Many like to use the metaphor of darkness when it comes to depression. My experience is more like a fog: a thing descending slowly; a thick something that surrounds me and distorts the vision of myself and the world around me.
One day, there is nothing but sun, and without warning, things that felt like they were on the right path suddenly take a detour into a spiral of failure and rejection that I never saw coming. It floods my chest with what I know, or hope, must be the falsehood of my unimportance. My mind wanders into a list of my mistakes and missteps over the last few decades, and something in the darkness whispers, “You are a failure. Why are you here?”
And then sleep decides it wants no part of me. Midnight stretches into 4 a.m., then rolls into 5 and then 6 until it becomes too late to sleep. The alarm will startle me into a new day soon enough. So I just lie there alone, like the forgotten, staring at the blurred walls or ceiling of my bedroom, having given up on wiping the tears from my face.
I've lived with depression (or something like it) my entire life. I have slid in and out of it as easily as the size 2 jeans that fit only when I know that it has fully welcomed itself back. It is like a rumor that grows quietly and steadily, causing no problems or distractions, reminding me of the time I left the stove on or the last heartbreak or the project that fell through, and that whisper of failure becomes the soundtrack; the blaring, broken jazz in my mind.
I take my medication faithfully, do all I can to make sure that this thing does not eat my bones. I visit my doctor twice weekly. I am trying to stay alive. And one day I wake up, and instead of dread, instead of a face drenched with tears, instead of a stomach that lurches in disappointment at morning or at waking or at the 24 hours I need to occupy, I feel a calm. I feel a soothing. Something like the sun appearing and allowing the beauty that I have made it into morning.
This has happened every single time until it stops and the fog comes again. It is like a clock I wish to smash. But there is one thing that I can count on: No matter how long it goes away, it will come looking for me. It will return.
I have become tired of this return.
When my mind is quiet and kind, I can spend weeks and months chanting the same mantra: You are loved. You deserve to be here. You are needed. Necessary.
I can chant these affirmations and others a million times in constant and consistent repeat; but the day it returns, the record will skip and “No, you’re not” becomes the new lyric. I become limbless, evaporate into nothing. Again. This has been the story for as long as I can remember.
Depression devours you from the inside out, and by the time it has worked its way into a part of your brain that recognizes that it is a hoax, it’s too late. Your body has already been tricked into believing that if you get out of bed, the churning in your stomach will crush you. So better just to lie there and cry than attempt to leave and have the weight of it all fall on you.
And then even the inability to get out of bed feels like a failure. It’s a mindless catch-22. It makes no logical sense. And if you’ve never been there or allowed yourself the magnitude of it all, then it’s easy to say, “It’s all in your head.” But those who know, know that, yes, it is all in your head, but that’s like saying dancing is all in your feet. Yes. But, also, no.
A friend once told me that each of us and our unique fingerprints hold up the universe. And any missing fingerprint is a loss that the universe can neither regain nor afford to lose. As a mental-health advocate, I have shared this with people often, as well as another: “Allow yourself morning.” It means that today may have been a rolling ball of anxiety and trembling, it may have been a face wet and slick with tears; but if you can get to morning—if you can allow a new day to encourage a change—then do it: Allow yourself morning.
And then the next and the next and the next until you are no longer facing it from the wrong side, and the sun rises without protest.
I have been waiting for this morning and pretending that I can carve and shape myself “normal,” acceptable, heard. That besides doctors and medication, all I really need is to face a blinking cursor and call it writing. Replace one word for another, encourage and inspire and pray that no one notices how purple my hands are or how my heart has become a fist. I do this to stay alive. To ensure that this thing does not eat through my bones when it returns.
The fog always returns, and the older I get, the more tired I am of its return. But when it leaves, I fling myself across these days, use the hiatus to breathe, live, sleep, face an empty page and call it writing, and gather my people and tell them that I need help when it returns. And when it does, I have magic and a chorus of voices helping me with this incantation:
You are loved. You deserve to be here. You are needed. You are necessary. So allow yourself morning.