After losing five years to depression, I’m now a human in transit between a past that holds me back and a future calling out to me.
As I strive to imagine a life that I haven’t been part of for a long time and haven’t reintegrated yet, my present is pure longing. I’m chomping at the bit, itching to transcend my illness, and self-actualize.
Although the deep-seated desire to get better means progress, there’s no wishing away depression.
Chronic illness is your partner for life, a shape-shifter that never goes away.
Accepting this is probably the most important coping skill you can develop but it forever changes your self-image. Whether you suffer from chronic mental illness as I do or a chronic physical condition invisible to the naked eye, you are now disabled.
Major depressive disorder like mine falls under the ADA (Americans with Disability Act). This means that I technically can’t be discriminated against when applying for a job. Then again, this is likely to make for awkward interviews in the future as HR departments wring their hands in despair not knowing how to handle my openness. Hence freelance work, for now.
Granted, willingly turning your diagnosis into a portfolio is non-standard but stigma and silence kill. Consider this my minuscule journalistic contribution to a more tolerant and tolerable world, the kind of world I don’t live in yet but would like to live in someday.
Because ideals without action are worthless. Last year, the Trump administration even proposed barring people with disabilities from immigrating to the U.S.
In short, had I been sick when I immigrated rather than falling sick shortly afterwards, America could well have slammed the door in my face.
That America is hurtling toward politics reminiscent of Nazism will be no surprise to the astute observer.
But we still have to keep ourselves alive regardless. While some have the luxury of handholding in the form of therapy, I’m too cash-strapped to be one of them. As a dual French-American citizen, I’m never not incandescent with rage at the ruthless and dehumanizing ways America treats the people who call it home. Where I come from, health is a basic human right and that isn’t even up for discussion.
I have insurance I can’t afford to use for therapy because the co-pays are too high and I likely need years of it so I’m left fending for myself. In practice, this means trying to outsmart the parasite in my head threatening to kill me and it is a mentally taxing process.
Not only do I have to take constant corrective action, but I must remain vigilant for triggers and signals. As a result, setbacks are frequent. At the beginning, they used to happen several times a day, but they’re slowly lessening.
Things that had the power of wiping me out for a day or two like arguments with my husband or being broke and overdrawn no longer do.
Human moods eventually settle and I’m working again. So long as I keep at it, I can expect some relief at the end of the month. After such a long professional hiatus, this thought alone is a great comfort. To some extent, I have regained a modicum of control over my present, and am thus able to build a future, word by word.
This thought carries me through many a day when I ask myself if there’s any point in doing this kind of work, or if I’m committing professional suicide.
But when your career is dead, there isn’t much to worry about. So I focus on saving my own life through the strength of my pen instead.
This means doing the same thing day after day even when grief, anger, and fear saturate my words.
Pour them out onto the page and sooner or later hope will show up too. It’s always at the back of my mind, ready to prevent depression’s toxic sidekicks from straggling off and hijacking all my efforts.
In my case, repetition not only creates habits but it has reactivated muscle memory.
I’ve been a journalist since 2004 and used to be able to crank out a prodigious amount of work on a daily basis. My days were often spent juggling at least two languages, editing other people, writing my own news items and features, and planning ahead.
For better or worse, I thrive under pressure and unpredictability. Illness and hardship have unwittingly recreated similar working conditions. Perverse though it may sound, this is good because it feels familiar.
Little by little, I’m building some solid coping skills I can fall back on when I am low on energy, underslept, and torn asunder by sadness. Owing to difficult circumstances, this happens more often than not but it is the keeping going that keeps me going.
As do you, for no one can go it alone.
A kind word from a random stranger can transform a difficult day into a good day.
There was no one around when I started out, isolated and stuck in a house at the top of a steep hill in the armpit of Puget Sound. I figured this might come to change if only I let myself be visible to others, broken brain and all.
When you have nothing, you realize you have nothing to lose. It is quite liberating, as is being yourself unedited at last.
Some days, I can almost feel wellness. It’s close but I still can’t touch it yet. I need to develop more mental and physical endurance so I can hold hands with life again.
But little by little, I’m getting there. The ability to think strategically has returned, self-loathing is receding, and random bursts of joy are more and more frequent.
Contrary to what I believed for five years, a chronic and invisible illness doesn’t mean our life is over.
Instead, a new life is just beginning.
If we keep an open mind and adapt as we go along, we’ll be fine.
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.