The depressive brain is a minefield.
Depending on what kind of day I’m having, unexploded landmines can go off at any time and sideswipe me. Sometimes stress overload will zap my hard-won energy. Other times, my brain is so foggy as a result of insomnia I can barely think let alone focus, not even when I stick myself under the coffee machine with a funnel in my mouth.
Being functional is a daily challenge; no two days are the same and wellness is never a given.
Instead, my brain tends to reset itself overnight — when I can sleep, which doesn’t always happen — and life isn’t so much about progress as it is about keeping the dictator in my head in check.
This is because my depression is chronic, which means unlikely to ever disappear. The best I can hope for is to learn to live with it, by knowing its triggers and how to deflect and override them. My depression is like an unwanted guest who overstayed their welcome and ended up moving in permanently, turning me into a stranger in my own head.
Much as I would like to show it the door for good, it’s always lying in wait, ready to pounce even when I have good days. To prevent this from happening, I must force myself to maintain a certain level of mental agility and protect the writing voice to which I owe my life. If I don’t, chances are it could disappear again.
In short, I can’t afford to neglect any of the signs my brain sends me.
For to do so would mean putting myself at risk of collapse again.
Ihave had to accept uncertainty will always be part of my life.
Although I yearned for stability after years of peripatetic living, it hasn’t had the effect I expected. Being in one place became very literal as I retreated into my own head before I even had the chance to develop a network of my own.
I had just immigrated to the US when depression kicked me in the teeth and left me unable to do much of anything for five long years. As my household sank into hardship, I wound up cut off from the world, which included my family and friends abroad.
As I had married someone who prefers their own company, there was no ready-made group of friends to tap into either, and the effects of isolation proved particularly deleterious to my mental health.
Many parts of me went missing, in fact most of them did to the point when I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.
When you put together a jigsaw puzzle, you try and start with the outside, the edge pieces. This was me, with an empty middle and a stack of odd bits on the side that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere with this new American life.
I began to feel redundant and gather dust. Having always operated from a place of ongoing cultural exchange and learning, I didn’t know this could ever become a unilateral pursuit. I kept learning but none of what I had to offer and transmit interested anyone. Not my husband, not my new American family.
My cats did become multilingual, and that was the extent of it.
Europe was a treasure no one wanted to share, a treasure I hoarded with increasing sadness and nostalgia. Worse, I was shunned by my new family for two long years on account of my national origin, education, profession, lack of financial wealth. Having a fellow immigrant hating on me was batshit crazy, but it’s not unheard of.
With my culture in storage, my sense of self stifled and started dissolving. Depression turned every day into an unknown, a blank page I was unable to fill with anything other than the inarticulate mumbles of dread.
This lasted for five years, bar for one professionally published piece. The shock of Trump’s election caused editorial muscle memory to kick in but PTSD made it unsustainable. Having a sexual predator in the White House was bad news for all the sexual abuse survivors among us, and it remains something we have to deal with daily.
But this was the first tangible, gut-wrenching manifestation of fear that would eventually spur me into action and help me come back to life.
Fear was a chilling epiphany, the sudden realization that staying alive was no longer guaranteed.
Meaning I had to stop taking tomorrow for granted, as I’d always done. We humans are forward-looking creatures and happily project ourselves into the future. Only I had lost that ability and started contemplating my own mortality instead, wondering how I could embrace it sooner.
And all this played out day after day on a self-contained battlefield within my own head no one had access to. Too cash-strapped to get help, under suspicion of malingering, alienated from my family, I was all I had.
When you don’t feel like enough but are all you’ve got, trust you are enough.
Human nature is hardwired for life, and this conditioning kicks in when we least expect it, when we most need it. Our survival instinct carries us when we no longer have the conscious strength to keep going, and no, I had no idea. It’s one thing to read about this, and quite another to experience it.
Then again, I cannot trust my broken brain and rely solely on this survival instinct without putting in any effort because it may eventually fail me.
In other words, there’s always the possibility I may fail myself. Hence the all-pervading sense of uncertainty and the visceral need to keep pushing forward and to give life all I’ve got, day after day.
No respite, no truce.
Resisting depression is a full-time job.
And vocation is a vital part of it for me. Luckily, I didn’t lose it and such is my enduring belief in the power of words that I gravitated back to writing to try and pull myself out of illness and hardship.
After such a long hiatus, writing still sometimes feels like relearning to walk, and I have moments when I’m crawling again. Although I’ve taken many steps forward, I’ve also taken a few steps back.
But the airtight bubble of depression has finally burst, I punctured it with my pen and made a hole big enough to stick my head out.
And breathe, at last.
And when I did, I was surprised to see other humans around this bubble of mine. I had forgotten there were people in the world, and that I was in the world too, albeit at a remove. The puzzle pieces of my life were neatly stacked where I had left them. They hadn’t been moved, they’re still pristine, still usable, against all odds.
The page can break your fall and reconnecting with fellow humans through writing can change your life, help you gain perspective, and stop you from falling deeper into to the rabbit hole of depression.
The battle starts anew every morning; the war continues.
But even though it might feel like it, remember you’re never alone: We are an army.
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.