“Am I depressed?”
The question left a dusty chemical taste on my tongue, like when you dry-swallow a pill.
It wasn’t that I wanted an answer to the question – it was the asking that threw me. How could I not know? And how could one be certain, anyway?
Depression is a terribly weighted word, one that I feared would brand me some sort of social leper. Call it what you will – mood? slump? the blues? Whatever it was, it was undeniable.
There was no trumpeting of fanfare or sparking of Roman candles announcing its arrival. It was more of a gradual erosion of my usual presence. And this vulture of gloom hovered for months.
This bout felt like suspense, though without the immediacy of expectation. It was like the depressed version of me was lying limp and lifeless in a ditch while my normal self prodded her with a twig. “There, there,” the one says pointlessly to the other, knowing a reply will never come.
Happiness had become an achievement, something that needed to be accomplished or unlocked – something that prompted much self-congratulation, often superficially. I didn’t deserve to feel depressed. My life was relatively on-track. With that in mind I looked to my usual arsenal to try to decode, or at the very least, cope with the misery.
I cried and cried until my tear ducts puckered with salt. (That I could manage this almost every time without being provoked further confirmed that something was seriously up.) I wallowed in bong hits. I gulped booze like a parched desert nomad. I ate my sorrows, many of which took a deep-fried form. Then I ate nothing but poetry. My attempts to shake the blues were temporarily satisfied only in the immediate aftermath. It was fleeting.
Resisting the depression seemed only to exacerbate it, like getting bogged down in a Chinese finger trap. It was the quicksand effect — the more I sought to fix, the more I got broke.
I’m not the first (nor the most eloquent) to battle with melancholia. Sylvia Plath described depression as being trapped under a bell jar, ever stewing in your own sour air. I think it is like the deafening silence that accompanies a precipitous change in pressure, as when descending in an airplane. I was standing on the sea floor, bound on each side by one-half of a split ocean. You know when Moses parted the Red Sea? Think something like that, only without all the religious hocus-pocus. The ocean, where I wanted to be, was everywhere but where I could get to, and yet I could just make out the familiar blurs and muffled norms, as if they’d been moulded in Jell-O.
The common denominator is that depression will make you feel dreadfully isolated. Panicked, almost. And what is it about the warm seasons — the steaming asphalt and bare toes and blocks of humidity — that will lead an already depressed person to downright morbid thoughts?
Am I better now? Yes. Will I backslide in the future? Undoubtedly. Would I like to wrap this up in a neat, conclusive bow for you, Dear Reader? Sort of. I still don’t have an answer to the question I set out with, but maybe that is the point.
Maybe the diagnosis only fuelled the ailment. Maybe the appropriate reaction could only ever be a visceral one. That is: let it come, then let it pass. In its own twisted way, leaning into emotion, for better or worse, is human — and who are we to will the heart otherwise? Being happy is great, but the moments of unhappiness are what have often led me to self-discovery.