Depression made me forget that to be alive is to be surprised.
And then, out of the blue, a cucumber reminded me. I became enthralled by a it, a momentous and unexpected event in the life of someone who takes little to no pleasure in dragging her carcass through each day.
When illness insulates you from the outside world until your whole being goes numb, any disruption feels like a breather. If a vegetable decides to make your day, well, you let it because — for however long the moment lasts — being alive feels natural again, painless.
You might even feel like your old self and crack a smile.
Who knew a cucumber could temporarily dispel anhedonia by demanding my full attention, reconciling body and mind in just one bite?
Of regular appearance, color, and texture, it was a standard specimen save for its taste: mischievously sweet. Although my feet never left the ground, that cucumber lifted me up despite its near-complete absence of calories.
Tomatoes with the smell and taste of strawberries had landed on my plate before, but I had no idea the magic wand of the produce world could cast such a potent spell when sliced.
This cucumber was life. And before I knew it, I had eaten it all.
Imiss the sunny person I was before depression took hold.
I dreamed, I dared, I laughed, and I had a life.
And then I became a stranger to myself. For years I had no idea what to do with this imposter whose airtight existence bore little resemblance to mine bar for the steady flow of books coming in and out of it, and the random — and all-too-rare — bout of weirdness.
Depression made me forget how to be a person in the world.
It became so severe my tuxedo cat, Trudeau, took to petting me at regular intervals, placing one paw on my shoulder or two on my back to check I was still alive.
Even though I’m functional now, he still does it. Especially when I’m working and he feels I could use a break and a hot drink. He also knows the magic cupboard opens and the kitty snacks come out whenever I brew something, without fail.
Were it not for his presence and that of his sister from another litter, Nuna, my day-to-day would have been mired in acid reflux of the self and yet more contemplation of the self-destructive kind.
But my guardian angels in furs won’t let me ignore them. Although they dislike their coats becoming the repository of liquid sadness, they tolerate the whimsical ways of their long-haired indoor creature who has thumbs and thus the power to open cans and bags of treats.
Ours is a relationship based on mutual benefit, I’m no fool.
And yet, those little purring satellites of love make me feel like the sun, saving me from myself time and again even though I’m the one who brought them home and promised to care for them.
They keep clawing away at my depression, worrying the darkness one silly pose at a time by gifting me tiny glimpses of joy without the need for language.
For too long, words eluded me, their sharp edge growing dull through lack of use, neglect, and my unwillingness to engage with the page.
I didn’t know how to report on my interior life, and I’m still not sure I’ve learned how to but at least trying to do so no longer makes me cringe.
This is progress.
At the same time, turning the pen on myself remains deeply uncomfortable. The journalist is a vessel through which the narratives of others are distilled into clues about the human condition. It’s an outward-looking job, not navel-gazing.
Being material feels unwieldy, but so does silence or lying through my teeth and pretending I’m fine.
While I didn’t choose this dastardly disease, I can choose not to have a hand in perpetuating the societal shame surrounding it. I can refuse to hide it or myself under a cloak of apology.
Depression isn’t a dirty secret even though we collectively behave as if it were.
Because we cannot stand to see our deepest fears reflected in the cracks of others, we recoil in front of a disease we’d much rather pretend isn’t real.
To examine the dented and exposed self, free from the trappings of pretense, I have to abdicate all critical judgment. In practice, this means muting the voice of illness which keeps telling me I am inadequate in every possible way.
Easier said than done.
It isn’t the first time my entire self has suddenly gone missing.
During previous depressive spells however, I didn’t have to be accountable to anyone, I was unattached so I didn’t care.
Besides, those spells had clear, identifiable causes and never lasted.
But the depression that felled me and paralyzed me for five years is different, some bizarro backlash against happiness and stability, a glitch.
Or was it a strong reaction to immigration and the ruthless and unforgiving nature of American life? I may never know.
By all logic, it shouldn’t have happened but this is how the disease works, randomly, regardless of your circumstances, gender, age. It can knock you off your feet without warning and leave you disoriented, incapable to figure out what’s going on.
When there’s no assistance available because you live in America and can’t afford it, it can take a while until you’re able to grab your own hand and attempt to stand up again.
Or craft a decent metaphor, this last one being somewhat perilous if you’ve already fallen down.
In my wobbly case, one hand was still clutching a pen, out of habit.
I took this as a sign I wasn’t ready to give up on life yet.
As there are few things you can do with a pen besides scratch your head or write, I set out to dissect this depression of mine. So far, translating it into words has helped me dispel some of the shame and isolation that used to be my daily reality from 2013 to 2018.
While I’ll never be able to make up for lost time, I now try and approach every day with a sense of anticipation.
And I make a conscious effort to acknowledge and treasure small, ordinary things, like the scenery outside my window, the purr of my cats, or a cup of coffee.
Because you never know what might happen; a cucumber might suddenly remind you how to live.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor 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.