I am looking at the sign above the carriage door where a small orange dot lights up under the name of the next Métro station as we approach it.
Although I’m sitting down, I notice I’ve been bobbing my head to the music in my ears. I know I’ve got a giant grin on my face because my phone camera showed it to me earlier. An involuntary selfie happened when trying to take a picture of the Paris Métro pink rabbit as the front camera was open.
Such random joy reminds me of long walks on the seafront in Hastings late at night, with music in my ears and having what’s best described as a party for one.
Back in England, life still held promise.
I was also younger and although I was already no stranger to bouts of depression, they always dissipated quickly. At the time, I had already lived, studied, and worked in several countries and was on the eve of yet another adventure, a move to one of Europe’s most remote outposts.
Life was interesting; everyone I loved was healthy and alive.
And my brain was daring me to keep learning and exploring.
Fast forward a decade and I’ve uprooted my life once more.
I’ve shelved my Pacific Northwest to go back to Europe and lend moral and practical support to my father as my stepmom undergoes further treatment for Stage IV cancer.
My best friend died last September, I lost five years of my life to major depressive disorder, and I’m never not exhausted or on the verge of collapse.
Being so carefree, in the moment, and delighting in every single note of the joyful track between my ears is an anomaly.
And I’m the first one surprised.
My brain isn’t shy about reminding me it still wants me dead, especially when the going gets tough. My depressive sidekick is the chronic kind therefore suicidal ideation is a feature of my mental landscape.
And my father’s condo is on the 16th floor.
Only I won’t open the window and step out, no matter how bad things get. My grandfather was a POW who had a first row seat to the atrocities of the Holocaust and although it’s never a given, life is a gift you don’t squander around here.
In my family, you endure whatever it throws at you until you’ve either come through the other side, or found a way to accommodate lifelong challenges. Like Stage IV cancer. Or a malfunctioning brain. Which isn’t to say we’re not fallible humans who never break down, quite the opposite. We’ve been doing a lot of this lately, both separately and together, but we’re taking this constant vulnerability in our stride.
Being in limbo is taking its toll on my father and stepmom; I have been rebuilding a life word by word for over a year now and still survive on very limited funds despite putting in the work and the relentless hours seven days a week.
I have to trust I’ll find a way to keep going and thrive anyway because this is what my brain always used to do before depression felled me. And even though my household has never not struggled to pay bills and buy groceries, I still made it to Paris and even further afield.
Through the strength of my words.
Before all this, depression did turn me into my worst enemy.
After it silenced my writing voice and took away my livelihood, I started believing I would never work again. And because I could never access therapy due to reduced circumstances, I was convinced my life was over.
In short, I had given up even trying to imagine alternatives.
Depression favors the repetition of self-destructive propaganda until you’ve internalized it. And become one with the illness, identifying with it so completely your sense of self disappears.
My internal monologue became the voice of depression.
When you can’t even remember who, what, and why you are, it’s impossible to focus on the how because you’ve lost the ability to care and for the best part of five years, I did not care.
I had no interest in life because a life without vocation — writing — means absolutely nothing to me. The future was a just a word, the present torture, and the past something I longed for but would never get back.
I stood still until I started asking myself why my past still mattered so much. After all, my entire personal narrative is a repository of traumatic events. And yet, I had always offset them with interestingness, bounced back, and landed on my feet. What’s more, I had never shied away from taking the road less traveled.
And as is the case now, it was always all on me.
I forged ahead regardless so it stood to reason I could do it again if only I could remember how to.
Curiosity and intuition have always been my guide, my heart my compass.
Once I started developing compassion for my own predicament, things got easier. I began wondering how I could generate an income and the answer was immediate and came straight from the heart: write.
Alas, this was the one thing I thought I could no longer do.
So what would it take to do it again? What if I could shed the shame and stigma that had blighted my life for years? What if I adopted a radically honest approach, would it free my writing voice from all that had silenced it?
Although deeply counter-intuitive, doing this jolted my brain.
Instead of fantasizing about that which I could not have like a therapist, I envisioned what it’d be like to be functional once more. I envisioned rewriting a life. I envisioned flying back to Paris and seeing the New Year in with my family.
Vision rather than fantasy is what kept me moving forward despite setbacks.
No matter how challenging the vision, it uses facts and strategic thinking as foundation. Fantasy, meanwhile, is a flight of fancy that doesn’t take reality into account and stands no chance of ever coming to fruition.
That’s the difference between seeing possibilities — no matter how small — and being paralyzed by impossibility.
Depression is a mental parasite that feeds on inertia and favors apathy.
The surest and gentlest way to give both a nudge is to try envisioning possibilities, even very modest ones.
Progress is incremental; whether your first step is a walk to the mailbox or a trip to the grocery store (both of those were mine), who knows where it might lead?
You too could end up in a place you thought you’d never seen again absorbed in a happy song for as long as it lasts and mildly surprised at how everything changes, even against all odds.
And yes, of course I put the song on repeat because it symbolizes human warmth and all that can happen in the space of a year when you dare take on the world.
Take heart; few situations are ever as intractable as they feel in the moment.
Also, we’re all far more capable than we give ourselves credit for if only we allow ourselves to imagine an alternative to what is despite the parasite in our head telling us it’s impossible.