office is open-plan. It is difficult for her to talk. Sometimes I call her and just cry, because I cannot speak...
For a moment, I can't speak. 'Not good,' I manage, finally.
Her voice is gentle, concerned. I hate that concern. I hate that it is me who is making her feel that way...
I lie on the floor in my bedroom and wait. I can't imagine why she would want to be with me, can't imagine what she could do for me. She is even more powerless than I am over this thing. Today's I can't honour it by calling it an illness. Today it is just a thing that neither of us knows or understands...
I am terrified she will give up on me, that this thing will drive her away. Every depressive has that fear. Why would anyone want us? We don't even want ourselves. Sometimes, we try to drive the people who love us away. Not because we donm't want them with us, but because we cannot bear for them to see what we have become.
Someone once asked me how it felt. I lost my balance, I said. It felt as if I lost my balance. I fell flat on my face and I couldn't get up again. and if that implies a certain grace, a slow and easy free-fall, then you have me wrong. It was violent and painful and, above all, humiliating.
People rarely discuss the absolute humiliation of severe depression, the punishing helplessness, the distressing, child-like impotence. When well-intentioned friends and faimly say to the depressive 'pull yourself together', they may as well be saying it to a baby crying in its cot.
We cannot. It is not that we don't want to. We simply can't. But, unlike the baby in the cot, our adult brain is sufficiently engaged to know that we should, to believe that if we tried hard enough, we could. Then every attempt and every failure brings with it its own, additional depression, its own profound and hopeless despair. And every contemptuous glance, every irritated sigh from family and friends drives us still further out into the cold, black night...
Depression has its own pathology and self-absorption is part of that pathology. Telling somebody who is in the grip of severe depression that they are being selfish and self-pitying is like telling somebody with asthma that they have breathing difficulties. It is meaningless except as a statement of fact or an expression of the symptoms affecting them. They are lost in a place without boundaries or borders, where th concept of self has no meanings. They have lost their very self.