I am collapsing in on myself, again.
Persistent exhaustion has given way to a feeling of gradual erasure, as if I were becoming a little less corporeal each day. I search in vain for what might reverse this process but the ever-reliable companionship of words remains elusive.
That which I seek to articulate seems to defy language, and the more I try to corral emotions into words, the more intense they become. Until they overwhelm me so completely I can no longer tell them apart; empathy, intuition, love, and distress get jumbled up into one great big dark mass.
It’s like you’ve fallen off a cruise ship in the middle of the night without triggering the man overboard alarm. You realize you must choose between shouting for help or trying to remember how to swim; alas, you do not have the mental and physical capacity for both.
In the midst of panic, this isn’t an easy choice to make. Who would hear you? Who would notice you’ve gone missing in your head again? Who would intuit your pain?
Chronic depression is a roller coaster ride.
How to come back to life after being stuck on a five-year ride where you couldn’t get off as your renegade brain went on countless loops isn’t obvious.
Instead, it’s a crash course on relearning how to be a human in the world, which inevitably involves how to feel, how to interact, how to love. And because I’m so out of practice, remembering all the above is a daily challenge on par with trying to figure out who I am now and how I live.
Going from not recognizing the person in the mirror to functional again is an epic transition and it doesn’t always go smoothly. Worse, sometimes it goes badly wrong, so wrong that my brain turns against me and reverts back to self-destruction mode.
Despite visible and quantifiable improvements that it refuses to process, my brain convinces me I’m not fit for life or for humanness.
If you somehow decide to shout for help as you’re drowning and no one hears you then it means they don’t care so why even should you?
Perhaps your voice didn’t carry but this thought doesn’t even cross your mind.
Or you spend so much time in your head that you believe your distress is visible; you’ve grown oblivious to the fact that it remains concealed within the confines of your cranium. You forget that, no matter how much they may care for you, others are not as intimately acquainted with your brain as you are. In short, they likely need pointers to figure out what’s happening to you so they can step in to offer comfort and support.
Regardless of how excruciating and messy the process, you need to try and find some words to convey what you’re going through.
If you cannot communicate then you cannot expect others to know how deeply distraught you are nor how to help you, no matter how observant they may be.
Depression is a double bind. It often takes away your communication skills and yet those are the very skills you depend on not to sink. Speech is hardest, short cryptic messages hinting that there’s an issue may not help much, but you might fare better in print.
Write it out.
Break down your breakdown.
Unpack everything without shying away from any aspect of your distress and don’t come up for air until you’re done.
Taking to the page will force you to focus until you find the words. What comes out will be raw and may even shock you and those who care about you but trust they’ll take it in their stride with patience, love, and compassion.
Language is a fickle beast your brain is wont to wrestle with when your inner dialogue is set to darkness and doom but you can wrangle it. Don’t let up until you find a name for everything, be it shame, humiliation, or rejection. Name it even if it stings, even if it burns, even if it makes you want to shed your skin because knowing what the causes of your pain are called automatically lessens it; this is the gift of perspective.
This is also the gift of flow. By inducing a meditative-like state, the focus required to write ends up decreasing your anxiety.
It also helps you catch your breath. Don’t worry about penning a perfect piece with zingers and colors that will create fireworks in the hearts of readers, just let the pain loose. Offload it. Nail it to the page. The amorphous great big dark mass is no more: You’ve teased out clearly identifiable components.
Then walk away and notice how you feel.
The first time I did this, I used my laptop as a floatation device while still in bed.
This was highly unusual for me as bed is a sacred space reserved for rest and intimacy. I read in bed but I do not work in bed, or did not until that fateful morning in Paris when depression decided otherwise. Because I was staying with my parents in their tiny condo, the bedroom I occupy is the only place I can isolate with the guarantee I won’t be disturbed.
As they’re busy tangling with the reality of stage 4 cancer, they don’t need to see, experience, or share my depressive reality as well. It’s not that they wouldn’t be sympathetic, it’s that they already have more than enough on their plate and I can’t possibly add to it. I came back to Europe to support them through this ordeal. That my family also ends up supporting me by showering me with love is a bonus, not an expectation, and not why I’m here.
I wiped my tears, put on a robe, ran to the living room, grabbed my computer, then came back to bed and spent a couple of hours sobbing violently while I typed.
By the time I was done, my face was dry and nothing looked quite as bleak as it did when I started writing.
I felt both mentally and physically spent.
But the words I had managed to commit to the page were proof I had weathered yet another storm. I hadn’t sunk; I hadn’t lost my voice again; I had remembered how to swim, and my print Mayday would eventually reach its target audience.
As a result, those who love me were able to take action, reassure me, and help me organize my thoughts again because I had done much of the ground work to make this possible.
Depression tells you you’re not worth helping; worse, it tells you you’re not worth helping yourself and yet who else knows you better than you do? Who else knows exactly what you need, what you yearn for, what would bring you some relief?
You’re an expert on you; not even mental health professionals have the kind of insight that you have into your inner world.
Also, it is quite unreasonable to expect those who love you to stand in for your therapist, assuming you can afford to enlist the help of one. I still haven’t been able to, which is why my life stalled for so long and the rebirth process is torturous, slow, and fraught with setbacks.
But happening regardless, day after day as it has been for the last year.
Emotions are clues and cues to act.
In the case of depression, they’re often the wrong clues and the wrong cues, a nonsensical mess you need to put some order in before you can do anything with it.
And you cannot parse depression from within but you might be able to report on it live. Like with all live broadcasts, expect technical difficulties, mishaps, and bloopers. It’s far more important to get the who, what, when, where, why, and how across in any way you can than to do a straight take.
Forcing yourself to get out of your head so you can share information is crucial here, how you go about it is not. You may have forgotten that you are far more capable than you think but you can always remind yourself. As a case in point, you’ve survived the illness so far, you’re still breathing, and you’re still here so take that as a testament of your commitment to life.
Even if it’s despite yourself, it is still valid so hang on to it.
Depression distorts everything; depression lies. But it isn’t your inner voice any more than it is what defines you or rules your life. It is a mental parasite that obfuscates, misleads, and undermines reason, intuition, and even knowledge.
In this context, feeling anything at all is extraordinary and feeling everything at once even more so.
Take this as good news: You’re not numb anymore.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.