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.