I spent about 6 or 7 weeks of my life, just recently, mired so deep in melancholia it was difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. Such a clichÃ©, but in this case it was the literal truth. I shied away from consciousness and all it brought with it. In the deepest parts of the trough, it was not possible to even think of troubling myself to write about it, the necessary cohesion, energy, clarity, coherency was just not available. I was barely able to manage text messages to assuage the concerns of friends.
When I am no longer depressed it is hard to remember exactly what went on in my inner landscape during that time, it’s like a really nasty dream, one of those that linger on waking, leaving you feeling a bit sour all day. Snippets and sounds come back to me, but it is impossible to really reproduce the feelings. This particular session was brought on by years, literally, of stress and anxiety. But the cause is irrelevant. When the vase is already broken, it is never strong again, the glue is always in danger of dissolving. Any series of events that I find stressful might set me off again. And those are not, necessarily, events that other people would find stressful.
I have been very fortunate, it has been a very long time since I was this bad. So long, in fact, that friends who have known me for several years were confused and unsure how to deal with me.
Right now, I am on the boundary line. A couple of nights ago, I actually physically felt a switch flipping on in my head, it felt like the very centre of my brain made some connection (I can point to it for you if you like, next time we are chatting about my lunacy), and some lights, shaky and dull, started to power up in the damaged regions of my mind. I immediately put shoes and clothes on and went for a walk in a desperate attempt to get whatever the hell passes for chemical uppers in my broken brain, swooshing around in there.
It was pleasant, out walking around the estate, but I was out there for one reason only, to cling on to this possible life preserver because things had been really, really bad. So bad that I had actually been researching (in the moments where I could convince myself to do more than just stare at a DVD) electro-convulsive therapy, and had been giving it serious thought.
The thought of all that this would entail though was exhausting in itself. Having to get a psychiatrist to evaluate me first, all the weeks of crap that would bring, not to mention convincing said psychiatrist (before they would even consider shock treatment) that I am NOT going down the road of medication again. Plus, obviously, you have to be pretty irretrievable to agree to let someone zap your brain with electricity.
With regard to medication, just too many side effects. Yes forgive me but I do require a sex drive thanks awfully, it’s one of the few pluses in my life! Or there was the drug that woke me screaming each night, bashing myself off walls while I wandered the house in a confused state. To a greater, or lesser extent every anti depressant of the MANY I have tried has just not been worth what comes with it. I have tried at least ten different drugs from three different families, and the doctor’s insistence that I keep getting liver and kidney function tests whenever on anti-depressants frankly creeps me out – what, exactly are these pills doing to my insides?! In addition, I am ok (usually) for 11 (ok, maybe 10) months out of 12 – not all at once, perhaps, but still it’s a hell of a thing to have to take drugs EVERY SINGLE DAY with horrible side effects that fuck up my internal organs to cover myself for the 1-2 months each year where I may, or may not, actually need them.
I am not anti-medication, I have given them a bloody good try – and that’s all she wrote for anti-depressants.
Already I can find my recall getting a little hazy, and my “normalâ€ self reasserting herself and telling me that there is no way those days could have been that bad, surely….
So here, while I am still in the gloaming, in the borderlands, are my recollections of what it feels like to be in that terrible, grey place they call clinical depression. This is how it felt, not how it feels now. If this was how it felt, right now, I would not be typing, coherent or rational enough to care about sharing.
My first thought on waking each morning is dread. My last thought before going to sleep at night is dread too, because although I am greatly relieved at the prospect of bed and sleep and not having to deal with anything for a few more hours, I am already trying hard not to think about wakening up in the morning to have to deal with the all the daily garbage. Guilt, decisions, responsibilities of another day. Sleep is my saviour. I sleep as much as possible. Sometimes I comfort eat, chocolate and sugary things, this time that was intermittent, I had lost the energy to even care much about comfort foods. Xanax has been my friend this time around, on the days I just could NOT cope at least I was able to drug myself to sleep again with one or two Xanax. Though I doubt my doctor would have prescribed it for me had he known my mental processes more intimately.
The worst times were when, conversely, I couldn’t sleep at all. The constant inner monologue was turned up full volume at those times, so I would listen to loud music on earphones and try to keep my mind as occupied as possible with videos and other miscellaneous nonsense. Sometimes this would happen because I had just been sleeping too bloody much. Other times, it would just, simply, happen and I would be awake for two days regardless of futile attempts to drug myself to sleep. Mental illness – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
I was asked, at one point in the last futile and wasted month and a half, if I had considered self harming or suicide. Considered it? Some days, some hours, it was ALL I really thought about, a constant undercurrent to my surface thoughts. There was even a beat I could use to go with the words, when my footsteps would sound out a sort of rhythm in my head and I could hear the words “I wish I was dead, I wish I was deadâ€ going around and around like the lyrics to a song, or the metre of a train when you are safely inside the carriage. Why? Because it would stop this fucking nightmare train wreck from happening, of course, but also just because. Because when you are depressed as I was you just don’t want to be alive any more, it is part and parcel of it.
