Digging through the rubble of a professional life that major depressive disorder obliterated, I’m pulling out whatever I can use.
I went from being a journalist writing about others to turning the pen on myself and producing copy so raw it often feels like being flayed alive. That I lost my writing voice for five years may have something to do with my extreme handling of vulnerability: it is my fuel.
When you need to save your own life, you’ll use whatever is at hand to do so.
Including your experience of being a human in the world, because sharing what incapacitated you for so long might just prevent someone else from suffering the same fate, or at minimum alleviate how lonesome they feel.
Depression is an isolating disease but the moment you open up about it, like-minded humans can and will appear.
Not only does my writing practice carry me, but it helped me build a tiny but mighty community of like-minded, thoughtful, and responsive people.
Even though it’s harrowing work, being open about mental illness allows you to break through isolation and find your tribe, other humans who have been there, are still there, or know someone who is. The old adage is true: There is strength in numbers.
So much strength, especially when someone reaches out unexpectedly, sowing the seeds of lifelong, mutually supportive friendship.
For five years, I single-handedly wrangled depression.
My household’s reduced circumstances precluded access to much-needed therapy so I learned to grit my teeth and bootstrap. It did take me a long time to accept this was the only way forward, but once I did and shed the shame, things became easier.
This self-contained existence became my new normal. Eventually, things got more manageable, with the odd burst of random shared human joy brought on by daring to be open about my condition in print.
I may feel stronger and more capable now but I still go through each day thrumming with five years’ worth of accumulated terror. I’m forging ahead regardless, albeit with all the grace of a bull in a china shop as my determination to keep going often calls for sacrifices.
Little time for rest or friends does not a balanced life make. But for now, needs must.
When you can’t afford help, you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to rise from the ruins of depression.
And hang in there, come what may. No excuses, just gratitude for still being alive against all odds.
Until I can offload it, trauma, it seems, is made for hoarding. I’ve accepted that, too. More material to write about, I guess.
Expecting my brain to cooperate because I’m finally moving forward is still a little too much to ask.
The ornery asshole has the habit of questioning everything and attempting to shoot down anything good. First in the line of fire are other people’s benevolent intentions toward me, of which I invariably feel undeserving. All the more as I don’t have much time to devote to anyone owing to extenuating circumstances.
And the transition from no life to new friendships in the space of a few months isn’t always a smooth one, not after you spent five years dematerializing as I did.
Instead of falling in line with my heart, my brain has taken to throwing my body for a loop with panic attacks whenever the tribe gets under my skin with kindness and care. I’m only too aware that I have all the grace of a cat sliding on a hardwood floor even though I’m finally holding my head up again and am no longer in free fall. Approach me at your peril because my brain might cough up a giant hairball on your shoes.
When you spend any time steeped in loneliness as depressives do, your social skills are bound to suffer.
It can make for painful payback for extending the hand of friendship toward someone in need, but I assure you that if you feel we’re pushing you away, it is involuntary. This needs highlighting, for the sake of depressives and those who wish us well.
Put it that way, I apologize a lot for my awkwardness on a daily basis.
Call it unwitting self-sabotage, call it act of broken brain, it’s never personal. Instead, it’s a direct consequence of years under the yoke of an illness that seeks to destroy you by any means necessary. In short, it’s not you, it’s us, well, it’s our brains.
But give it time and our brains will eventually catch up as we put the pieces of our lives back together, even in the face of adversity.
Please be patient with us, we’re doing our best and even when we don’t always say it, thank you for being here and giving us strength.
And yes, even though the words coming out of our mouths may sometimes say the opposite, we do need you.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.