That my brain is my worst enemy is a fact I’ve been documenting online since July 2018.
Much as I’m grateful to it for finally allowing me to rebuild a life that works, word by word, I’m also well aware it only does my bidding grudgingly.
In my world, another functional day is never guaranteed so I’ve no choice but to keep showing up regardless of the mess within. I can never let down my guard either. Every morning, the fight against the parasite in my head starts anew.
Living like this is exhausting but necessary for any improvement to happen and take hold.
When you entertain the thought the depressive brain might be right, you could put yourself at risk of collapse again. “It’s never going to work out” can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you don’t catch it in time and identify it as depressive propaganda. And even when you do, that seldom makes it stop or go away.
When you’re too cash-strapped to enlist help in the form of therapy and you live in an unsupportive environment, the fight is twice as hard.
But it’s not impossible, even if you’re housebound, isolated, and lonely.
We’re all far more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
It took me five years to finally decide not to die.
Those are the years I lost to major depressive disorder. Left to hold my own hand for lack of funds, compassion, and people, my life became little more than basic bodily functions. I was so incapacitated I couldn’t think, which meant I couldn’t write and therefore earn a living.
Illness struck almost as soon as I got married and immigrated to the US so I didn’t have a chance to establish a social network of my own. And because I married someone who had none, there was no tapping into his either.
I had just about resigned myself to my life being over when Anthony Bourdain committed suicide and showed me my future. Before I knew what was even happening, I had rejected it and resolved to find a way — any way — to keep going.
Having sunk to the bottom, this was the moment I kicked the ocean floor and started making my way back toward the surface and toward the light.
Day after day, I rewrite the script that would have erased me out of existence.
Each word I commit to the page is a proof of life, an act of resistance against illness, limitations, and difficult circumstances.
I do battle with gritted teeth and a pen.
Getting well isn’t linear.
When adversity is your daily reality, you eventually come up with strategies to manage it and lighten the load. Otherwise, depression crushes and flattens you. When chronic, the head parasite is never not ready to pounce and punch you in the gut, especially when things are going well.
So disasters can remain self-contained, I try and compartmentalize, which is difficult when vocation is your raison d’être. Words tie my life together and everything I do is connected to language in one way or another.
If I credit the internet with helping me get back on my feet, it is because words helped me break out of isolation and connect with kindred spirits. To reclaim a personal narrative gone awry, I turned the pen on myself and proceeded to write about the unspeakable.
No human emotion or thought is off-limits, no matter how harrowing they are to write about. Pain is my constant sidekick because this kind of work hurts but repressing inconvenient truths hurts even more. So what if I married someone who didn’t think me worth helping and started resenting me the moment I became unable to function?
Life happens and although the above sounds bad, I doubt there was any malice in it. Instead of marinating in marital misery, I’ve detached and made my peace with the many unanswered questions swirling around in my head.
Why not accept humans are unpredictable and embrace a self-forgiving sense of failure so we can learn from our mistakes and move on?
And yes, moving on takes time, patience, and single-minded dedication.
Plus many setbacks.
Constraints can hold you together.
As the cliché goes, “It’s the keeping going that keeps you going.”
The more difficulties you face, the more you’re forced to strategize and deploy coping mechanisms. While there’s always the danger too much hardship will eventually catch up with you, you can also get used to operating under duress.
As a result, any improvement in circumstances might throw you for a loop.
For example, being offered a hand to hold and it not being yanked away almost immediately is something my brain has been struggling with for months. Coming from a background of abuse, I’ve learned not to rely on anyone but myself and I’m fully conversant with abandonment and rejection. At this point in my life, both are patterns I still haven’t figured out how to break out of.
Accepting there are benevolent fellow humans who mean me well is a challenge, as is trusting another soul. And yet, I will myself to push through the discomfort of vulnerability because none of us can thrive without others and the protracted absence of human warmth is what nearly killed me.
When I was first welcomed into a safe space in which to rest and regroup in Amsterdam, I promptly started falling apart. I’m not used to unconditional acceptance; I’m not used to feeling safe; I’m not used to even-tempered humans who do not balk at the first sign of weakness.
Vertigo is my new normal now; my brain feels like it’s stuck on the spin cycle of the washing machine as it attempts to readjust to a far gentler reality.
Tears are almost as frequent as joy, and a meltdown is never far away but I’ve accepted them as a necessary part of evolution.
When deep distress has been your default for years on end, the depressive brain inevitably perceives happiness as an anomaly and pushes back against it.
Please keep fighting even when you feel like giving up; do not let a glimpse of happiness lure you into a false sense of security because to do so would be to hand over control to the parasite in your head.
Only by taking charge of it can you tame and embrace happiness without fear.
And with enough practice, your brain might just relent and turn into your best ally some of the time.
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.