The one constant thorn in my side over the last 6 or so weeks has been having to look after my children. They are both my saviour and my curse at times like these. Saviour because I am fairly certain I would have attempted – and perhaps succeeded – in actually killing myself if it weren’t for them, at various points over the last 15 years. But who comes back from that? Well, obviously, not the dead person, I mean what child could ever recover from such a thing?
I reckon if your mother kills herself you are pretty much doomed to a shite life, whatever way you look at it. No matter how many letters the mater leaves, how much explaining she tries to do. So, my heart keeps beating on behalf of my hostages to fortune. Turns out there is one thing I love more than myself and it’s them. There are days I have resented that, and days I have been glad for it. Today is a glad day.
I have also lost two friends to suicide. And you never (Never) get over the guilt, no matter how close, or otherwise, you were to them – even if they were living in another country at the time. I admit though, that wouldn’t have stopped me, the sorrow of my friends, husband, brothers was not a genuine consideration for me, not in the deepest troughs. Only Jacob and Ruth were enough to halt me at the brink on several occasions.
And they are a curse because having to worry, or even show the slightest concern about another human being is an exhausting ache in my head. I don’t want to get out of bed at all, let alone make breakfast, lunch, iron, wash, do all the things normal mothers do. “Don’t want toâ€ – such easy words but in reality every single part of me rebels against these chores, if I had the energy I would scream. I can always manage to hug them, smile, give them a word of love – for some reason those feats are not so difficult. But the day to day drudgery that I don’t much like at the best of times is absolutely gruelling when I feel like this. If you asked me to strap a weight to my back and climb a mountain, it would be easier than doing the school run when my head is in this place.
I feel such resentment, added to the general swirling guilt, misery, sadness and hate, that I am forced to care for two other human beings. If I had known how hard motherhood was going to be, I would genuinely never have done it. On the other hand, I have never, not once, been able to wish them out of existence. Love is the rope that binds me to them.
When I am still in the dark place I do know, vaguely, that somewhere there are people out there who have real actual feelings and they aren’t like mine, that this grimy bubble around me will pop one day and I will feel things the way they do again, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. I know this intellectually, even though I cannot remember it emotionally, and I hang on to that thought for grim life. The fact that I feel almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the human race, that their beliefs and feelings seem irrelevant, irrational, unreal to me will pass, I know this from past experience.
But oh, this was a bad one, a real doozy. After a few weeks, it started to feel like I was swimming through freezing cold soup, maybe a broth of some kind, filled with spinach. Just enough light and space to see a few feet ahead maybe. Or like snorkelling, if the snorkel was half clogged up and you couldn’t really get a breath, and the sea was muddy and full of seaweed. Or like trudging through a heavy fog, a fog that has real weight, in a wet parka, wearing a faulty gas mask, in front of me a few patches of light that I make my weary way towards.
I could go on all day with analogies, it is impossible to describe how bleak everything looks and how heavy the weight of life is. There is not one word, not one action that can make anything seem better. Imagine the love of your life had just died in your arms and then someone trying to cheer you up, telling you to count your blessings and look on the bright side while the blood was still warm on your hands. Impossible. Ludicrous.
Another reason to avoid people, they think they can cheer you up. Shudder.
Isolation is what I crave. Just having to think about listening to well meaning conversation makes me want to rake the skin off my face with my stumpy little nails. Isolation is the most dangerous thing for me, and it is the one thing I want. To. Be. Left. Alone. Stop ASKING me for things, don’t ask for my opinion, my help, my input in any way, don’t ask me one single question, you are tormenting me with your NEED. This goes for absolutely everyone, everything – so if you are reading this and thinking oh no, that’s aimed at me, believe me, it’s not, it’s aimed at every living person in the world, and in particular the ones I live with, poor bastards. Luckily for them I am too listless and fatigued to present as much more than groggy and miserable.
In that soup, that foggy mire, I look at people I know and I wonder what they would do if they could read my thoughts just at that point. I look at them and the idea of trying to communicate my thoughts is unappealing, completely so. Too hard, oh far too hard, too far away, you stretch out your arm and it takes forever to reach someone and even if you could reach them, it is probably impossible anyway. How do you tell a person blind from birth what a colour looks like? You don’t ask for help because you don’t want help, you have forgotten what wanting help feels like. You forget how it feels to be happy. You know that you were, once – but again it is an intellectual exercise. You hang on to the knowledge that eventually, this too shall pass.
