It always starts as a dip in my energy. Sometimes I am in the middle of something I enjoy, far, far away (I think) from my demons and sometimes I am staring right at them. It catches me unawares most of the time, as I share wholehearted laughter with someone I love or I am deeply involved in a project I care about very much.
The first thing I always decide is that it must be my sugar levels going down. The rollercoaster feeling, the dizziness, the lightheadedness … . As I am writing now I want to smile and say “ugh, it gets you every time, sucker!” Because it actually does. Because I always forget about my forever companions – depression and anxiety.
My partner usually makes me sit down, gives me something sweet to eat and a glass of water, “strongly encourages” me to not move from the chair until I feel better. And my instinct is always to move, to escape, because inside of me somewhere I can always feel there is a storm approaching. I don’t know how bad it will be but I know it is coming. I can see the clouds gathering … .
The dip, just like a circle in the water, starts getting larger and larger until it engulfs my entire being. And, snap! Just like that, I am in a different dimension: on the outside of my life looking in. Where just minutes before I was fully immersed in the joy of my life, looking at my love and feeling the electricity of happiness that she is mine and I am hers, kissing and hugging my teenage son and enjoying the quiet adoration of my dogs, in our peaceful and beautiful home, in a blink of an eye I stepped in the land of … nothingness.
It is like an invisible but impenetrable wall falls between me and everything else. I can see everything around but I cannot touch anything and nothing can touch me. There is a distant remembrance of deep feeling, of happiness, but it is just like I remember facts, I cannot recall my feeling them. In between bouts of nothingness there is a crippling terror that I will never be able to go past this wall again. That I will never really see my family again. That they will never see me again. Even if physically we do not leave each other.
I remember when my brother had been dead for a year and, as the orthodox religion requires, my parents and I went to hear a sermon and organise a meal in memory of the departed, the priest thought it fit to scare us all into compliance by telling us that sinners, when they die, they won’t recognise and won’t be recognised by the loved ones gone before. In other words, you won’t be seen and known. That to me felt like one of the cruelest predictions (may I say inventions, please?) a member of even this church could utter in the middle of a congregation that was clearly there to commemorate the dead. Clearly, he had no idea what he was saying … .
The biggest trick my buddies, depression and anxiety, this killer twin couple, play on me, is the erasing (and yes, I know I have posted this probably twice already in here but sometimes we need to remember). It is the alternating certainty and fear that I will never be able to break down the wall, that I will be stuck behind it, outside, looking in on my life. And that I will never again feel the butterflies of love, the plenitude of peace and the calm of the berth my home is.
So far the wall has always disappeared at some point. Not all at once. After a while small cracks start appearing and a bit of light would go in. I have learned to wait and watch for the cracks which let a sliver of joy trickle in, small crevices that allow warmth and laughter to reach my heart. And here is where art comes in, really: I liken this to meeting a wild animal – you have to be fully focused, not at all rushed, be still and allow them to come to you, no pushing yourself into their world, no jumping to catch them, no sudden moves.
When I return to my life from behind the wall of depression, I always have a hangover. I feel energy depleted and my head hurts. I always wish I could document these so that this silent epidemic would be more easily recognised. Because it is so pervasive. I remember reading the part of Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon that I was able to stand (no book has ever described in more specific and correct terms what depression and anxiety look like from the inside out and I could not go through it really without slipping behind the wall so I stopped) and he was making the remark that even the smell of his urine is altered when he is one of his bouts of depression. Because the body is forever present, even in illnesses labeled “in our heads”, or even more so then … .
I have no resolution for the new year. I just have a wish for myself and for all of those battling mental illness: may we always be able to return to ourselves. Stronger and wiser.