Afraid of the dark.

I’m feeling better. This is the moment that always scares me because it is in such close proximity to when I have felt my worst and I can still taste that bitterness and feel how it makes my mouth water as if I’m going to vomit so violently I can feel my stomach spasm. I’m feeling better but I still remember vividly how it was and how it could be.

Depression takes such a strong hold of me when I’m in its throes that I get to a point where I can’t really remember the feelings I had outside of it. It is like somebody reached inside me and took out the best emotions and left only the most shallow, dark, or destructive. I don’t miss being happy in those times because I don’t really believe I was ever happy. I know I was, at some point, logically, the way you just know the sun has risen before and warmed the Earth when you step outside on a morning mid-winter and it’s cold, dark, and you can see your breath more immediately. You have to prepare yourself for the uncomfortable chill that comes from stepping out of a hot shower and even if you’re so cold you can’t physically bring the feeling to your skin, you know that at some point you rushed outside half-clothed, sprinting across the grass to leap in a cold, blue pool. While your mind has memory of it, your body has none, not even the memory of a feeling.

black pathway between green trees towards body of water during daytime
Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

But exiting depression is the opposite, like stepping out of a dark movie theater directly into the mid-day sunlight. It’s almost blinding. You’re glad it’s sunny but the jolt is startling because part of you is still sitting in the dark and trying to decide if you want to leave the familiar comfort of a seat you’ve been in for several hours, only starting to stir and not eager to wake up. You begin to brim with energy at the idea that you have the rest of the Sunday afternoon to get things done, to be productive, and to be outside in your neighborhood and a part of the world but you still know at some point it will get dark again. It won’t always be like this and the night will blanket your world and the dark black of it will fill the spaces between your house and your neighbors’ and between you and anybody else. It makes you enjoy the sunlight more but you do so reservedly this time, unable to love it without abandon. As good as it feels, as much as its energy radiates your skin and your soul stretches satisfying after a long nap, at the back of your mind you’re already afraid of the dark.

empty hallway
Photo by Paweł L. on Pexels.com

A contract with myself.

I’ve said something like this to myself countless times this last year as I have tried to dig myself out of whatever is going on inside my brain. But this time, it’s time I think to take it seriously and to try. Granted, I always try to force myself. To white knuckle it through a depressive or panicked state. I don’t know what makes this one any different. It was daunting trying to come up with the words when I made a phone call today so when I made my next phone call, right before, I wrote a script of what I needed to say to the doctor because I took too long to connect my thoughts with my mouth. Guess how long it took me to to write that script. I’m too embarrassed to clock it at this point.

Tomorrow. I friggin promise promise promise myself, the actual me, not this walking piece of crud that is curled up in its place. But I digress. Tomorrow I promise I am going to do the following things come hell or high water and since I have felt like I’ve been in hell this past year, high water wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

 

I promise I am going to find a therapist.

I promise I am going to work on this project of mine for two hours minimum without distractions.

I promise myself I am going to put on my shoes, tie them, and at least walk my dog down to the corner.

I promise I’m going to remember to eat. At least two full meals.

And I promise myself I am going to make another list tomorrow after completing this one.

 

I have no idea how to force myself out of this but putting it here is going to hold me accountable. I’m not even going to say I hope it does. It has to because I do not fucking know where to go from here if I don’t figure out how to be functional.

A Waking Dream.

I can see his heartbeat through the hole in his face.

Please don’t be real, please please. Please don’t be standing there. I close my eyes so tight I think they are about to explode in their sockets. I cannot wrench my fingers from my hairline to cover them. Just please don’t be there. Please go away. My heart bleeds with a terrible anxiety that burns its way to every corner of my body.

External silence butts against internal screams. I listen to it and it sinks into me. I breathe and open my eyes, forcing their gaze to the corner of the room.

He is still standing there, looking at nothing, holding nothing. His cargoes are dirty, torn at the knees. His shirt untucked and a button hanging from its string. Yet, his chest does not move. It does not heave, it does not rise. His fingers do not twitch. There is a red dot on his shirt, then another, then another, as if red rain is falling from the ceiling. His adam’s apple is paralyzed, his pouty lips pressed impassionately together, his pupils stones with blue water running over them. The only turmoil, the only interruptance of his compusure is his cheek.  A wound. A bullet hole. The bullet is nowhere to be seen, lodged in some part of his head. But the wound. It’s just red, strings of blood running down his cheek and dripping off his chin, pitter pattering against his forest green shoulder. More and more blood comes, like a steady beat, pulsating. Bum, bum. Bum, bum. Bum, bum. Blood, blood. Blood, blood. Red, blood. Swelling in and out, in and out.

