I can’t remember exactly when depression started feeling like an invisibility cloak.
The erosion of self was gradual and happened over the five years I lost to major depressive disorder in a country where health care is just another commodity. Because I never had the means to cover the co-pays for therapy despite having insurance, I was left to hold my own hand.
In the consumerist and capitalist country that is America, it makes more financial sense to discard than to fix. With humans as with things, time is money: Why expand energy and resources on mending something that is ultimately disposable?
To those still seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act, poor sick folks should just disappear and die so as not to drag the rest of the country down.
When you live in a culture that despises you the moment you become fallible and have no money to throw at the problem, no wonder you stand to lose your humanity.
And when that happens, the self inevitably follows.
My existence soon becomes a cost-cutting exercise.
In my household, there is scant sympathy for my predicament at the beginning, then resentment sets in when it becomes clear I’m in this for the long-haul.
After a while, resentment morphs into reluctant resignation then apathy. I eventually have to accept I’m facing illness alone. This isn’t unusual as many partners and relatives are inclined to disbelieve what they cannot see. With depression, you need to take a sufferer’s word for it, which implies empathy and trust.
Or not, as the case may be.
As I turn into a negative dollar sign, my humanity becomes questionable.
Rather than a desirable asset with excellent earning potential based on languages and international experience, I’m a financial liability, another bill to juggle rather than a full-fledged human with a broken brain and a breaking heart.
So I learn to keep my thoughts, feelings, and emotions to myself lest they should spill out and make a mess. On the rare occasions they do, confrontation happens, followed by silence that can last for days on end, weeks even. I am unseeable to all but the cats.
It is very bizarre and adds to my disappearing sense of self.
Extreme self-control thus becomes an urgent matter of self-preservation, as does keeping out of harm’s way by any means necessary. I take to isolating a lot, it’s a lot safer than letting anyone in only for my most intimate thoughts to be used as ammunition and thrown back in my face in a fit of irrepressible anger.
Before I learn to conceal emotions, I do break down a few times. Collapsed on the floor into a shaking heap of sobs, I’m sure I’ll never see my family again. Back then, life is so unbearable I want nothing to do with it anymore and suicidal ideation is frequent albeit unrealistic: There is no way my husband can afford a funeral.
You see, depression doesn’t preclude self-awareness, and I’m never not fully cognizant of the financial burden I’ve become even as I slowly disappear into the disease.
Much as I long for the absence of pain, I also long for the familiar, my best friend in England, my family in France… plus a language and a culture I set aside years before and whose absence feels like self-harm although I won’t understand any of this for the longest time.
For five years, I fade away a little more each day.
Depression steals almost everything that makes me me but for curiosity. Haunted by a vocation I can no longer practice because my writing voice has gone. You missing, I remain a voracious reader. Clinging to life in a strange way through the words of others, I try to keep my brain from erasing me even more.
In the midst of it all, I also lose my name and first become “Missus” — still existing, but only in relation to one other human — and then “that.”
Even my cats aren’t a “that.”
When language skirts around you and dismisses your humanity, what’s left?
What or who even are you?
Being reduced to an illness keeps you down.
But I’m not a pathology, I’m not major depressive disorder, and I certainly am not the face of it either. I just happen to be one sufferers among millions. Depression is the parasite that colonized the host and initiated a hostile takeover but the disease and I will never become synonymous.
And at no point in the last five years do I not have a name. Granted, there aren’t many people around to use it as ours is a life steeped in loneliness. And yet, mail and magazines still arrive addressed to me, the person. On the rare occasions someone uses my name, I perk up for days. This may explain why I’m uncommonly fond of my dentist. In five years, he’s the one medical professional I see more often than anyone else and he’s very personable indeed.
At the time of writing, I’ve left the country that kept me sick for five years and I’m in Europe. Little did I expect this journey to lead me to an unexpected destination: back to myself. This is a curious side effect of being here to lend moral and practical support to my father as my stepmom undergoes further treatment for Stage IV cancer.
I’m coming back to life against all odds in circumstances that are less than ideal but empowering nonetheless. Because I have to think on my feet, come up with solutions, and take action every single day to make the impossible happen.
There’s freedom in creativity. There’s freedom in resourcefulness.
There’s freedom in reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be.
It is intoxicating. Even though those are stressful and exhausting times, I approach every new day with anticipation rather than dread. Crisis management and contingency plans don’t even faze me.
After years in stasis, I welcome and relish opportunities to step up, help, and create a life that works rather than exist despite myself. And I’m lucky to have remembered the one language, country, and culture capable of holding me together through all this.
In the middle of the storm, a safe haven does exist, both for me and my parents for however long they still have together.
Because everything always comes down to people. My family and I hold each other up, and my broken brain doesn’t make me any less real to them, or indeed to you.
When you came along, you saw the fellow human hidden behind the curtain of depression and the walls of text.
You didn’t just look and walk on, you saw and stopped.
And you lent me your eyes so I could see myself again.
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.