real words for wonderful people

two weeks ago i e-mailed the most beautiful people in my life
to talk about my depression

this is what i said

this is my sixth year of sadness.   i am writing this to people who i know and love and people who somehow make me believe that there might be something slight inside of me that is worth preserving.  i am writing this to talk about me and all of you and my life and how i need to live to get better.

getting better is really a vague thing to say and it might make sense to a lot of you but in very different ways and so i am going to clarify.  when i say get better, i mean so many things but mostly to get away from here, where ‘here’ is some kind of spatial metaphor for darkness, abyss, etc, etc, but really means depression and mental illness and all of those things that have arrested any kind of potential in my life.  the actual diagnosis is beyond me; my doctors keep adding little terrifying qualifiers in front of “severe depression” and i’m not sure which are medical and which are not, but essentially it is an ‘extremely’ severe and chronic depression.  most of you know, either through me or fantastic loops of gossip, that i have been depressed for the past 6 years, with little bursts of eating disorders and self-harm every few months.  this hasn’t exactly been the best kept secret, but with a million celebrities appearing on tv this week screeching that we should all talk, it occurred to me that the slightest secrecy isn’t working all that well for me.   my depression is something i have never fully been open with to anyone.  i always use words to understate everything that is in my mind so that people won’t worry.  keeping depression a secret was always because i didn’t want people to worry.  there is a lot of secret shame in harbouring this little dark secret fugitive in my heart that i can’t show to anyone because that is exactly what it is, it is a darkness that happens to be a part of me and i hate it and myself most of the time and i can’t bear to show it to people because it is so ugly. 

last june when i was in toronto was when i had one of my more terrifying breakdowns.  i was suddenly alone in a city that i do not love.  there was no trigger or cause, i just descended into depression almost immediately and it was just complete darkness.  my mind was out of control and suddenly obsessed with suicide and self-harm and i was so tremendously alone and i really don’t know what happened.  something dark and horrible seized my mind, and the only shred of self that was left of me sat silenced and scared.  all i could do really was try to focus on everything outside of me and summon all of my strength to pretend that everything was okay, which it was not.  when i left i was alive, with little scars all over but there was still life in me so it was okay.  after that week i took a teary plane ride to montreal with a lot of sobbing while porter attendants hurled baked goods at me in kindhearted efforts to pacify my wails.  but i got there and things were a bit better while a stayed with my aunt who threw her baby upon me and screamed baby therapy! and i cooed with a baby and that was that (but not really.  really i just talked to my aunt a lot and she is a therapist, which was probably very convenient.  i did still coo at the baby though).  there is more to this story that i will not say now.

i spent all of june in bed.  since then i have had two severe breakdowns (or rather, ‘major depressive episodes’ if you would like me to be all DSM V-y about it).  the worst was in november, and the second one started in very early january.  i spend all of my time in bed.  i can usually gather the energy to leave the house for about 3 hours at a time, but after that i come home and return to bed, slightly more miserable and slightly more exhausted than before.  sometimes i just can’t get out of bed. when i try i collapse on the ground crying for no reason at all.  sometimes the physical pain of depression makes it hard to move.  i am catatonic and actually can’t physically move my legs.   when i am in bed i just cry and cry and cry, sometimes for hours at a time, and my dog licks the tears-mascara concoction off my face and i think ohmygodwhatismylifethisispathetic and cry a lot more. most people i talk to tell me they wish they understood, but they don’t.  the truth is, i don’t understand happiness either.  i look at people around me and see that a lot of them got out of bed because they wanted to, and they are all alive on purpose instead of in spite of everything and i just don’t get it.  i wish i did.

i don’t think i have ever been ashamed to say that i have depression, and i’m not now.  but i am ashamed of what being depressed means about who i am.  what i am ashamed to say is that i spend roughly 16 hours a day in bed, my perpetual habitat. that depression means that i am an inadequate friend in a lot of ways, and that i can’t always be there for the people who need me because i am quite simply not there at all.  i am ashamed that i can’t enjoy even the most wonderful things in my life.  i am ashamed that even though i can tell you all about food security and malnourishment in the global south sometimes i can’t eat a sandwich without throwing up and being upset for the next three days about how disgusting i look.  i am ashamed that every time i walk anywhere alone i recite my personal depreciative fugues ‘i am worthless’ (a little mantra donated to me by everyone’s favourite exboyfriend) over and over and over to the rhythm of my step.  i am ashamed that i believe that i am worthless and disgusting and am repulsed by myself even with tons and tons of therapy that tries to change that.  wherever i am, i never want to be there.  i am ashamed that my life is full of reasons to be full of life and love and everything and all i can feel is uninterrupted despair, that even though i am surrounded by love, i feel completely alone and fully lonely

If I’m lonely
It’s with the row-boat ice-fast on the shore
In the last red light of the year
That knows what it is, that knows that it’s neither
Ice nor mud nor winter light
But wood, with a gift burning
(Adrienne Rich)
this message isn’t meant to herald my triumph over my little battle, but is an admission, apology, and promise.  it is not meant to make anyone worry about me.  my forever policy from when i was first diagnosed was to never let my self-harm ever hurt anyone; which meant never let anyone worry about me.  it was this little condition that has kept me alone.  because if i am being honest i am worried, and scared and terrified and i am not strong enough to tell people with any honesty at all that they don’t need to worry.  i don’t know what is going to happen, because from what my doctors tell me this will be with me for most of my life (the reassurance is in the prospect of remission), and will get worse and better and worse and better but sometimes my mind is just not my own and that is a scary thing. 

i can’t say don’t be worried, because i’m really scared.  i don’t know what will happen and i don’t know how to talk about it.  all i know is that my sadness has been a secret for too long; not a secret in that people haven’t known.  lots of people know that i am depressed.  i still hold it like a secret though; for the most part people see my sadness, no one would recognize me between the four walls of my room and bed, i’ve hidden that despair pretty safely in a lot of ways and people have been close but no one has ever seen or heard or felt my darker demons in all of their horrible realities.

the world is held together by secrets (Joyce Carol Oates)

these are the things that are happening in my mind and they are happening now and almost always and i am seeing doctors and my little eclectic team of mental health professionals who meet behind closed doors with timbits and clipboards to prod at my psyche and synapses. and it will probably get better.  the difference between now and two months ago is that for the first time in years, i see that it is possible for me to live past the age of 25.  the difference between before i wrote this message and now is that i am releasing myself from the secrecy of darkness and telling you that i am tired, i am weak, i am worn and i am scared. 

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m to tough for him
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see

all of you can see some kind of light in me that no matter how hard i try i just can’t seem to see myself.  i have spent a lot of months looking inside myself and just trying to get better, but this is not where answers are.  i don’t know what will happen next.  i don’t know if i will be hospitalized soon or not or later or not, or if i will make some miraculous recovery.  all there is left for me right now is to hold on to everything and everyone i love and wait.  getting better is an exhaustion, and it might take a few years of me launching myself back into the universe screeching triumph of new medication, while retreating two weeks later into my little cocoon of sadness.  so for now i will live truthfully and love people whenever i can.  this is to let you know that i am in here somewhere; the light or the something or the opus that you see inside of me is there but it is sleeping, and i am sick and might stay sick for some time but it will be back.

that is my promise: to stop mylovemyself from sleeping forever.  that is all i can promise because that is just about all the strength i can find right now.  i will live truthfully and honestly and show the world the sadness that seems to be all that is left of me now.  because maybe there if something to that, and maybe talking about it will sometime help someone somewhere.  and that is really all i want to be; something good in the world.  my depression will not be a secret anymore, and i figured you should be the people to know first.

march forward, march first

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