Webster’s Dictionary defines depression as …
Just kidding. Shout out to all my friends who spent too much of their twenties correcting Freshman Comp papers. I love you, you crazy ABD darlings! Much love!
Mental illness is a rotten bastard of a disease. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It rots us from the inside out. Like the last apple in the bowl, you look okay until someone picks you up and looks closer, sees how you’ve gone all brown and mushed on the hidden side. A nasty surprise, with fruit flies, for your Wednesday morning breakfast.
I had my first depressive episode in middle school, at thirteen. The first bad one, the first time of many when I blew up everything I could pin a stick of dynamite to, came at sixteen. They have been a regular feature all my adult life, some worse than others, longer than others.
Winston Churchill called his episodes The Black Dog. He would talk about being visited by his black dog friend. I think it is kind of unfair to dogs, personally. Mine is a cold shadow, a cold, cold, shadow that follows silent and bold, tramping and stamping through my life.
Lots of things about depression suck but one of the things which sucks most is the fundamental misunderstanding of those who have never experienced any mental aberrations. Depression isn’t about being filled with bad feelings but there is plenty of that. Depression is more than feeling bad.
Depression is the inability to feel good. Let me repeat. I can not feel good. Nothing feels good. No thing brings happiness. Love old musicals? Sucks being you because you are dead inside and Gene Kelly can do nothing. Literature? Sorry to hear that but Proust is a crock of shit. Sunny day? Fuck the sun. Music? Fuck that too.
If you learn nothing else from me, learn this. If depression was nothing but feeling bad, it could all be cured by flooding the brain with endorphins, going outside for some sun, or, maybe my mother would be right and it could be fixed with a shower and some lipstick. But it isn’t about feeling bad. Everyone feels bad. Everyone feels pain. It is the essence of the human condition. Pain isn’t a bad thing. It is, that’s all. It exists.
Being depressed means my brain can’t process the good things. I don’t get flooded with happy brain chemicals when I get a little sun or go to the movies. My brain is a bubble off plumb.
The other thing about depression that sucks a big ball of suck is, to paraphrase a horror movie, the calls are coming from inside my own head. Depression tells me my writing sucks. I’m too old to be published. Depression says I’ll never be anyone’s darling. I’m going to die alone and no one will want my dog. Depression tells me I’ve wasted my life and there’s no use in trying for anything now. It’s too late. The parade is passed. The party is over. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
After a lifetime of fighting, a lifetime of picking up the battered bits of a life, I get so tired. I get so, so, tired. I remember what it was like when my daughter was a toddler and all my days were divided into bits of work and I was always disappointing someone and I was always so tired and there was always laundry and I thought this would be my life, forever and ever amen. I was twenty-four and everything was over.
I know I will get through this and I know this is not how it will always be. But right now? Right now, it is rough. All of the detritus of three years of cancer treatment has caught up with me. There are nightmares about being back in the hospital.
Years and years ago, I was involved in a serious car accident. A friend pulled me from the totaled car. The next thing I remember is laying on a stretcher and being put in the back of an ambulance. I caught a glimpse of the car. The passenger side of the front seat, where I had been sitting, no longer existed. It was just…gone. It was gone. I started shaking. Violently. I vomited. The EMT said it was adrenaline, the rush of not dying.
That’s what it is like now. The rush of not dying. Realizing what a close call it was. A heady mixture of fear and confusion and surprise. And then, the adrenaline lets go and it’s all, I don’t know, empty?
So, I’m trying to figure out what comes next. How long will it be before I feel okay again? How long before I get some working white blood cells? How long before I don’t mark each month as X months since chemo ended? How long before I can trust the good to come around again?
I’ve planted my flag here. I’m going to wrestle these questions down to the ground and get something out of them if it takes me til next week. I’m not letting depression and cancer and death and despair and bad nights out of this ring until the referee calls it. It’s the fight of the century and we’re only in the fourth round.