Imagine identifying happiness at an anomaly.
Instead of welcoming it with opens arms, a chronic depressive like me reflexively pushes back against it.
And yet, there’s nothing more valuable and life-affirming to me than the presence of fellow humans. But whenever one expresses care and concern, I will go out of my way to alienate them because I’m loath to be a burden.
Not only do I not want them to get caught into a daily struggle that is often fraught with distress and despair, but I also don’t ever want to be the cause of more resentment.
During the five years I lost to major depressive disorder, I was left holding my own hand because my husband saw me as lazy, not sick. I was so incapacitated I lost my ability to think and my writing voice with it, which meant my household had to make do with just the one salary.
As a result, I could never access the health care I desperately needed despite having insurance as I could not afford the co-pays.
If depression does initiate the dehumanization process, your personal circumstances can accelerate it when there’s scant compassion for your predicament.
The disease erased me almost entirely and destroyed everything. Being left for dead while still very much alive angered me when I understood I was only waiting to find the courage to die by my own hand.
It was all I could think about.
If you reach out, people will answer back.
Standing atop the ruins of my life provide a singular vantage point and this is where I’ve been for the last ten months or so, surveying the damage, pen in hand.
When I started out documenting the unspeakable, I had the modest goal of making at least one person feel less alone. At that time, my life was so empty the echo answered back, and the only engaging conversations I had on the regular were with my two guardian angels in furs who would occasionally acknowledge my rants with a meow.
I never had the chance to find my people after I immigrated to the US: I married someone who had no friends or social network to speak of and illness felled me almost right away. I ended up isolated on every level: intellectually, creatively, physically, linguistically, and geographically.
Living in a house on top of a steep hill that isn’t served by mass transit when you don’t have a drivers’ license nor access to a car is very much like serving a jail sentence. When we lived in the city, I couldn’t afford bus rides or a bike so I remained within a five-mile radius on the rare occasions I went outside.
Until my stepmom’s terminal illness led me to upend my life and come back to the EU, it felt like I was a prisoner in my own home with zero physical independence.
But the minute I recovered my writing voice, the world was once again at my fingertips thanks to the internet.
And because we humans are the internet, it was inevitable connections would be forged through words.
Have you ever had the irrepressible urge to list all the reasons why people should steer clear of you?
If becoming aware of the urge can help you contain it, it’s a messy process only the most patient and compassionate fellow humans will endure. Listening to someone who was once dehumanized by a disease and by people further dehumanize themselves on purpose is hard.
Worse, it gives you the impression that you are disappearing away from view as the depressive retreats further into their own head. And yet, you’re here, you keep showing up, you keep listening, you keep telling them you’ve got their back come what may but they can’t believe you.
If the brain of a chronic depressive refuses to accept or trust in your gift of continued presence, care, and affection, it’s because their head is a battlefield and there is no truce, no respite.
It’s not my heart that means to push anyone away but my brain.
To the unsuspecting onlooker, this looks like self-sabotage but it’s never deliberate. Instead, I’m fighting to override the parasite in my head. But because I don’t know what it means to feel safe, embracing vulnerability and letting anyone in is always the result of a hard-won battle against myself.
It is one I fight anew every day and sometimes there can be casualties. Although it is unthinkable now, it nearly cost me the closeness I’ve always had with my father.
And I still keep trying to kill friendships despite myself.
Managing chronic depression is an ongoing and often lifelong endeavor.
People like me can get better, be functional, and thrive with stubbornness and help but please understand that most of us will always walk hand in hand with darkness.
When you live in a society where capitalism and individualism rule, few are those compassionate and wise enough to accept us as we are. And see us as equals, just as human as someone whose brain doesn’t malfunction.
This is why we often lead very isolated and disconnected lives, yearning for human warmth sometimes even our closest relatives will deny us. It is this dearth of fellow feeling that leads us to suicidal ideation because a life spent in the shadows, invisible to all, is no life.
And yet, we all carry the antidote: The human heart has the power to guide you toward safety when it identifies others as kin and it will show you the way if you let it.
Keeping human relationships safe from the harm your illness can do calls for ongoing commitment on your part and from those who love you.
If they stand by you though thick and thin, the only thing you ever need to question is your ability to hold up your end of the bargain, not theirs.
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.