When I was diagnosed with depression, the doctor – my father – told me with painstaking logic that it would have been easier if I’d just broken my arm. He said that at least then people would be able to see the brokenness rather than it be something only I could feel.
I nodded as tears streaked furiously down my hot cheeks because I could taste the salty truth of his words. There, glinting in the inbetween spaces words can’t reach, sat his fear for me.
He never told me to hide the suffering, but the world taught me that I should.
“You don’t have to tell anyone.” That’s what they said.
“Mental illness scares people.” That’s what they told me.
So for years I sat in the lie like I sat in the bath – pulling the water towards my body hoping it would somehow become a harder version of reality rather than the malleable movement of half truth it actually was.
I was like water with no shape of my own. I twisted and conformed to fit in different spaces…trying on different outfits of emotion hoping one would finally complement the way it feels to drown.
And it would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad that so few people noticed. I’d sit at dinner party tables with my little secret burning a hole in a pocket of despair. I’d smile and laugh – always the life of the party. But I’d feel misery’s pull on the edge of my subconscious – a constant reminder of the bitter game of hide-and-seek he so loved to play.
And what a lover he was – never satiated by our encounters – always compelling the best of me. I’d feel him walk into a room when everyone else walked out. A wicked smile. A quick slap across the face and he’d be on top of me…the weight of him burning my lungs as they reached for air. Together we’d drop down past a sky full of glittering stars and into a sticky pool of mud. There I’d lie until it was time to pretend again when he’d grab me by the hair wash off the parts that others could see and thrust me into the light like a bewildered actress who never did quite learn her lines.
Logically my life was a gorgeous place filled with adventure, travel and people who loved me dearly. I traveled private Maldivian Islands for work, sat on Thai beaches with friends slowly strumming guitars on my weekends off and lived the kind of life most only dreamed of. Depression didn’t make sense – not to me and not to others – and perhaps that’s why the idea never did quite stick with the people around me.
“But you’re better now…right?” They’d ask – their voices laced with worry about what they’d say if I’d actually had the nerve to disagree.
“But you’ve never thought about killing yourself…right?” Some would finally have the guts to ask but never the courage to see the answer through.
The truth was, I had thought about ending it more times than I could ever count. When my uncle committed suicide I cried not only because I loved him, but because I knew that gunshot meant he finally looked on the outside, the way depressed people feel on the inside.
The only thing stronger than the suffering I felt was the will not to impose that suffering on my family. When the darkness surrounded me and all I could think of was how good it would feel to feel nothing at all, my mother’s laugh would find its way inside my mind and reverberate against the walls of my subconscious. Sometimes my brother’s big bear hugs would envelope me and step between me and the edge. Other times, the memory of watching my father quietly writing in his journals would remind me that he had lost so much already and that losing me would be something he couldn’t bear.
No, I couldn’t die. Death was never a real option. The thought of it was a placebo and I just couldn’t afford the real thing.
“You’ll probably have to be on antidepressants forever,” my family doctor told me while writing out the prescription. “This is a disease, and nothing you do will make this go away on its own. I want you to understand this.”
So I walked out of the office with a prescription and a plan. I knew I had to be invested in my own recovery so I modified my diet and began exercising. I documented the ups and downs and the first three weeks of terrible side-effects. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t control my tears and couldn’t eat…but I also couldn’t give up.
And slowly, like warmth melts the snowy ground, I felt my misery thaw. It was a slow and detailed process. Two steps forward, one step back and perfection, I was reminded, was a false God I’d never meet.
The weeks ticked by…and then the months. Misery stopped by less and less…his visits less intense, his reward less fulfilling. I’m told there’s a glint in my eye – an untapped happiness previously undiscovered but it comes and goes. This isn’t a war you just wake up and win. It’s a daily battle you have to fight again and again but, by reaching out for help, you can claim the tools you need to do battle properly.
And while I had hoped that one day I’d just pop my head out and take a deep breath of fresh air, that hasn’t quite happened yet. Drowning still sits at the recesses of my mind but water doesn’t fill my lungs on a daily or even weekly basis anymore.
Truth is, I might not be out of the water yet, but I have found a way to rise to the surface.