This piece is inspired by the recent and tragic deaths of Kate Spade (of whom I am a huge fan) and Anthony Bourdain
It’s really hard, truly arduous, possibly impossibly difficult for me to write about my depression and I’m not sure why. My depression tells me it’s because I’m becoming illiterate, but I’m trying not to listen to her anymore. I’ve started this essay in multiple notebooks, on several Word documents, and have innumerable scribblings saved on one app or another. I’ve tried to write about my depression while I’m depressed, but indecision is a vicious and unexpected side effect that taunts me and hides the words. I’ve tried to write about my depression after I’ve recovered from a particularly poisonous bout of it, but I’m usually too hollowed out and agitated to write anything profound, or even accurate. The words tumble out of my pen and onto the page, but take nothing of substance with them. The first draft of this essay included an analogy comparing that sensation to what I imagine the deserts of Southern California are like after the Santa Ana winds sweep through them, but it didn’t fit with the rest of the paragraph, and I realized I should progress with the essay instead of including the analogy. Writing about depression is hard. Analogies are comforting while depression is confusing.
Society doesn’t know what to make of depression. Its syllables are misleading. Sometimes the soft “s” and gentle hum of the “shun” roll off the tongue and lull us into a false sense of familiarity, complacency. This happens when the phrase “I’m depressed” becomes synonymous with the phrases “I’m stressed,” “I’m tired,” or “I haven’t consumed real food in four days and am subsisting on tap water and stale Cheetos I found in my desk.” And this happens, as my friend pointed out to me, when people end text messages and social media posts with the three letters “kms,” short for “killing myself.” Depression is deceptively easy to talk about when we don’t pay attention to the word.
When we are mindful of what we are saying, “depression” is almost impossible to pronounce. It’s as if the inherent weight of each syllable suddenly becomes apparent and the heavy awkwardness of every letter gets lodged in our throats. This happens when we view depression as a weakness, or a figment of the imagination. When we forget how to pronounce “depression” we say things like “Why are you sad? You should be happy,” “Just get over it. Everybody gets sad sometimes. If you were really sad, I’d know,” and “Can you believe they killed themselves? I wonder why they did that. I didn’t even know they were struggling.”
Sometimes “depression” is hard for me to pronounce, or understand, but my depression is not for you to scrutinize. You do not have the right to find fault with my descriptions. You do not have the right to judge me for struggling. You do not have the authority to teach me how to cope, or tell my methods are incorrect. My coping methods are between me and my therapist. And please remember that depression, like the common cold, does not discriminate based on gender, class, race, or education. Anyone can become ill, and like the common cold, some days I’m able to “power through” while some days I’m not.
When I’m depressed, my mental illness has a voice, a very distinct, shrill voice that bounces off the bones of my skull. It’s like some random kid in a candy shop who somehow knows that I love children and chocolate and has decided to follow me around with a megaphone until I give her what she wants. However, instead of harassing me for chocolate, the incessant child that is my depression says things like, “Don’t go to class! You’ll fail anyway,” “You don’t deserve to eat today. You haven’t even gotten out of bed,” “You have no talent,” and “Your friends don’t care about you. That’s why they don’t notice you’re unhappy.” She’s a joy, really. Sometimes I give in to her, and I take a nap or skip class and spend the entire day in my room, pretending I’m not home so my roommates don’t bother me. The voice makes some pretty compelling arguments when you’re forced to listen to her all day, and she knows it. If I give into her one day, she’ll come back even louder and more demanding the next. Her appetite is astounding, never satisfied.
Depression is exhausting. She’s a dominatrix of laziness who arrives unannounced, has forgotten the safe word, and who shows no mercy. She ties me to the bed and keeps me there. The bondage is so oppressive I can’t even wiggle free to escape to Spanish class, where attendance is mandatory, or reach my phone and inform my best friend that ‘I am very sorry, but I have to bail again and please don’t be mad.’ She keeps me imprisoned even when I need to shower because the crumbs from the Chick-fil-a I’ve been surviving on have embedded themselves into my skin, and my hair has molded itself to the exact shape of my pillow because it’s become such an unexpected combination of greasy and crunchy. The dominatrix that is my depression controls even my food intake. She works closely with the petulant child inside my skull to ensure I stick to a strict diet of chocolate, fried food, and alcohol. This is how she keeps me submissive.
Sometimes my depression acts as Novacaine for my mind and for my soul. It fogs my brain, muddles my thoughts, and numbs my emotions. This sounds terribly poetic, but in reality I am late to meetings and I get people to cover for me at work and I don’t see my friends because I can’t remember why I should go anywhere. It exacerbates any pre-existing indecision to a dangerous level, ensuring that when I do leave the comforting cocoon of my bedroom, I am tremendously late because I couldn’t decide if I should wear my red shirt or my blue shirt. I make callous decisions when my brain is numb. I sleep with people I don’t mean to sleep with. I spend money I don’t have. I enlist in classes I have no interest in pursuing, and I start unforgivable fights with my family members. I feel like a gummy bear that’s been left for too long in the sun. I just want to melt into the floor. Please let me melt. I’ll ruin my life if you don’t let me melt. Because, like Novacaine, the fog eventually fades and I’m left with the type of pain that dares me see how much wine I can drink alone in bed on a Tuesday night.
I don’t have scars to prove to you that I’m depressed, but I don’t need you to believe me. I don’t need you to help me, although if you want to take me for a walk to keep me mobile, that’s always appreciated. I don’t need your pity. I just need you to make it easier for people like me and Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and all of the billions of Americans who suffer, to speak up and get help. Try to understand that it’s hard, and we don’t mean to hurt you. It’s not you, it’s us, and the shapes depression shifts us into.