My concentration sinks into the sight. I can smell the salt in the wound, the sulfur shot from the gun. I zero in and can’t turn my head. The wound is not clean. It’s jagged, skin hangs down over part of the wound, specks of white bone break up the beating pool.

I can’t stand to not look at him but I can’t stand to look at him. The smell overwhelms me and I start to get nauseated. My stomach contracts over and over again until I am ready to heave but I remain frozen and so does he. He is the worst living nightmare I can consciously imagine and all he does is stand.

 

 

This is a throwback of a journal entry I wrote seven years ago of a nightmare or mental trigger I had because of PTSD at the time. When I get especially stressed out, this is something I see fairly vividly in my dreams.

Credit for the photograph goes to Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com.

Cotton Candy Cancer of the Brain.

You wouldn’t think the two would go together, would you? Well, in the wonderful world of depression, all things are possible. It’s like if you took Walt Disney’s most fantastic, imaginative, wonderful dreams, all ironically envisioned in the midst of the Great Depression, and got a little too relaxed, letting them blur together. Pinks and greys and blacks and blues and purples. Sticky like sugar but also like the moist, dirty feeling of waking up in a hot sweat where your nightmare follows you into your room and sits, waiting for you at the edge of your bed. A dream that you allowed yourself to stretch too long so that you ran out of joy and upon noticing the empty pockets, began filling them them with lethargy. You find the bubbles of curiosity you imagined as you walked through your dreams and they pop into puddles of doubt which stain the tips of your toes a dull, threatening grey and no matter how many times you wash them, the stains always remind you to feel just a little bit unclean, enough so that no shower leaves you entirely renewed.

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Somebody’s hand over my mouth.

If you’ve seen Panic Room, and if you have depression, you might already know what I’m about to describe. There’s this stock scene in literature and films where a person answers the door on a “wellness check” from a police officer who has been called to the residence due to a neighbor or family concern. The person who answers the door is painfully conflicted because on the one hand, there is somebody behind the door pointing a gun at her temple and if she tells the cop she is in danger, she will be long gone before she has any chance at being safe. On the other hand, this might be the one chance, the closest by far, that she does have of getting out of the situation alive and she could be sealing her own fate by not signalling to the cop because she is afraid of death.

I don’t know whose gun it is but I do know that I’m for sure the one answering that door when I’m in an episode. Maybe, in some screwed up way, I am also the person holding the gun, maybe it is the depressed part of me holding the gun. Maybe it is just depression embodied or it is all of the scars in my life that have been waiting to burst open simultaneously (I know that sounds a little Good Charlotte-ish but that’s the only way I can think to word it).

Regardless, every time somebody texts me, calls me, reaches out to me in any way, or asks if I am alright, I am standing at that door staring down the barrel both of what seems like my only chance of getting away from the threat hidden in the shadow, and at the sure consequences of what will happen if I dare approach the threshold. As trite as these scenes seem to be, they are so real for me because I know what it feels like to be looking at help you desperately need but not being able to say that you need it and watching it walk away. I don’t know what I need when people who know how I’m feeling ask me how I can make this better. I don’t know. As much as I love to make to-do lists, if I knew, we wouldn’t be talking about it.

The only thing I know is that I need something. Something is threatening me. Something is controlling and isolating me. In spite of the fact that it is invisible and some people might think all in my head, it is very real to me. I know there is no physical gun held to my head but that doesn’t mean that rational thought has any chance of changing the physiological reactions my body is having to the barrel it feels. I want out more than anything and I know I am held captive and cannot walk out on my own but at the same time, crossing that line of telling somebody how badly I need help feels about as safe as setting myself on fire.

Wanna see me make myself disappear?