On the days people see me, or in some way interact with me, it is a given that I am not at rock bottom – because when I am at rock bottom I just refuse to see or interact with anybody, however many times the phone rings, or texts come in, unanswered. So people do not see my rock bottom. My children are only aware that I am absent. Sleeping or hidden away, a ghost figure hardly seen. Again, I am very grateful this is usually only a few weeks out of every year, for their sake as well as my own.
On the days I do manage to go out, people ask me questions and I feel unsure of what answers to give them. It is hard to make a decision. Should I tell the truth, part of the truth, a total lie, say nothing, smile awkwardly? Social skills were a learned behaviour on my part anyway, so they drop away fast when I am living inside the bubble. I feel like a marionette acting out a play, badly. I am always amazed that I can fool anybody at all.
There is little sense of humour when you’re lost in the fog. My sense of humour is normally really keen, I can find something funny about losing a toenail on most days (particularly if it is someone else’s). If I can hang on to humour then I might be on the jagged edge but I am not in the dark place entirely, not yet, even if one foot is over the finish line.
I am physically often really tired in this place. My energy drained out of me, and that makes it easier to sleep, which I am glad about in as much as I can be glad of anything at this point. All I want to do is close my eyes and not be awake any more. When I cannot sleep I watch videos, read books, almost constantly, it is a way of distracting my grieving mind from the guilt, panic, fear, misery.
One by one, things get whittled away. Fresh clothes? Oh this T shirt will do it was only worn once. Shower? Only if going out, or when I started to feel actually sticky, and I avoided going out as much as I could. Grocery shopping? Shift that to the husband whenever possible. Housework? Bare minimum, with help from the kids, and again only out of concern for them. I could have slept in a pile of maggots and barely noticed at that point, but couldn’t let them live in grot and filth (memories of my own childhood). Not because I didn’t prefer, even in that state, to be clean and have a pantry full of food, but because it was just too hard to do the chores that lead to that. Can’t explain it any better than that.
Not every single day was this bad, obviously, or I would have done nothing at all for the last month and a half. There were a few crests – well not crests exactly but a bit of a climb out of the trough at least. In a way this was worse, because the half a dozen times I almost made it up out of the valley only to tumble back down again were very disheartening. And it didn’t happen all at once, there are hills and contours in the valleys of melancholia, some days you go up a little, other days speeding downwards. It took weeks to really get to the bottom. I have been chiselling my way through the strata for years and I suspect I came quite close to the very deepest parts this time.
Disconnection, flattened emotions (all the positive ones anyway), raw misery, grief, sorrow, guilt, fear, panic, shame, and an attempt to shy away from all responsibility for the simple reason that I just cannot deal with it. Any responsibility feels like a physical weight. Worse, it feels like an attack, like being slapped, I cringe beneath the thought of it. Mentally and sometimes even physically. And by responsibility I mean making a phone call, ironing a shirt, answering a text. These feel like the tasks of Hercules when I am living in the dark lands. You know how stressed you are right before an important exam? Amplify by at least ten and you might start to get the anxiety that even having to talk to someone on the phone can bring. And a constant drumbeat in my head that if I could just go to sleep and not wake up things would be so much easier.
On one of my better days, a day I had managed to get out and drive, I sat in the car for 10 minutes convincing myself that I could walk into Australia Post and make some photocopies. I did go in, but it was touch and go for a while.
What can I say, it was a trip, for sure 🙂
There is nothing whatsoever friends can do for me in this place. I am aware of your attempts to reach me and of your concern, perhaps it helps somehow, perhaps not it is hard to say. It is appreciated once I am capable once again of appreciation. Sometimes I can fake normality briefly, or even surface briefly to a nearly normal state and usually when that happens I make an attempt to see at least one of you, or talk to you, to reconnect to reality because when I am sane friendship is something incredibly important to me. All the worse then that it gets damaged too by the poison leaking from my brain.
There is nothing anybody can do differently if it ever happens again. Just don’t take it personally is probably the only advice I could give you, if I am lost and far away. I seem to have managed to have dragged myself out of this one, or at least be on the upward path. Hopefully it will be many more years, if ever, before another black depression as vast as this last one settles on me.
Well, there you have it. I thought you all deserved a few words of apology for my being so selfish – because there is no doubt about it, melancholia makes me absolutely selfish and almost impervious to all other concerns but my own grinding sadness (apart from, as I say, that tiny part of me that manages still to care about my children). And a few words of explanation because I know depression must seem like a foreign country to people who inhabit the world of sane.
You have my permission to leave now and not return. Coping with this sort of information is not for everyone. No hard feelings. Just remember, I am only ever a danger to myself, not to others.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, I have nothing up my sleeves. Pay close attention. Because this next trick is impossible.