I fell out of my life for five years.
When people ask how old I am, I have to think because I abruptly stopped living in 2013 and only got going again in 2018. The years I lost to major depressive disorder were akin to being suspended in stasis, frozen in time.
As I have nothing to show for them, they might as well not have happened.
The advent of depression was like a grand piano falling on my head: It flattened me and turned me into a blank music sheet.
Without a sound, depression was the wind that took me wherever it fancied.
My writing voice disappeared and with it my livelihood despite years of experience as a journalist. Worse still, I could no longer think; my mind stood fallow as creativity and ideas deserted me altogether.
I feared language would be next so I forced myself to keep reading as much as possible. Even though I’ve always been a bookworm, the words on the page would often appear as an impenetrable collection of characters. No matter how long I stared at them or how many times I reread them, they refused to yield their meaning.
Stubborn, I frequently glowered at the page and engaged in a visual tug-of-war until words surrendered their secrets.
And they always did in the end.
Keeping my mind on life support with books didn’t stop depression from trying to kill me every single day.
Too cash-strapped to afford therapy despite having insurance, I was left holding my own hand and this hand was homicidal. Besieged by propaganda courtesy of an illness trying to convince me I didn’t deserve to live, my mind soon became fast friends with death.
The kind of suicidal ideation I flirted with wasn’t a desperate desire to die but an enduring conviction there was nothing to live for anymore.
Without the ability to write, the vocation that had guided me for years and for which I fought so hard became redundant. Now atomized, my sense of self eroded quickly.
One day, I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized the person staring back at me.
After being housebound for so long, I had no idea how to put on makeup anymore nor what the end result was supposed to look like.
While I only have a passing interest in fashion and beauty, I had always been able to project a confident self. Regardless of how I felt inside, I compartmentalized so I could go through the motions required to be a human in the world, be it on a professional or personal level.
Now, the mere idea of being among random strangers and striking up a conversation with anyone nauseated me and filled me with panic.
From people person to agoraphobic recluse wasn’t a change I was willing to accept.
I understood I’d have to push back, but how?
Death reminded me how to live.
And would never want it.
So I set out to do the one thing depression had deemed impossible, the same thing I admired Bourdain for: Write without holding anything back.
And the first drafts were laborious, ugly, and so opaque I couldn’t even figure out what I was trying to say until I discovered how angry I was. I took it as an encouraging sign that my blunt nature was still in there somewhere, amid the many lies manufactured by depression.
It was a process, and it still is.
Writing is a journey that reflects personal growth and evolution so our voice does change over time.
I had to get comfortable with digging into my life for material rather than into the lives of others. Seeing the dearth of compassion surrounding mental illness and how some humans subjected others in pain to stigma, shame, and opprobrium is what spurred me on.
A mental illness doesn’t mean you’re flawed, worthless, or unfit for life; it just means your brain broke and you need help.
Alas, in a country without universal health care like America, you can only get it if you can afford it.
But what if you can’t?
No money, no health.
If that’s all you’ve ever known, it is normal to you.
As a French immigrant to the US, it isn’t to me. Instead, I experience this reality as dehumanizing because health is a basic human right where I come from. How can anyone justify paying for something they cannot use? I’ve never not had insurance, but therapy co-pays have always beyond my household’s budget.
While it still doesn’t make any sense to me, I’ve had no choice but to hold my own hand, embrace resilience, and develop a taste for shit sandwich platters.
Coming back from the dead isn’t a pleasant or easy experience but it can be done, however surprising this may sound.
The surprise doesn’t wear off, either: There isn’t a single day the sight of my fingers on the keyboard doesn’t temporarily baffle me.
If the keeping going keeps you going, the kind of depression I have would prefer me not so I must keep it in check. Since I’ve lived with it for so long, I know how it operates; the more it questions my abilities, the harder I work.
Again, vocation makes all the difference, it is a privilege and a blessing.
But it doesn’t stop the fear of losing my writing voice again; it hovers above my head like a piano-shaped cloud of doom.
Age questions still fox me.
Five years represent a substantial chunk of life I’ll never get back, no matter how hard I try, albeit subconsciously.
Even though major depressive disorder can look like a death sentence, it doesn’t have to be one and there’s always something you can do, no matter how weak you feel.
That you’re still around is an achievement in itself so cherish it. Although natural, beware of the urge to project yourself into the future as it can reinforce uncertainty.
When you have a disease that propagates self-doubt until it takes over your every thought, you need tangible facts you can cling to.
Now is the only tangible moment there is; you are here, you are alive, this is enough.
Look around you, use all your senses, and let your heart show you the way.
Progress is never linear but you will eventually understand why the present is aptly named.
And if you’re looking for a way to offload the distress within, words may help you too.
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.