Being stuck with chronic depression doesn’t mean you can’t have a life.
Much to my ongoing surprise, I’m not only alive but I have a life again despite having completely incapacitated by the parasite in my head for five years.
While I can never be healed, I’m clawing my way out of the misery pit where I spent five years steeped in silence and isolation while marinating in self-loathing. I recovered my writing voice two summers ago and have been coming back to life one word at a time ever since.
And yet, I can never have any illusion or guarantee this newfound respite is permanent. Major depressive disorder is a chronic illness that runs in my family so I’m always trying to make the most of being able to write again while I can.
This means rebuilding as fast as possible. To do that, I’m pushing forward through insomnia, exhaustion, and debilitating stress. I’m surrounded by grief and deadly illness so I’m constantly scared of not making it but I also know I have no choice.
After several years, it became obvious ideal circumstances for wellness were never going to happen unless I made them happen myself, and then they likely wouldn’t be ideal anyway. When you’re sick and cash-strapped in America, the onus is on you — the sick person — to get better and sort yourself out.
For many, superseding mental illness is based on the fallacy that it is a personal choice, which implies getting sick is a choice, too. When you live in such an unforgiving, ruthless, and ill-informed society, no wonder so many of us are messed up.
My depression is the same length as my American life: Is that a coincidence?
Writing about what ails me only became possible the moment I wrenched my heart open and poured it out onto the page.
To do so, I had to overcome the censorship of shame and the apathy of my household. The only way to do this was to document it and hope that translating the unspeakable into copy might help me understand what has been going on.
To do so, I’ve had to allow myself to feel everything and repress nothing.
On any given day, I’m a tightrope walker feeling my way forward without a safety net while the void keeps trying to pull me under. Although every new piece I manage to write gives me a little more purchase, mine remains a dangerously precarious situation.
At no point since 2013 have I felt safe from harm as I considered taking my own life many times, and this hasn’t changed. What has changed however is that I’ve adapted and accepted this absence of safety as one of the parameters I must deal with while moving forward.
In other words, anxiety and occasional terror are my travel companions. We egg each other on after a fashion. They force me to keep going; I hope to outrun them eventually. Shedding emotions in print as I go is essential to traveling as light as possible and the only way to catch a glimpse of the finish line, wherever it might be.
Because this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’m in it for the duration, with the proviso it might be lifelong.
After writing steadily since July 2018, I’m not as confused or despondent as I was when I started out.
A solid writing practice is good mental discipline that can help bring forth other changes.
One example is the ongoing dialogue I have with those who do me the kindness of reading and supporting my work. For someone who was a housebound hermit, this is as wondrous as it would have been unthinkable a year ago.
Little by little, my craft is coming back, as is the ability to project myself into a future that stretches beyond the next hour, the next day, the next week. And even beyond the next month.
Understandably, my brain is having a few issues accommodating all those changes and is prone to the odd hiccup. This takes the form of waves of panic I haven’t quite learned how to push back against yet. A hug always helps but I can’t always get one so I’ve learned to sit through anxiety until the moment passes because it always does, eventually.
But there is nothing heroic or inspirational about being sick for so long and wanting to live so very much that you’d do anything to save your own life. Instead, it is crushingly sad and I drag this heavy sadness and the trauma that caused it through every day like a ball and chain.
I try to do it with grace but I’m only human and resentment sometimes stands in my way, as does anger. And so I honor and humor them, too, using them as material whenever possible. This heart of mine isn’t only home to hope and the determination to overcome, it’s also in pieces.
But instead of tossing it by the wayside and proceeding without it, I’ve picked up the pieces and I’m putting them back together slowly.
It’s a messy process that has involved several countries and languages to date because I’m originally from Europe and have moved extensively throughout my life. Like my synapses, my heart is being rearranged into a configuration more adapted to fighting off emotional depletion.
If agency means having power over oneself rather than letting illness run the show, writing is what makes it all possible for me.
My agency is my voice, the voice that fell silent for five years. Through the power of words, I’m more alive today than I have been in a long time.
Even if you’re stuck, why not dig deep inside your head and heart, take a good look at what you find without recoiling, and write about it?
With time, patience, and dedication, writing could change the way you handle illness and bring you some much needed clarity as well as a sense of connection.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between the US and the EU. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.