Of all the things in the world, I am best at this. It’s telling that in high school I got the superlative for most sarcastic–sarcasm can be a means of evading vulnerable conversations. As a resident advisor my senior year in college, I got the “most likely to disappear” award. I love people. I love helping people. It fills me with energy and I feel joy when I do it–but the buildup of energy I need to have the courage to put myself in that position is easier said and impossibly done.

I often take for granted how amazing depression is. It can simultaneously make me feel as if I have somebody pressing down with their full weight on my chest and, when I try to force myself to do something I know I should do, it manages to make me feel as if I have somebody’s strong hand around my throat, not squeezing or threatening, just trapping me. At the same time that it can hit me so hard that I physically feel as if these things are happening to me and I get physiological symptoms, it also can make me feel numb and as if everything is hollow. It’s like I’m sitting at the bottom of an oversized well–think of the size of the one in the recent remake of Stephen King’s IT–and I physically feel only a mild discomfort from the damp cold and hearing distant echoes of something I know, if I were closer, would be distressing to me. It freezes me, not just physically but emotionally and mentally. In a world where I desperately want to hit pause but cannot stop it from charging forward, I ironically cannot prevent myself from pausing so that I get left behind. I get stuck. I can’t think of things to say or sort out all the emotional poison coarsing through my body enough to form coherent thoughts. I can sit for three hours and debate between chinese and subs (I did it until 6pm yesterday). I feel so at the edge of permanently falling apart and losing myself that I just imagine something like standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a really dreary and dry drop into more broken rock and knowing the slightest bit of wind will tip me over into this entirely new state. When I am that vulnerable, I am not safe to be with myself. I mean that I am so self-critical and harsh on myself that I know I emotionally am not capable of withstanding what I would say to myself if I gave myself the chance. And because I assume my perception of myself is so accurate and concrete that everybody must view me the same way, it feels too unsafe to be around people.

So I disappear. I have read other people talking about their experiences with this as it is magic and it really is. Depression’s power in spite of being invisible is remarkable. It’s hard not to be in awe of it when you are actually able to emotionally process and reflect.

I retreat because I feel so incredibly exposed to harm that the slightest negative thought I or somebody else has about me could destroy me. I know what people say about people with depression. Lazy. Snowflakes. I say it about myself and trust me, I think lowly enough of myself that if it were true, I’d be the first one to say I was. But I’m really not lazy and I’m not a snowflake. That’s my point is that depression is like magic because it can make itself and you two very incompatible things at the very same time. I became slothful. I hate being sedentary. When I was around 8-10, I would miss schoolwork in the summer so, in addition to running around outside all day and playing sports, I would pretend I was in high school or junior high, giving myself assignments and an academic schedule throughout the day. I would set aside certain times for reading certain books, thumbing through my mom’s college textbooks, working on my vocabulary, anything I could think of. I proactively seek out work. Yet some part of me functions as if I am lazy. And that is the hardest part about me. Because when I am doing nothing and of use to no one, I am painfully both exactly who I am at the bottom of my empty self while also not at all who I am.

Depression has a funny way of being like that. It becomes you but it isn’t merciful enough to kill the parts of you which are going to hate what it makes you and protest, making everything more of a struggle than if you just took a breath and let it wash you away.

And I do disappear. I sit at the bottom of my empty well and I can hear the real me–the me who feels like me so much that even in these numb moments when she is nearly comatose I can feel her inside me–up trying to tell me something is wrong and needs fixed, or the weather is nice and I would love it if I just came out. I can make the real me disappear without her needing to go anywhere. And until she becomes larger and this side of me becomes smaller and is instead hanging onto her, I am not okay. I am not okay. I am not okay. I’m just trying to weather the indefinite period of peril where I am simultaneously screaming out of my heart while doing nothing but biting the inside of my cheeks and shrinking further and further from others’ minds.

Thinkin’ bout leavin’ on a jet plane.

I really can’t type that without singing it in my head. And the only other words I know are “Don’t know if I’ll be back again” so it’s just going to loop like that for at least the next eighteen hours. Fantastic.

As melodramatic as that title is, I don’t know how much more angsty my life can get. It’s only coming in, you know, 16 years too late. I didn’t quite have your  Thomas Kincade, picturesque home life growing up. It wasn’t a war zone all the time but it sure as hell felt like anywhere we moved was located on a fault line and it was only a matter of time before the ground started shaking and shit started falling off the walls. So let’s call that, not the worst but far from idyllic.

