The garbage collectors outside are loud and infuriating. I want to go back to bed. I know I’m depressed when every noise makes me insane. I wear my headphones all day every day, just to get a break from the human condition — I need something else to help me breathe.
I hate how difficult depression is, how thick and tacky, or, not tacky, but belittling. Swampy, but without the wet. Disorienting. That feeling that everything is too much, that feeling that I’m pushing through oceans of gravity, that sense that even the flowers, the animals around, the things I otherwise would love are just impinging on my ability to be. I feel like I’m walking around wearing that lead apron that they cover you with at the dentist’s when they’re about to take an x-ray. And, too, I feel like I’m being continually x-rayed, like I’m wildly visible, like everyone can see my inside secrets — that’s how thin my skin has become. You can see my heart working to feed my body, you can see my lungs aching, you can see the deep lose worrying at each and every one of my bones.
Small tasks take on a great weight, they become all I can handle or not at all anything I can manage. Small tasks like listening to a phone message — enormous. The idea of getting a haircut — insurmountable. Call for a dental checkup — unimaginable.
It’s a cyclical thing for me, depression, maybe hormonal, but there’s a bigger cycle, too, beyond just monthly. At least I know, after all these years of wrangling with depression, that when I’m here at the low point, at least I know that I will rotate up and around again. It happens every time. I won’t stay here, in this overly weighted skin, these heavy muscles, these sad and patchy eyes, these feet that seem closer to and more stuck to the ground, harder to lift, harder to send forward into the world.
There’s nothing interesting about depression — except that it happens to all of us. Last night all I could manage was TV — it just wasn’t an option to turn on the computer, after being in front of one all day, and look at more of the bits of work that I didn’t have energy for. Instead we made dinner at home (something that’s rare for me to be able to do midweek, when the workshops are going), and we watched reruns. We talked a little bit about important things. We rested our brains against the back of the pabulum, the soft serve shows.
These are the things I do when depression weighs hard — I listen to music. Sometimes music that will help me cry: music that brings out the first layer of the sorrow under the depression, so I can see it, so it waves fat and colorful in front of me. Reminds me of what lives inside my skin. Sometimes music that helps me want to dance, sometimes, like this morning, just music that makes what makes movement an idea that doesn’t feel so nauseating, that feels like there are other people somewhere wrangling with the same thing and they just need this steady beat, this no words, this rhythm to remind themselves (us, ourselves), that when things are the hardest, you must keep moving. Or at least I must. This is the music that can hold me gentle into the bare bones of my routine: get out of bed (thing 1), write (thing 2), shower (thing 3), move out into the world (things 4-on).
Other things that sing to me through my depression, that can reach all the way inside: phone messages from friends (despite the fact that I leave them myself with the regularity of ice ages); splurging on a cup of coffee on the way to work; wearing fancy underpants; wearing earrings that dangle and sing in my ears (unless it’s also a cool enough day that I have to wear a scarf that the earrings will tangle and get caught in it– that just makes me crazy. Reading sometimes helps — unless it’s a hard depression, and then reading just reminds me that I don’t have a book, and I don’t have the energy to work on getting a book out into the world. And reading is the one activity I love most in the world (don’t tell writing — they ride pretty close to each other most days), so the stretches when I can’t read, when reading feels like a continual reminder of my failure (don’t you hate those inside voices?), well, those days just suck.
I don’t take drugs for my depression, unless you count wine, which you shouldn’t, and which I’m not applying at the moment to this current round. Wine doesn’t help anything except the tears come, sometimes, and that’s only under the right conditions. Usually it just helps to make it harder to get out of bed. Some other people in my family take drugs for their depression — I’ve thought sometimes that it could be helpful to get the drugs, to get pulled up chemically to some higher baseline, just far enough out of the hole to be able to walk upright and look at the sun without squinting in frustration. But then the cycle shifts around a snitch and the weight lifts up off me a bit and I’ve got energy again. I worry about getting attached to the chemical lift, the way I got attached to caffeine. I worry about getting to the place that I can’t function without the drugs, even as well as I do now. So I haven’t tried them yet. (Once I thought about St. John’s Wort, but then there are all those warnings to keep out of the sun when you’re taking it, and the sun is one of the other few things that helps me when I’m low — so that just seemed counterintuitive.)
Writing helps sometimes (especially the sitting in a cafe with a cup of strong coffee and my notebook and pen, with several hour stretching before me in which I have nothing to do except write). And eating decently does, too (which doesn’t include eating the piles of wheat and sugar that I crave most when I’m in this state and that’s kind of a drag). Being by the ocean can be good, when I can work that out — I mean, right physically next to the ocean’s constant wet breath, hearing the waves, walking on the lip of her life, especially when I can take off my shoes and take the wet to my soles, take the salt and sand. Especially when I can sing ridiculous songs alone to myself and her and no one else can hear us. And letting the tears and rage come, that helps especially — the other night, when I wrote in the workshop and it was one of the times that my own sorrow reared up hard enough during a workshop that I had to hold back my sobs, I felt the depression lift some, felt the full force of life tingling against my skin again, for a little bit, I remembered that I’m depressed because I’m just so fucking angry and sad about what was done to me and my sister and I don’t have enough places–and don’t take enough time–to let that all the way out.
We walk around a lot looking like everything is fine. We put on our pretty faces and we go out into the world. We answer the questions with simple lies: Thanks, I’m good! I’m fine, thanks for asking! Yep, things are going ok! We don’t tell our honest answers: I’m disintegrating, thanks for asking. I’m lost and sad. I don’t know what the next 5 minutes are going to bring. The pattern you’re wearing makes me want to tear out my eyes. All I can think about today is how he used to call my sister stupid, and how we’re still living with his voice in our brains, even all these years later. We think most people don’t want to hear these inside voices, and we learned well the difference between our inside and outside selves.
For me, depression is as regular as dirt. As regular as morning coffee. As regular, as normal, as bleeding every month. We do a weird sort of shuffly dance, me and depression. We recognize each other. I try to do the thing I encourage everyone to do, and be easy with myself when I feel this weight falling heavy on me. I will move out into the day and function, because that’s what I’ve learned how to do. That’s been my survival. Every dance is different. I hold on to the self, that teenage girl self, that struck up inside me more than 20 years ago, when I was pushing against suicidal, and thought, Tomorrow will be different. We just have to hold on until tomorrow. I don’t know how we came to believe that, all these selves in me: tomorrow often wasn’t different. And yet, a variation on the same horror is still a change, isn’t it. She wasn’t wrong. Every day there’s something different, there’s the possibility of change and growth and a break in the fog. And so just like I put myself in front of the page to see what will happen, I put myself out in the day. And the gears and cycles just keep on rotating in this body and this life, readjusting and learning and transforming.