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.

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.