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Hey Doogie Howser, you’re like, wicked smart.

I wonder how much of mental illness and self-esteem issues would be solved if we saw ourselves through others’ eyes. I don’t know. Maybe the problem with that is that they are too charitable whereas we are too oppressive in our estimations of ourselves. Even people, friends, students, whoever, who have the same situations as me, I view them radically differently. While I know which one is authentic and that I mean what I say to them when I try to be supportive, encouraging, to offer perspective to push back at least some of their inner critic, the part of me that knows those same vocal chords would sound radically different when talking to myself questions which one is real. Is the way we view others or the way we view ourselves more accurate? I don’t know and I sure as hell don’t know how to go about figuring that out.

Anyways, in my Hunter S. Thompson style of musing and stream of consciousness, I’ve gotten off on a different foot than I wanted to. The Latin word for left hand is sinister so, since I went in an unintended direction from the one I initially planned, let’s say I’ve gotten off on the sinister foot, just for fun. My fun probably. Not yours.

Buy the ticket, take the ride…

Eh, too much used car salesman vibe… how about–

 

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Anyways. Just like the harshest things people say to us seem to stick, the comments that are most surprisingly reassuring stick right alongside them. I have always been surprised by people’s uncanny ability to say what seems like a seemingly flattering but unimportant observation at just the right time, right when you couldn’t need it any more than you already do.

Two years ago I was walking out of a graduate class and I was with this person who I knew casually from the program. She was older than me, maybe in her early forties, I’m not sure. But for that reason, I think on some subconscious level I thought her feedback had more credibility and had to be more genuine. I can unpack why later. But she looked at me and shook her head, saying, “Hey. You are like, wicked smart.” At first, I was struck by how generous it was to say that, how if I had the confidence to tell somebody that I would partially be exposing myself to a comparison which validates that I’m not smart.

Then, I probably did what I always do when somebody compliments me–retreat into my turtle shell and panic because I don’t know how to navigate the situation. But it really touched me. I always worry people perceive me the way Snape perceives Hermione in HP book 1, obnoxiously eager to engage in academic discussion and get the gratification that comes with positive feedback. I don’t know if I deserved to hear that or if I had just fooled her and, indirectly, could be fooling myself if I accepted the compliment but it meant a lot to me. I am constantly questioning my intelligence–no feedback, no grades, getting an article published, having degrees, none of those things change that. (Humble bragging makes me feel dirty and just saying the things I have done objectively to support my statement feels gross.) I am always, and I mean always, able to come up with some impostor syndrome-related reason for why it was a glitch and does not accurately reflect my actual person.

But when another student after my last graduate class asked me how old I was and was surprised I was 28 because he said I looked so young but also seem to him “like this Doogie Howser.” It was that same validation the other woman gave me. Totally serendipitous, could as easily have not happened, but still like this rogue encouragement that sparks a little fire inside of me. Dramatic, cliche, I know. But in all the grey matter and the black smog that is the small container through which I perceive myself and the world around me, that little fire or little spark, as seemingly overblown as it is, is just enough and it always comes at the right time. That kind of desperate hope that maybe the comment is both entirely genuine and accurate is just enough to drown out all of the awful things I say to myself.

Picking things up.

If you feel like a goldfish in a bowl, disoriented and helpless because you were won by a kid at a county fair who didn’t actually want a goldfish, then same. What can I say? I’m a mess. And the worst part is, in spite of the fact that I don’t feel this way, I have all the same prejudices and stereotypes against myself that people who are ignorant about mental illness have. Just like the crippling anxiety I get from hanging out with people I love, I know better and there is no reason but that does not make it any less oppressive.

I always have the best intentions and have this passion for living life and helping people, in theory. But then the time comes and getting myself to walk out into the world is like trying to force yourself into walking into a burning building. Whatever I’m carrying and however I got it, it’s invisible and only I can see and feel it. I’m tired of talking about it and trying to explain it. Maybe it can’t be explained because I am so screwed up that it’s beyond even mildly screwed up people. I don’t know. I’m just going to try this and if it makes you, or me, feel a little less alone or a little less like a round peg in a square hole, then all the better.

Also, this awesome photo came from: Darina Çiço from Pexels. 

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am. –Sylvia Plath