For the longest time, the page was the only safe space I had.
When I lost my writing voice for five years as a result of major depressive disorder, that one safe space disappeared. I started withering away; the vocation for which I had sacrificed so much and which defined me became a fading memory.
As my brain began to atrophy and cannibalize itself, the illness attacked everything that made me me. My trademark sunniness and good humor vanished. My playfulness died, and my ability to see beauty in everything and everyone disappeared. A world I had up to then experienced in vibrant technicolor became black and white.
Soon, everything blended into the uniform gray of inescapable sadness reflected in my eyes.
Even when I made a superhuman effort to crack a smile, my gaze betrayed me and remained that of someone who was barely alive. I could no longer recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror.
I had become a stranger to myself, the plaything of an illness intent on killing me.
Without the financial wherewithal to access therapy, I got increasingly worse.
Anthony Bourdain’s death jolted my brain and triggered a fight or flight response. Someone I had never met but related to in many ways had shown me my future.
It was a future I didn’t want.
The only way to escape what looked like a certain fate was to reconnect with words.
While vocation can be a blessing, it becomes a curse when you find yourself unable to practice it.
Mine wasn’t a simple case of writer’s block but a complete inability to string words together.
I couldn’t think.
My brain was a small child throwing a tantrum, rolling over on the floor, screaming in outrage, and refusing to budge. My mind was pure psychic pain that defied language. If you know Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream”, this is how living in my head felt for five years.
When you can’t think, you can’t write. You can type if you’re lucky but what comes out is nonsense.
As my survival instinct kicked in, I realized I’d have to face the page again if I was to save myself. And so I did, eking out fragments of text that were so steeped in angst and pain they were unpublishable. It took me a while until I ended up with an essay, it took me even longer to work up the courage to share it and out myself as a fallible and imperfect human.
Birthing this new beginning was a deeply painful and traumatic process that left me reeling.
Vulnerable, still unsteady on my feet, and with no clue how to proceed, I was once again the mother of children made of ink and paper, or rather pixels and data packets.
With motherhood comes great responsibility, and that first essay meant I had rekindled my vocation.
If only I could salvage it, I thought it might just save me.
I started using words as little bricks to build bridges toward fellow humans.
I desperately needed to break out of isolation and loneliness.
Because depression felled me as soon as I immigrated to America in 2013, I never got the chance to build a network of my own.
Because I married someone who has no friends, I never got the chance to tap into an existing network either.
Because depression turned me into a hermit, I never got the chance to reach out to anyone.
Cue a five-year nap I almost didn’t wake up from.
Turning to mental health advocacy was the most logical thing in the world so I embraced radical honesty and resolved not to hold back. To this day, this commitment continues to inform my writing.
Like an embedded journalist in a war zone, I am in the middle of a crisis I often fear I may not survive. And yet, I feel duty-bound to document it.
Most days, distress, doubt, and despair are strafing me from all sides, day and night. Old demons from a traumatic past have come back to life now that I am spending so much time in France with my family while Stage IV cancer keeps trying to kill my stepmom.
Early on in the proceedings, the mutual rescue mission that saw another human and I attempt to save each other’s life collapsed. I discovered that when someone tells you deception is their stock-in-trade you may want to keep your distance.
This, I believe, is the point they were trying to make.
And make it they most certainly did.
Words are my flashlight, the one tool that cuts through the fog of depression.
To write, I must maintain the ability to think.
After my strange friend vanished into thin air, my thinking and reasoning capacities got more and more impaired.
Against all odds, muscle memory kept me going. Prior to this, I had spent several months reactivating the editorial habits acquired over many years working as a journalist and found out they could still be relied upon.
I did have my doubts at first but making myself write and not come up for air until I have produced copy that has legs never fails. It is a way of working that remains hardwired in me.
At the beginning of the year, the above was the reality of depression, the reality of going it alone, the reality of trying to be present for others when no one was there for me. I didn’t know how long I’d be able to keep going like this as my body was already malfunctioning in myriad ways, some more worrying than others.
Because I was determined to pull myself out of depression and hardship regardless of circumstances, I kept writing to defy the impossible. In the midst of chaos, burgeoning friendship offered me its hand to hold and a safe space to escape to whenever needed. This time, it’s not letting go and this caring presence is a source of much ongoing strength, even on those days when I feel I’ve got nothing left to give.
When I set out to rebuild a life that works, word by word, I didn’t know whether it could be done, or even how.
The only way to find out what you’re capable of is to take action.
You might just be surprised by what happens once you do.