Do or die.
Little did I know this overused phrase would one day come to sum up my own predicament.
In 2013, major depressive disorder felled me shortly after I immigrated to the US and attempted to kill me for five years. It will never stop trying as my condition is chronic but I’ve learned to take the blatherings of the parasite in my head for what they are: propaganda.
It’s a well documented fact that depression lies; it hijacks your mind and corrupts your thought process until you can no longer distinguish your voice from the disease’s.
In practice, this invariably translates into a loss of confidence as depression presents as a gradual erosion of the self.
In extreme cases, you may come to the conclusion life is no longer worth living because being is pure pain you desperately need relief from.
Depression destroyed everything. It took away my writing voice and with it the ability to support myself, creating resentment within my marriage as my partner saw me a lazy, not sick. Too cash-strapped to get well and access the therapy I needed, I spent five years biding my time until I could find the courage to take my own life.
This was the one thought running through my mind on a loop after I was left to hold my own hand. I had already resigned myself to death and all that was left to figure out what how to execute my plan.
I realized I didn’t want it.
Instead of choosing to die, I chose to do.
Do you have any idea of what it takes to save your own life?
I did not and I’m still finding out. Suffice to say choosing to live is just the beginning but by no means magical because it takes action to turn ideas into reality.
A year ago, Bourdain’s death forced me to change obsessions. Instead of being obsessed with death and darkness, I became obsessed with life and how to re-enter it after living in stasis for so long.
The answer was as obvious as it was impossible: write.
Despite being a journalist by profession and vocation, my inability to think put the kibosh on my career. And yet, not a day went past when I didn’t long to get back to it even though my mind kept vetoing the idea for five whole years.
When you can’t think, you can’t write.
To add insult to injury, I could barely read as my ability to focus was gone. But I still forced myself to do it and it is my public library card that kept my mind on life support by providing the intellectual stimulation I needed.
When language and communication are your raison d’être, there’s nothing more soul-destroying than staring at a paragraph for an hour. During my darkest hours, words would refuse to yield their meaning and they’d dissolve into a collection of characters instead.
And yet, the more I felt my grip on sanity loosen, the more books I borrowed.
It wasn’t unusual for me to go on a holds rampage and spend a couple of hours picking out books that sounded interesting on the library website.
I reasoned that some were bound to jump-start my brain and provoke thoughts, ideas, and eventually words of my own.
Because vocation had always driven me I trusted it still could, even after I understood I would have to relearn how to do my job.
As long as I remained guarded about my mental health, words and lifelong editorial habits resisted me.
My copy was flat and generic, the kind of filler that clogs up the internet and is anathema to my profession. Hiding behind a pseudonym was unhelpful, too, and the worst idea I ever had.
So I turned the pen on myself, updated everything with my legal name, and set out documenting depression. To do so, I resolved not to redact anything or shy away from the many repercussions the illness can have on a human life, some of which shrouded in shame.
From resentment to isolation to alienation to sexual dysfunction to coming back to life, I cover it all. And the more I do, the more shame crumbles.
And I used to carry a lot of it, so much so that it regularly threatened to crush me. For example, how do you come to terms with your partner’s apathy when you’re in pain? How do you explain the person you committed to didn’t see you as worth saving? How do you reclaim a solid sense of self when everything around you sends back the message that you’re worthless, unlovable, and a burden?
Short answer: cats. My guardian angels in furs don’t judge.
Long answer: fellow humans.
No matter how determined and capable you might be, you can’t go it alone in life.
However, when you’ve been steeped in isolation for five years and married someone whose social circle is a dot, i.e. you, this is a problem.
I do welcome problems as they are a strong indicator of self-awareness and point to the potential for creativity and change.
What are solutions but creativity in action?
Identifying problems was the first sign of progress.
Rather than view my situation as terminal as I did for five years, I started taking it apart as I sought to understand the genesis of depression.
Little by little, a clearer picture started emerging and I was able to start working on solutions and locating the missing pieces of my self.
This is what I am still in the middle of doing, and whatever self I end up with will always be a work in progress and different from the 2013 configuration.
The person I was before depression hit is gone. While the person I am and am becoming bears some resemblance to her, I’m not her anymore. Word by word, interaction by interaction, I’m rebuilding a life, changing and transforming every day.
Although this process can be exhilarating as I rediscover what makes me me and open up my life to accommodate more people, places, and prose, it hurts, too. Epiphanies happen thick and fast, and understanding things I struggled with for years can be painful.
While the truth will set you free, this freedom can be a slap in the face, a kick in the teeth, or a punch in the gut.
But that’s the price to pay so I pony up while trying to protect myself from potential setbacks.
Sometimes, I fail and end up in crisis management mode again, blind panic washing over me as I scramble for something to hold on to so I can weather yet another storm.
Every life needs human landmarks.
I lost nearly all of mine when I immigrated to the US and am finding them again now that I’m back in Europe.
Being here feels like hallucinating a lot of the time. I came back to help my parents navigate the harrowing reality of my stepmom’s Stage IV cancer, the illness to which I owe my unwavering focus.
Even though mine is still a very precarious financial situation, burnout looms constantly, and I’m living out of a suitcase, I’m more alive than ever.
Cancer does not define our daily reality, love does. It is love that guides every single thing we do, both individually and as a family; it is love that keeps me up at night working instead of resting.
It is love that holds us together.
And it is love that defines us, humans, grows us, and sustains us in the face of hardship. Whether this love goes by the name of vocation, family, friendship, or those mutual appreciation societies of two known as couples, it is the secret sauce.
Maybe your back is against the wall as mine was or your current life just doesn’t fit anymore but everything is possible if you have love on your side.
Even if your life is empty of people and passion for now, those will inevitably make themselves known once you commit to change.
Life is possibilities while death is the impossibility of life.
Don’t wait until do or die is your only choice.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist 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.