“All this time I’ve had this weird feeling, like a phantom limb,” he said. “You know how, when they cut off your leg or something, they say you can still feel it after it’s gone? You foot itches, you go to scratch it…but there’s nothing to scratch. That’s how I’ve felt for ten years. Like something – or someone – is connected to me by an invisible cord, and it’s always tugging, tugging, tugging…but when I try to reel it in, there’s nothing on the other end.”
– Natalie Standiford, How to Say Goodbye in Robot
I wanted to document my anxiety/depression/both/whatever in its phases: beginning, middle, end. And even the middle has its peaks and its plateaus. Because the middle can last forever.
In this blog, I know I have the middle. Half these posts have documented me standing in the middle, yanked around and under. I think once I wrote about what felt like the end. I’m not sure if I’ve ever written about what the beginning feels like; I’m always in the middle when I realise what it is.
And, again, I feel pretentious as I eke out the words.
Eke as in trying to claw words out of my head. Claw as in there’s a physical pain in piecing my mind into existence.
I think about depression and what it has meant to me for the past two years. It was my dark friend, a crutch to lean against when my feet disappeared and my lungs were punctured by the constant crying. It was the name I gave to the blackness that remained when I opened my eyes.
And I want to tell you I’m okay. Because I am. But I’m so reluctant to declare it; what if it comes back and I prove myself a fool?
It’s okay, though, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with being the fool. Plus, if it comes back in full force, what will matter? So, forget it, it’s 1204 am and I’m sitting in an airport and I’m going to understand this while I feel okay.
The beginning starts with overwhelming stimuli. An emotional rocking of the boat of sorts. And, then, the boat doesn’t just rock – it splits clean in half through the hull and you’re swept by a whirlpool. You can’t die – you just choke on the water and stare into space. You have learned that fighting doesn’t help, so you hang limp, letting it take you where it wills. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it spits you on a deserted island and you spend half your time screaming for help and the other half believing yourself already dead. If you’re unlucky, you’re just flotsam and the waves make sure you know it.
The middle varies. It takes the longest time. And the more you fall into the habit of drowning, the less you anticipate the end; the end just means the next beginning. I’ve read of people describing their depression as an angry voice yelling at them. Things like, “You’re not good enough,” or “You’ll never amount to anything.” Mine feels like a counselor has stepped in to part to clouds, only to try to break it to me, gently, that I’m a living corpse: I’m already dead and she has the rot to prove it. The only thing that really reminds me I’m alive is how much everything hurts. I cry a lot. My imagination runs wild. Being alone is an enemy and a friend. You start to realise why people choose death over life. And, plainly, it sucks. The worst thing is that the middle is fueled by the narcissistic pleasure of examining yourself at a microscopic level. It’s all you.
The end is quiet. It is a quiet exhalation, followed by an even quieter inhalation.
I don’t know what has changed. Maybe a resetting of brain chemistry? Therapy? Maybe it’s my telling everybody that I’m anxious/depressed, giving them a fair heads up?
Maybe all those things and, I think, being free to cut people from my life. It was accepting that loneliness was preferable to the fairweather fancies of windblown leaves. It came with the understanding that some people are selfish; they’ll see the wall you’ve built and wonder why they have been victimised instead of seeing the way you flinched when they bared their teeth. It came with the understanding that the people you love are ugly; you’ve been looking at their hearts with rose-coloured lenses.
Then, it is understanding that your own heart is a twisted little beast and sometimes you deserve to be hurt. But, in the end, that’s inconsequential: it’s sum neutral because you have hurt and been hurt. Walking away is acceptable for both parties.
Maybe I’m trigger happy, though. I’m far too comfortable with the devaluation of friendships.
Beyond that, I have nothing. I don’t know what else depression has taught me.
Let’s consider this part one, brain. I’m not satisfied with this conclusion. But I’m tired.
P.S. I’ve been thinking about “toxic friends”. I think it ignores the humanity of the other person. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of standing on some sort of moral higher ground to dub someone “toxic”. Are there not clearer ways? “You sap all of my energy and make me uncomfortable and are selfish. I recognise that I make you uncomfortable and steal too much of your time. This is convenient for neither of us.” Ha. This is why I’m not a therapist.